Activity: Animals as Positive Reinforcement

The purpose of this activity is to motivate behavioural change by using animals as positive reinforcement.


Activity overview

Unlike regular reward systems, the reward of this design is giving the award away. It’s a way of ‘paying forward’ the benefits of desired behaviour.

According to Larry Brendtro and Martin Brokenleg, generosity is a basic human need, no different than love or freedom.


A person with behavioural issues who’s motivated by interaction with animals.


  • identify and define the target behaviour
  • be specific – it’s okay if other unwanted behaviours exist

Activity instructions

Part 1 – Calculate behavior frequency

  1. calculate how often the behaviour occurs
    • for example, Marcus typically swears 3x per 1 hour class period
  2. multiply that number by 2
    • this is the number of times positive reinforcement will be given (6x/hour) if no target behaviour (such as swearing) occurs
  3. if no swearing occurs, Marcus will be given positive reinforcement every 10 minutes of every hour

In other words, every 10 minutes staff will help Marcus to remember whether or not he swore in that timeframe.

  • if he did, no reinforcement is given
  • reset the clock back to zero for another 10-minute trial with no punishment and no lecture
  • if he did not swear, reinforcement is given

Part 2 – Reinforcement delivery

  1. Agree to a reinforcement.
    • use the Reinforcement Inventories (PDF, 8 pages) provided in this Toolkit
    • for example, Marcus is highly motivated by his visits to the local animal shelter, and he agrees to make homemade dog biscuits in order to bring them to the dog he’s grown to love
    • or, he has a close attachment to the instructional assistant who greets him in the morning and, together, they often do life skills like baking and cooking
  2. Reward with markers
    • for example, there are 5 one-hour class periods per day and Marcus spends the first as a ‘soft landing’
    • Marcus has the opportunity to earn 6 markers per hour for a total of 30 markers per day if he doesn’t swear
      • remember, he usually swears on average 15x per day.
    • for every 10 minutes that Marcus doesn’t swear, he gets a marker regardless of any other unwanted behaviour
    • when he has gained 24 markers, Marcus is able to bake dog biscuits either in the last period of the day or the following morning during his ‘soft landing’
Modified: 2015-09-09
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