This is a story about a pizza. Fortunately, given the fate of the pizza, it was not mine. But that’s not really the point of the story.
Once upon a time, let’s say in June, someone left a pizza on the counter in my house and walked away from it.
At this point, we had had Sirius Black for six years and eleven months, and he had no history of going after things on the counter. In fact, I had a somewhat problematic habit of forgetting things on the counter, and he never went after them.
On the other hand, before this, they weren’t ever hot delivery pizza.
This time, they were. When the owner of the pizza returned, some period of time later, the pizza box was on the floor and the pizza was almost completely gone.
Before pizza, Sirius had no history of reward for grabbing things off the counter. Frankly, the counter wasn’t all that interesting to him. After the pizza, there was a whole reserve of pizza-flavored reward that had been built up and kept him looking for the next counter reward. A bad habit had been born.
Similar reward resovoirs can be built up by many small rewards over time, and they are hard to deplete. In fact, it is the longevity of such reward resovoirs that we take advantage of in training to move from continuous reinforcement (rewarding every instance of a behavior) to intermittent reinforcement (rewarding only some instances).
And now, I am on a mission to deplete that buildup of pizza power by proving that the counter is boring. It’s an uphill battle that I won’t win today. Every time Sirius finds anything on the counter, that reserve that had been drinig a little gets a tiny refill. The only sure way to pull the plug is to have nothing up there. I am combining this with lots of other training, like staying on his blanket, away from the counters when food is out.
I am not totally sure yet how much progress i have made with him, but I can say at least that my counter is cleaner.