The Premack Principle

The Premack Principle is one of the best tools to have in your trainer’s toolbox; and despite its scientific name it is also one of the easiest and most effective.

Simply stated The Premack Principle is “Before you can have dessert, you have to eat your vegetables.” In training terms we are requiring one behavior before we allow second behavior (which acts as reward) to occur.

This excellent illustration, appearing here by the good graces of Lili Chin of, gives us a practical example of Premack in action. Notice that no force or even direction is being used here. The dog looks at us of its own volition and we mark that “check-in” behavior with a yes. And as a reward, we allow the dog to do what it wanted to do in the first place, chase the squirrel.

The eloquence of this principle cannot be understated. We are allowing the dog to learn on its own terms that the best way to get a good thing is to check with us first. It is an especially effective technique when bringing a new dog into your home. They are constantly looking to you for direction in their new environment and if they discover that by checking in with you good things happen— your relationship will be off to a great start.

6 thoughts on “The Premack Principle

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