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Response Cost with a Rabbit

Recall that there are two forms of reinforcement (positive and negative) just as there are two forms of punishment (positive and negative). Negative punishment is more commonly called response cost and consists of removing a reinforcing stimulus. This has the effect of punishing a behavior, making the behavior less frequent.

On the internet, several discussion groups cater to rabbit owners. Here is an example from one of them in which the solution to a problem involved response cost.

[An American list member writes:]

I have a 1 1/2 year old French lop and for his entire 1 1/2 years he has been obsessed with peeing on the bed. We discovered that if we kept the bed covered with a tarp, it would usually deter him from the bed, though not always. Up until about a month ago, we thought we had him pretty well trained, with only a few infrequent accidents. But then, my husband and I got married and Jordy (we call him Monster) and I moved in with my husband. He seems to have adjusted quite well, with the exception of his bed habit...

How was response cost used with a rabbit?

...Please help us, we want to keep Jordy as happy as possible, but we can't keep washing bedding every day.

[A British list member responded:]

We have two "outdoor" rabbits that come inside for about an hour a day. The older (male) rabbit used to pee on the bed. Whenever he did this he would immediately be put back in the hutch outside. After about 10 times of peeing on our bed, he learnt that if he peed, quite simply, he wouldn't be able to play with "Mum" and "Dad." We haven't had a problem since then. I imagine that if Jordy is put outside of the bedroom and denied affection for the rest of the evening he'll learn pretty quickly. Good luck!

This is a fine example of response cost, because the rabbit's behavior was punished by removing a reinforcing stimulus. In this case the reinforcing stimulus was being allowed in the house. This stimulus was removed. Eventually, after about 10 repetitions, he learned the consequence of his behavior, and the problem behavior was eliminated.

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