The Art, Science & Technology of Animal Behavior

Oktober 2018
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Playing PORTL

Christian JunkChristian Junk

This afternoon we played PORTL (The Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab) to see the principles of behavior in action, practice applying those principles to change behavior and enhance training skills.

PORTL is a game played between two people, the teacher and the learner, using a collection of small objects, a clicker, and tokens. The teacher communicates with the learner entirely through reinforcement. No instructions, prompts, or models are used during the game to direct the learner. The game, which can be played by both children and adults, uses simple, inexpensive equipment and can be played anywhere. PORTL can be used to teach behavior principles, inquire about behavioral phenomena, and conduct research. PORTL had its beginnings in another tabletop shaping game, called GENABACAB, which was developed by English dog trainer Kay Laurence. Kay developed GENABACAB and a series of GENABACAB exercises as a way to teach her students about the basics of shaping and to improve their timing and observation skills. PORTL itself was developed at the University of North Texas by Mary Hunter and Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz.

These are just a few examples of questions that can easily be studied throughout playing the game:

– What’s the effect of a single click during shaping?
– How does generalization really work?
– How can extinction be used during shaping?
– What’s the difference between dimensional and instructional properties of cues?
– How can concepts be taught with minimal errors?
– How can we use affection as a reinforcer?


  1. An introduction to PORTL: The Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab
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Passion for ethical, science based behaviour management, behavioral engineering & training. I geek out on science-based Animal Training & Behaviorology. Disclaimer: R+ biased.