Animal Training Cooper Howard PSY497 Dr.
Lawson Eastern Kentucky University The animal that I will be training for this objective is an eight-year-old Chow Chow-Golden Retriever mix named Ranger. He lives with my girlfriend, who’s dad adopted him from an abusive home a couple years ago, and two other dogs: an eighteen-month-old Great Pyrenees-Husky mix named Fluff and a six-year-old Border Collie-Blue Heeler mix named Jett. Biologically, his ancestry can be traced back to grey wolves. These wolves would live in packs, have a social hierarchy put into place, and use the same routes every day to hunt and retrieve food for themselves and those who were unable to provide for themselves (Kowalewski, 2009). These packs had also inherited favorable traits such as fur patterns that would benefit the species as a whole. The favorable fur pattern surrounding the eyes would allow for the gaze of pack members to become more visible, and thus more easily followed by others with minimal communication needed (Ueda, Kumagai, Yamaguchi, ; Kohshima, 2014) which would increase the agility of the hunt and allow for better survival. Dogs have evolved to benefit themselves in ways such as this throughout time, however the dog that is known today has been heavily influenced by selective breeding for traits that human find favorable rather than what benefits the dog’s independent survival. Through this type of breeding, many natural behaviors remain although they present themselves in different contexts.
For instance, the wild dogs that Ranger comes from would rarely bark amongst themselves as a form of regular communication. Over time and the gain of human dependence, barking has become a major way that dogs communicate both between each other and to their human companions (Yin, 2002). This human dependence has changed more than how their instinctive behaviors present themselves.
Now, the average household dog has nearly every action and behavior decided at the will of their owner(s). From when and where they are allowed to go to the bathroom, to what they eat, and how they behave in social situations are now changed over time based on conditioning put into place by humans and the animal’s own experiences. Specifically related to Ranger, his breeds have been known to be bred to hunt and protect those that they live with. He has also been bred to have the natural ability to learn training fairly easy given the right conditions. While this is worked against by his average energy level when around other dogs, the energy level is not expected to be a significant factor in regard to training. When observing him over an extended amount of time, it was found that his energy level only increased when he was around other dogs, and his owner was around. The first time I observed him she had been gone on vacation for a couple of days, limiting his human interaction and putting him in an unwanted position. He gets along well with the other dogs that he lives with, however had himself isolated outside of his owner’s room for the majority of the time that she was away, as if he was protecting the area.
In between periods of rest in the area she normally occupied, he would be alert at the door, either standing or in a resting position. The other dogs mostly stayed on the back of the couch looking out the window for the duration of this observation. Any time a sound or sudden movement could be recognized from outside, they would run to the door and begin making vocalizations in the form of barking or growling. These vocalizations would last until Jett ceased himself, and then Ranger would stand at the door for several more minutes before returning to a rest somewhere else. This behavior ritual repeated itself on several occasions throughout that observation and the next.
The next time, however, his owner had been back in town for several days and thus had given his time to adjust back to his normal behavior. Instead of staying to himself, he was more social with the other dogs when they were engaged in play. His choices in locations to rest were found to be more in the way of humans rather than somewhere where he would have to be looked for. On the daily, his schedule revolves around what his owner is doing. While she is getting ready for class or work, he follows her around the house. When in the shower, he waits outside the door while the other dogs engage in different behaviors in the other rooms. He then eats, drinks, and is let outside with the other dogs several times throughout the day.
When it is time for bed they all go into the same bed with her, although Ranger makes sure he is the closest on the majority of nights. What has affected Ranger recently, however, is the change in his owner’s schedule. As aforementioned, he is very attached to her and is with her consistently whenever she is home. Around the time of this assignment, she was began working an optional double shift each day she is scheduled at work, so that every day is almost like the days she was out of state due to her being gone for potentially 20 hours out of the day, five to six days a week.
While people do check on Ranger and the other two dogs throughout the day, they are not receiving as much attention as they are used to and have experienced an extreme amount of change within the last two months alone. While they are adjusting top the changes steadily, the series of events could be effected Ranger’s behavior as a whole as well as his attention span. Since he has been raised to be close to his owners since they adopted him, he has obtained knowledge on how to perform a few “tricks” such as sit and lay down. He also knows his name, and will come to it, but if you do not say his name he does not know to come by saying “come”/ “come here”/etc. For this reason, I decided to train him to come to these prompts and not just his name. If he was to get out of the yard, which they have been able to do in the past, then he would not come to anyone trying to get him to safety that did not know him by his name.
I decided to set up a training plan using operant conditioning and primary reinforcers (Appendix A provides a timeline). I chose to use this style because reinforcements are more likely to make him want to learn more things in the future, as well as making the learning now more enjoyable. Also, reinforcement works better than punishment when learning the consequences of a behavior. I would start off using treats as primary reinforcers, then switch to a secondary reinforcer (petting) and incorporate clicker. I chose to use a clicker rather than a verbal cue because there will still be reinforcers occasionally given in the form of treats or physical contact to maintain learning, and clickers are more standard. That is, when using a clicker there is no difference within pitch, time, or tone any time it is used, and it is a noise that is offset from the background noise Ranger may be surrounded by. He also was not trained with a clicker previously, therefore there will be no prior learning to work around.
The training plan was broken down into four steps. First, over the course of two afternoons I would just say “come” and give him a training treat. Then, starting the next day, I would say “come” from across the room.
Any time he came to me, I would reward him and click the clicker. When doing so, I would try to give as few physical cues as possible to ensure that any learning that was taking place took place due to the cue and reinforcement through conditioning, and not that he was learning that certain movements or gestures were meaning for him to come themselves. After several days of the target behavior occurring consistently, I switched to petting him and clicking the clicker instead of giving a treat. During this time, he was being reinforced on a fixed ratio schedule. In the beginning it started as a 1:1 ratio, with him being rewarded after each successful movement towards the target behavior and later each full success at the target behavior. At this point, I moved from simply him coming in the same room to asking him to come from a farther distance. The end of the next week, when he was coming across the house the majority of the time he was called by just the verbal prompt, He was rewarded almost solely with the clicker being clicked.
After this point, he continued to be reinforced with either a treat or being petted on a variable ratio schedule, where he would be rewarded after several successful trials of the behavior from varying distances and/or locations. On average, this started with every 1-4 attempts and gradually increased as he learned the behavior to be around once every ten times depending on the difficulty of that particular session. I chose a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement, firstly, so that there would not be as many rules when switching from me giving the prompt and reinforcement to his owners or someone else supplying the prompt or reinforcement. In addition, by not knowing the exact amount of times he has to come to being called before he gets an award I thought he would be more likely to come each time in hopes to receive more reinforcement. In addition to this I also began training with treats that are specifically geared towards being primary reinforcers during training. By using these instead of his usual treats, he does not become satiated with them as he only gets them when he performs the behavior. They are also already divided into equally sized pieces so there in slim chance of the behavior being rewarded on one occasion more than it had been in another.
They also are made specifically for training, so they are made to be low calorie so that the training does not interfere with his normal diet, nor have the necessarily take the place of any other treats he may receive the same day for performing other behaviors (he is usually given a treat when he, along with the other dogs are told to sit upon coming inside from being let outside to go to the bathroom). My training did work as planned, in terms of the overall goal. He learned the behavior in the set amount of time I had, and it served as a way to gain a more positive relationship between us, and between him and other men as a whole; being as he has always had anxiety surrounding male figures due to his previous owners. However, some things did have to be changed along the way. Firstly, due to the nature of my job schedule, I do not always get off at the same time each day. I was participating in this training before and after work, and while the time I go in is always stable some nights I had to put off until the next day due to be hours later than intended.
Having had not done this around the holidays, the schedule of training could have been more scheduled and steady and Ranger potentially have learned the behavior faster and with more precision. Secondly, I had to have his owner home at the same time in order to have him behave in his usual way and be his most comfortable in order to aid the learning process. This was not a problem in and of itself, but I was unable to maintain his focus to train with the other dogs in the same room either due to them interrupting via vocalization, engaging in play activities, or various other tasks. Due to this, they had to be placed either outside or in a different room. While eliminating the front and center distraction, there was still a lot of background noise from them wanting to be included in what was occurring without them and having to be shut off from us while Ranger was getting to spend time wherever he happened to be being trained.
Although I did have to alter these conditions, the training objectives were met. As mentioned before, there were several obstacles that came up when training Ranger. These obstacles were, for the most part, the same reasons why the training had to be modified simply to stretch over a longer period of time. With the other dogs or something myself or their owner was doing causing distractions, there were times where it was more difficult than others to hold Ranger’s attention and keep him focused solely on the task at hand. Other issues involved included the usage of time. Some of this was caused by my work schedule being hectic during the holiday season whereas at other times it was caused by people being inconsiderate. During the training, there were days in which Ranger was extremely excited and it took a lot longer than it should have to get him calmed down.
Despite stating that I had to observe him, and that this was the only time I could set aside to do it, my girlfriend’s family still insisted on coming over to her house and refused to leave even after stating that I was doing an assignment and, in fact, doing something to potentially hlp their own animal. Eventually they settled for, instead of leaving, going into another room to continue packing things into boxes. While out of the immediate vicinity, they were still creating a lot of noise and Ranger was aware that they were in the house. Therefore, he was more focused on getting to her family than he was coming to me, or anything else.
If I train Ranger or any other of their animals in the future, I will make it explicitly clear that he needs to be left alone during training sessions. In addition, it would be helpful to come up with a way to fully include Fluff and Jett instead of keeping them away in order to reduce distractions and distress alike. This way, they could also be learning from each other and there could be an inclusion of observational learning as well. Outside of this, it may be useful to conduct more naturalistic observations on Ranger. Doing more observations such as the ones done prior to this training would offer more opportunities to learn more about his relationships with other people of the family and the other dogs, as well as his true likes and dislikes. Knowing in more detail the things he truly enjoys such as which toys may be his favorite or which type of treat he seems to enjoy the best would put more options to use for reinforcements in future training to avoid him reaching satiation on one specific item. Overall, Ranger’s personality heavily mirrored that expected of his breed mix Golden Retrievers are typically classified as the stereotypical “man’s best friend” and that is exactly what he appeared to be towards his owner. Towards the end of this assignment, he began to act the same way towards me due to my presence in his environment being more and more frequent over time.
On the Chow Chow side on his gene pool, they are naturally protective and can sometimes not be as social as other dogs. While no lack sociality was present in his personality during training, the protective side became evident seeing how he wsa eager to be with who he saw as his family at all times. When the other dogs began to alert of a noise, he would do the same and commonly be the one closest to the outside stimulus. Compared with the results of the observation, he appears to behave similar across several situations. His energy level and eagerness to learn served as a good basis for training. Despite having a couple issues here and there, he caught on steadily and learned that when he came to me he would receive a reward. Eventually he learned to do this without reinforcement occurring in as large of amounts or as frequently as it was when we began.
Any issues that came up throughout training were almost all due to outside influence rather than him not being focused himself. Given the chance to train him further, it would be helpful to teach him to watch who is trying to train him and focus on them. This would be difficult, of course, due to there potentially being a lot of outside stimuli occurring at once as well as this being combined with his apparent constant check of safety for himself and his family. When training any dog or animal, it is important to first understand them both as a species and an individual. By knowing their past learning the things they do and do not enjoy, and what usually draws their attention towards or away from an item or other stimulus, and can better cater training to them in order to make it flow smoother and be more enjoyable for you and the animal at hand.
ReferencesKowalewski, D. (2009). The Anatomy of a Wolf Den Site: A Field Report. Electronic Green Journal, (28), 1-10. Ueda, S., Kumagai, G.
, Otaki, Y., Yamaguchi, S., ; Kohshima, S. (2014). A Comparison of Facial Color Pattern and Gazing Behavior in Canid Species Suggests Gaze Communication in Gray Wolves (Canis lupus).
Plos ONE, 9(6), 1-8. doi:10. Yin, S. (2002). A New Perspective on Barking in Dogs (Canis familiaris). Journal Of Comparative Psychology, 116(2), 189.