Training Animals

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One part of psychology that we've all seen constantly is training animals to make them do amazing tricks. They have become an important circuses and shows as animal training has become a million dollar industry. Animal trainers have been successful at training animals to perform a wide variety of tasks like skateboarding, running through hoops, skateboard, sell car insurance, and do flips. However, many people (maybe even you) don't know how they do it and aren't sure how long it takes to get these animals to do what you want.
The way most trainers change the behaviors of the animals is through operant conditioning as first done by Skinner. When an animal is first trained, the trainers give the animal positive reinforcement to make the animals repeat the desired behavior. One of the most common reinforcers is food. Because animals want to eat as often as possible, food strongly motivates animals to do extraordinary tasks Animals also get through negative reinforcement when they fail to listen to their trainers. Over the course of several months, animals can be trained to perform incredible tasks on demand with few problems.
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While I always knew that animals were rewarded with food to train them, I never knew why or how it worked. You mention that animals also get negative reinforcement when they fail to listen to their trainers. I remember hearing that negative reinforcement isn't that effective, though. I am curious to know what type of negative reinforcement they do and how effective it is.

It is great that you used the example of the orcas at SeaWorld because most people are familiar with it. Training exotic animals can also be a problem. They can revert back to their instincts and cause harm to their trainers like some orcas have done at SeaWorld. It is still fascinating to see what people can train animals to do with just food as a positive reinforcement.

I have always thought that the animal trainers have some superpower or something; however, after learning this, it is interesting to know that pretty much any average Joe could be an animal trainer. Maybe that's a future career path calling our names'!

Animals each have their own feelings and expressions. It is really cute to see a dog roll over and it is amazing to see a Orca whale jump up in the air on command. It is true this all due to Skinner's findings on operate conditioning and the difference in positive and negative feedback is amazing to see. Of course, some traditional negative feedback may not be the way to go, like punishing a dog when something is wrong. Although, when one simply takes away something like to get rid of a past fear is a good negative reinforcement.

I think it is amazing the patience that those animal trainers have. It would be hard for some one like me to see many failed attempts at something like this. How much work do you think animal trainers put into the animals we see in the movies? I have always been curious. The movie The Planet of the Apes is incredible, and would take much training for such a movie.

Now that I've learned more about animal conditioning, I feel like I know a lot more about raising a pet. For example, now I know that strengthening behavior is much more effective than punishing, as it would be hard for the pet to know why I was punishing him.

Having been to SeaWorld a number of times in my life I can honestly say that some of the things these animals do are pure amazement. Who knew sea-lions could be so hilarious?! Food is such an amazing motivator though so it's not entirely surprising to see dolphins doing flips in the air and then coming up to the trainer begging for a treat. I mean how often do we as people exhibit this same tendency? (Like when we go through finals week and are rewarded at the end with an awesome restaurant paid for by our parents. Yay you finished a semester! Do it again.)

I think animal training is a great example of conditioning. It bottles my mind how a trainer would even begin to teach an animal much larger than they, to do a flip or jump. Of course though, the minute the trick is done, the food is presented making learning a lot easier. It is definitely fascinating and also amazing!

I recently saw this music video, which involves complex dog interaction with the musicians: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHlJODYBLKs&feature=related
I wonder how they used conditioning to train the dogs to do such complex procedures, as it seems hard to communicate to the dogs to do the acts.

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This page contains a single entry by joh09532 published on February 27, 2012 8:40 PM.

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