parso218: February 2012 Archives

From Rats to Cats

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From rats to cats and chimps to pigs, Michael Boxer has successfully trained over 60 different species of animals for Hollywood Cinema. Appearing in numerous movies, such as Babe 2 and The Jungle Book, these animals have displayed outstanding abilities in the art of "acting". But it makes one wonder, are all these animals smart and easy to train? Boxer states that some of the animals, such as various reptiles, are "not as smart" and in fact are more difficult to train.

I find it extremely intriguing that so many different species of animals can be trained to do such amazing tricks. The monkey in the video is one of my favorites as he plays along with the sarcasm and humor of Boxer, without missing a beat.

But, I wonder exactly how these animals are trained. Boxer states that he begins training with chimps at the age of three and continues on throughout their lives, while only taking 9 months to a year to train a dog. Is this because of the old adage "You can't teach old dogs new tricks"? I personally am not sure that I believe in this, as I have two dogs that I know will be able to learn tricks until the day they die (although I may be a bit biased). But in terms of training I believe it is possible that Boxer made use of Pavlov's classical conditioning in which he provided a conditioned stimulus (such as a hand signal), which in turn caused a conditioned response (the trick). Or is it possible that Boxer made use of Skinner's "clicker training" as described by Professor Peterson in lecture to induce "shaping"? Overall, no matter what method of training Boxer used, the animals show amazing capabilities to perform.

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