Blog 2: What about animal training?

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Animal training, huh? What's the purpose of making good old Sparky learn to fetch your slippers or the newspaper, besides avoiding getting off the couch? Well, while the newspaper or slippers may not seem too substantial, retrieving an object on command for a dog can be crucial to some humans' lives. So why is animal training important? Animals can be trained for many purposes that not only make lives more convenient for people, but also increase our safety, independence, and give the animal tasks that allow them to feel accomplished. Dogs can be trained to detect drugs or dangerous objects, find missing people, warn humans of seizures other health risks, and aid people with disabilities in their everyday lives. From helping out the blind, to making people with PTSD feel more secure, service animals that are specially trained are changing thousands of lives a year. Now you're probably wondering, "What does this have to do with Psych, and why am I still reading this?" Well, animal training is a perfect example of operant conditioning. Training uses punishment and reinforcement in order to encourage or discourage behaviors to achieve necessary behaviors from the animals. Training may involve using the animals' natural instincts to the advantage of the trainer, and the trainers often focus on what will motivate the animal in the best manor to encourage desired behaviors. Some often training includes training animals to ignore certain stimuli (for seeing-eye dogs), bonding to individuals for special needs dogs, and using a dog's desire to retrieve to help people get items with the assistance of their dog. Without operant conditioning, and the psychology of animal training, many people with special needs would need other forms of assistance and may be robbed of their independence.

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I find the last line of your post to be very ironic. Is it the people who are robbed of their independence, or the animals? While animal training can be very useful, I do not think it is fair to the animals to have to go through this process. What if a dog does not want to be an assistant? Do we have to force him to be? I would like to see some data on animal training vs. Animal happiness to see how the two fields correlate.

When someone is considering training an animal it's also very important to realize how trainable that animal is. For example there are several breeds of dogs that are desired for specific tasks, such as guide, herding, or smelling dogs. Sometimes it's best to know what strength a certain animal has before you train it so as to maximize your time and the efficiency of the training.

My favorite example of this is a family friend has a border collie as a pet. These dogs are known to be able to herd sheep and cattle without any training. It's a dog that needs to be given a task, or it will find one for itself. My friend has a 3 and a 5 year old child and she has noticed her border collie actually herding them around in the back yard. I thought that was incredibly smart of the dog.

This is very, very true. I train horses and Operant conditioning plays a huge part. It's a but different with horses as opposed to dogs, because horses need more punishment than dogs. Because of their size, horses pose a higher risk of injury so positive reinforcement often isn't enough.

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This page contains a single entry by skogs012 published on May 10, 2012 3:01 PM.

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