I read an amazing article many years ago about an experiment training sea bass to respond to a tone and swim back to a certain location for feeding. At some point the signal would entice them to come back for the last time when they would be caught and harvested for food.
I thought about this article again recently when a client was having difficulty training her dog to come to her. I talked to her about this article and decide to look it up. Keep in mind that sound training works as effectively whether you are working with your dog or a fish.
The reason for the training discussed in this article is to save money on the large pens that are currently used for farmed fish. If the fish can swim free for periods of time and come back for feedings, the fishing companies can save money on enclosures. Ethics about hunting and farming the earth's resources aside, this is a fascinating use of positive reinforcement.
Yes, it is still considered positive reinforcement up to the point where the fish are harvested.
"It sounds crazy, but it's real," said Simon Miner, a research assistant at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Wood's Hole, which received a $270,000 grant for the project from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The big question mark for this experiment is how long the fish will remember the signal and come back to the enclosure once they are set free into the open ocean. Not surprisingly, they have found that there is a dropoff that correlates to how long the fish are trained. Fish that are trained longer, remember for a longer period of time once the training stops.
Positive Reinforcement is Powerful
I always look for real-world examples to prove how powerful positive reinforcement training can be. Positive reinforcement training is taught without the use of fear or pain. When I read the article, I knew immediately how the scientists got the fish to come to the defined location because I understand the principles of classical conditioning and operant conditioning, both necessary for training.
Most people know about Pavlov and the salivating dog experiments. He discovered classical conditioning, or associative learning, when he rang a bell before feeding dogs. At some point he realized that the dogs salivated before the food was presented after hearing the bell.
They also responded to the assistants in lab coats that came to feed them in the same way. They anticipated an event based on another event. In this case, the bell or "person in lab coat" predicted food. Classical conditioning occurs regardless of the behavior of the animal. The dogs did not have to sit to get the food, for instance, it was presented each time following the bell no matter what they were doing. They learned that the bell was the predictor of food, not their behavior.
Operant conditioning occurs as a result of an animals behavior, and doesn't occur if the behavior is not present. For instance, a dog can learn that he gets a treat if he sits when asked and doesn't get a treat if he lies down instead.
In the real world, it is often difficult to separate classical and operant conditioning and they are often intertwined. In the sea bass experiement, they started with classical conditioning and sounded a tone before dropping food into a defined area that the fish could only reach by navigating a small opening. The tone predicted the arrival of food for the fish. The fish then had to learn through operant conditioning that they had to swim to the location in order to receive the food. Researchers played the tone for 20 seconds, three times a day, for about two weeks.
Afterward, whenever the tone sounded, "you have remote-control fish," Miner said.
How can you use this for dog training?â€¨First of all, I want you to feel empowered that if fish can be trained, you can train your dog! A skilled trainer thinks about conditioning their dog to do a behavior many, many times before they are expected to "know" the behavior. As mentioned above, the fish that were trained for a longer period of time retained the information longer.
A Dog Training Example to Try
So, keep this in mind when you are working with your dog. Let's use "Come" as an example. To teach Come, put your dog on leash, say the cue one time, and gently pull your dog to you and give a treat. Back up a few steps and repeat. Provide help each and every time that your dog needs it.
Help might be gently pulling the leash or tapping your leg. Keep in mind that you should pause slightly after saying the cue before providing help in order for your dog to hear the cue with being distracted by your movement or sounds.
Eventually your dog will be conditioned to come to you when he hears the cue. Yes!