October 11, 2020

Essential Terminology

“These principles are laws, like the laws of physics. They underlie all learning-teaching situations as surely as the law of gravity underlies the falling of an apple. Whenever we attempt to change behavior, in ourselves or in others, we are using these laws, whether we know it or not.” – Karen Pryor

Behavior is any observable/measurable act or response.

Stimulus is any physical event, condition, or object which may or may not alter behavior.

Motivation is a word referring to the forces regulating behavior. These forces may include drives, needs, or desires. It is produced through stimulus variability.

Communication is the act or process of transmitting information. Clear and concise communication is an essential part of good animal training. This includes eye contact, tone, posture, and overall confidence.

Learning is a process by which an organism acquires skill or knowledge. A change in behavior due to experience that allows the organism to adapt to situations for which its innate behavior is inadequate.

Husbandry is the long-term physiological and psychological management that ensures the viability of a species under human care.

Classical Conditioning is a type of learning based on an involuntary or physiological response to a stimulus.  It is sometimes called Pavlovian conditioning as a result of Pavlov’s famous experiment with salivating dogs.

Operant Conditioning is a type of learning in which the likelihood of a specific behavior is increased or decreased due to the consequence each time the behavior is exhibited, so that the subject associates the consequences with the behavior. Behavior is determined by its consequences.

Reinforcement is anything that increases the frequency of the behavior it follows.

Punishment is anything that decreases the frequency of the behavior it follows.

Primary Reinforcement is something that an animal has a natural desire for. Usually this is something that satisfies a basic biological need. Consequently, food is one of our strongest reinforcers.  

Secondary Reinforcement is something that has acquired reinforcing value through its association with a primary reinforcer. The concept and use of secondary reinforcers are an important part of training.

Positive Reinforcement is presented following the performance of a correct response, which increases the probability that the response will reoccur in the future.

Negative Reinforcement is when the performance of a correct response causes the discontinuation of an aversive stimulus, which increases the probability that the response will reoccur in the future.

Positive Punishment is when a response is followed by the presentation of, or an increase in the intensity of, an aversive stimulus resulting in the decrease of frequency of that response.

Negative Punishment is when a response is followed by the removal of, or a decrease in the intensity of, a previously given positive reinforcer resulting in the decrease in frequency of that response.

A Bridge is a stimulus that pinpoints in time the precise moment of a desired response and bridges the gap in time between that point and when the animal may receive further reinforcement.

Shaping is the entire process of selectively reinforcing responses that approximate the desired response to an increasingly greater degree. A method of modifying behavior.

Successive Approximations are the progressive training steps from simple to more complex behavior, all leading to a finished desired behavior.

Magnitude or jackpot is reinforcement that is bigger than normal and comes as a surprise to the subject.

Targeting enables a trainer to tell an animal where and how to do a behavior. It acts as an extension of your arm and the animal learns to move towards it or touch parts of its body to it in order to perform correct behaviors.

Scanning is the act of reinforcing behavior that is naturally offered by the animal.

Modeling is the act of physically molding the animal into a desired position and then reinforcing it.

Mimicry is the act, practice, or art of copying the manner, expression, or behavior patterns of another.

Baiting or luring is a training technique in which the deliberate movement or placement of food is used to maneuver an animal to a desired location.

Chaining is the process of learning a sequence of behaviors that proceeds semi-automatically in a determinate order.

A Discriminative Stimulus is a conditioned signal or cue that is initially paired with, then has the property of eliciting, a specific behavior through a reinforcement schedule.

Immediacy of Reinforcement (Timing) means to reinforce directly following a desired response in order to avoid the inadvertent reinforcement of some other behavior, pairing the reinforcing event as closely as possible with the target behavior.

Continuous Reinforcement is a schedule in which the delivery of a reinforcer follows each and every correct behavior. It is a technique generally only used when starting a new behavior.

Variable Ratio Reinforcement is a schedule of reinforcement in which a behavior is reinforced after a varying number of correct responses. Over the years, trainers have used many different schedules of reinforcement and the most effective ones involve mixing when, how often, how much, and what types of rewards are given for correct behaviors. This schedule is called random interrupted reinforcement (RIR) or variable ratio with reinforcement variety (VRRV). Once a behavior is established to criteria, the reinforcement is entirely variable.

The Least Reinforcing Stimulus or LRS is 3-5 second neutral response that serves the purpose of ignoring an unwanted behavior and communicating to the animal that it was incorrect without causing it to become frustrated.  The basic idea is simply to follow an incorrect response with no reaction of any kind.  This technique is very effective if used properly and is one of the most widely used methods of communicating “no” in marine mammal training.

Time-Out is a non-reinforcement training strategy whereby a training session is temporarily paused and attention is removed from the animal for a period of time.

Extinction is a procedure where the reinforcement of a previously reinforced behavior is discontinued. The result is a gradual disappearance of the learned behavior.

Extinction Burst is an increase in responses or performances that is brought about by the withdrawal of reinforcement. Extinction bursts occur just prior to the extinction of the behavior.

Acclimatization is adaptation or adjustment to several environmental conditions at the same time.

Activation Syndrome refers to a large group of responses that are elicited by the environment, usually paired with emotions such as fear or anger, and characterized by flight or fight. A singular or series of behaviors performed in response to a perceived threat.

Aggression is an extremely general term used for a wide variety of acts that involve attack, hostility, etc. Typically, it is used for such acts as can be assumed to be motivated by any of the following: (a) fear or frustration, (b) a desire to produce fear or frustration in others, or (c) a tendency to push forward one’s own ideas or interests. There are many different types of aggression, and each one is independent of the others. Some of these types of aggression include:

⦁ Maternal aggression. When a mother attacks or threatens any perceived threat to her offspring.

⦁ Frustration-induced aggression. In almost all species studied, aggression is a natural response to frustration.

⦁ Defensive aggression. This type of aggression occurs when an animal is threatened or attacked. As soon as the threat or attack ceases, so does the aggression.

⦁ Pain-induced aggression. This type of aggression is caused by physical pain.

⦁ Predatory aggression. This should not really be called aggression. It is usually part of foraging behavior of carnivores or omnivores.

⦁ Territorial aggression. This type of aggression is found in animals that hold and defend a territory. It is usually only directed towards members of the same species that enter that animal’s territory. This aggression stops when the intruder leaves the territory.

⦁ Dominance aggression. This is aggression aimed at maintaining or advancing social status.

⦁ Learned aggression. It is aggression which occurs because it is reinforced. Learned aggression is characterized by an increase in the probability of aggression over time. There are two major types of learned aggression, aggression learned because it results in rewards (approach induced aggression) and aggression learned because it results in avoidance or escape from aversive stimuli.

⦁ Re-directed aggression. When an animal is attacked or threatened by another animal of higher status, that animal may attack or threaten another of lower status. The animal that is ultimately attacked is simply a scapegoat and usually did nothing to provoke aggression.

Anthropomorphism is when we assign human qualities, characteristics, or motivation to animals.

An Aversive is a stimulus whose termination increases the frequency of a performance, or whose addition decreases the frequency of a performance it follows.

A Delta is a signal that indicates an incorrect behavior or response was performed by the animal and that it should return to the trainer for further instructions.

Desensitization is the process of using time or experience to change an animal’s perception of a stimulus from a value, either reinforcing or punishing, to neutral or no value. If reinforcement is not used, this is referred to as passive desensitization (or habituation) while active desensitization utilizes primary reinforcement and is also referred to as counter conditioning.

Fading is a procedure for gradually changing a stimulus controlling an organism’s performance to another stimulus.

Generalization is the transfer of a trained response to situations or conditions other than those on which training has taken place in response to a stimulus that resembles the training stimulus.

Latency is the delay between the presentation of a stimulus and the response of the organism.

Recall is the process of sending or retrieving an animal from one point of station to another through the use of a conditioned stimulus (recall training).

Regression is a return to an earlier mental or behavioral level or to an earlier stage of learning.

Socialization is the process whereby an organism acquires and conducts itself in patterns of behavior accepted by its society.

Station is an assigned position for an animal, designated by a trainer. The animal remains at the position, usually in a fixed posture, for a designated period of time.

Stereotypic Behavior is an undesirable repetitive behavior that is enacted by an organism, generally as a result of anxiety and/or lack of stimulation.

Superstitious Behavior is behavior that is unintentionally and unknowingly reinforced by a trainer.