The physiological basis of dog training

The following observation by Lorenz is interesting for understanding the physical basics of training: he argued that a dog chooses a master from family members at a certain age (3-4 months).

If you buy a dog of an older age, then perhaps it will not be possible to raise it with a faithful odnolyubka.


Having introduced the term reflex to science, R. Descartes, perhaps, did not even suspect that this term would become one of the main ones in modern physiology of higher nervous activity. By Descartes' definition, a reflex is a natural response of the organism to an external agent. This concept was then supplemented and complicated, and now reflexes are divided into two types: unconditional (innate) and conditional (acquired).

Unconditioned reflexes

The reflexes of withdrawing a hand from a hot object, squeezing the eyes while moving towards an object (wave of the hand), sneezing, coughing, etc. are unconditional. Complex unconditioned reflexes are called instincts. Such ones are known as sexual, food-producing, protecting offspring, preserving their own lives, etc. Often in real life they compete with each other: a stronger instinct suppresses the weaker. For example, a mother, despite the danger, protects her young, and does not flee. In this case, the great instinct of motherhood, aimed at preserving the species, is stronger than the instinct of self-preservation ...

Now it is proved that some components of unconditioned reflexes are formed during the life of animals. Interesting is the phenomenon of imprinting (sealing), described by C. Lorentz. It is known that newborn chickens already "know" that they should follow the laying mother.

It turned out that if the barely hatched chickens show any small moving object, such as a ball, they take it as their parent and begin to follow it, just as they would follow the hen. If some time later the real mother is allowed in to the chickens, they will not pay attention to her. Interestingly, imprinting is possible only at a certain stage of development of the organism, later the reflex is no longer realized.

A necessary condition for the "ripening" of a number of unconditioned reflexes are games. Reflexes of pursuing a runaway object are laid in the dog initially. But only in the game she learns how to grab correctly, in the game she learns to be a predator.

Conditional reflexes, in contrast to the unconditioned ones, are formed only during the life of animals.

There are classical (Pavlovian) instrumental conditioned reflexes.

Classic are very common. When a weak acid solution gets into the mouth, a strong salivation begins, this is an unconditioned reflex. However, if we imagine that we are eating a lemon, then we will feel how the mouth is filled with saliva. The role of the unconditioned stimulus (lemon juice) was played here by a conditioned stimulus — the association with the taste of lemon. There is a case in which one man blew off a brass band concert: he began to peel a lemon in front of the musicians; a few minutes passed, and the orchestra was silent, the musicians could not blow into their pipes - their mouths were filled with saliva.

Classical conditioned reflexes according to Pavlov

The great Russian physiologist I.P.Pavlov described classical conditioned reflexes for the first time in detail. After the death of the academician, his students continued the study of conditioned reflexes. For conditioned reflexes to arise, four conditions are necessary.

  1. Relationship in time of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli. In fact, in order for the body to respond to the action of a conditioned stimulus (smell, type of food), it responds as an unconditional action (food gets into the body), that is, secretion of saliva and gastric juice (and this, in fact, is the conditioned reflex ), it is necessary that the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli are perceived as part of one whole event. It is curious that in cats, however many researchers tried, they could not achieve the elaboration of a conditioned reflex by teasing an animal with a piece of meat. The fact is that the biology of a cat is such that for her the type of food and its eating are not related in time. She can wait for hours in ambush the mouse, see her before you catch. Of course, if a cat had a conditioned reflex, it would simply have spilled out in such a long time.
  2. The conditioned stimulus must precede the unconditioned. If each time before feeding to give a light (flash of light) or sound (bell) signal, the dog quickly "understands" that they give food after the signal, and in advance "produces" gastric juice and saliva. If, however, a conditioned signal is given after feeding, the conditioned reflex, although produced, is very long and with great difficulty. There is a time optimum between conditioned and unconditioned stimuli, when reflexes are produced the fastest.
  3. The unconditioned stimulus must be stronger than the conditioned one. By this is meant that the conditioned stimulus itself should not act as an unconditioned one. For example, you can give a call of such strength that a dog will forget about food and think - it will run away where they are looking. On the other hand, if the dog did not eat for a week, it might not be intimidated by the bomb explosion. Experiments have shown that if the unconditioned stimulus is very strong, then one can be used as a conditional one, which is unconditional in other conditions. For example, a weak current was passed through the floor of the chamber in which the dog was sitting (negative unconditioned stimulus); The dog, of course, did not like it - her pulse quickened, she tried to escape from the cage. But after each blow of the current began to accompany a piece of meat, the dog began to relate to the current philosophically and no longer squealed, but wagged its tail.
  4. Repeated combinations of unconditioned and conditioned stimuli are needed. For both highly developed and low-developed animals, the number of combinations required for the development of a conditioned reflex is approximately the same and amounts to 20-40 repetitions. The case is described when the reflex was developed and was stable after two, and sometimes even after one combination. For example, one strong blow of current from a condenser meat connected to a piece of meat can permanently wean a dog from the ground.

Apart from the classical ones, there are instrumental conditioned reflexes, first described by Konorsky and Miller. If you reinforce any random movement of the animal (for example, bending the paw), then you can train it for this movement, that is, to develop a conditioned reflex. Instrumental reflexes are significantly different from the classical (Pavlovsky). Here, we have already transferred the perception of the unconditioned stimulus to the conditioned ones.

Instrumental reflexes are always motor. In order for an animal to receive food reinforcement (in classical reflexes - an unconditioned stimulus), it must, after the action of a conditioned signal (light, sound, etc.), make certain specific movements (press the pedal, pull the ring, etc.). The technique of producing instrumental reflexes is more complex. First, the animal is trained to perform some action. To do this, it is put in the conditions when the probability of this action increases, and every fact of the action is supported by a delicacy.

The animal gradually “understands” what is wanted of it, and already itself knocks the pedal with its paw in anticipation of reinforcement. Then only actions performed after the conditional signal given by the experimenter are reinforced. The actions of the animal after the development of the instrumental reflex can be complicated. For example, you can push the pedal with a strictly defined force or teach you to press not immediately after the signal, but after a while, etc. For this, only those actions of the animal that are closer to the required ones are supported.

In instrumental conditioned reflexes, in addition to positive reinforcement (food), there may be negative (pain). In this case, the reflex pattern is somewhat different. An animal receives negative reinforcement if it does not perform a certain action after the conditional signal is given. The reflexes of deliverance and avoidance were studied. The deliverance reflex is a conditioned reflex, in which an animal neutralizes a painful stimulus by some action. For example, by pressing the pedal off, the current applied to the cage floor. During the avoidance reaction, the animal in advance prevents the action of negative reinforcement with the same, for example, pressing the pedal, but only before the current is turned on.

The development of instrumental conditioned reflexes is the scientific name for animal training. All the patterns described in the study of instrumental reflexes, and act during training. It is noticed that if the conditioned reflex is not supported, it will die out. For example, if a rabbit pulls the ring by a signal and does not receive a carrot, then very soon it will stop paying attention to the conditional stimulus. The process of slowing down (extinction) of the conditioned reflex has its own characteristics. It does not happen immediately. Suppose an animal, without receiving reinforcements, ceased to perform instrumental movements.

But after a few conditioned stimuli, it again performs an instrumental action. Gradually, the pause between the conditioned-reflex movements is extended. But for the complete extinction of the reflex requires much more combinations than for its development. The extinguished reflex is very easy to restore. Instrumental conditioned reflexes and classical conditioned reflexes, despite the differences noted above, have a number of features in common.

Both conditioned reflexes are characterized by extinction when the unconditioned stimulus (reinforcement) is not supplied. If after the extinction of the reflex a new stimulus appears, the reflex is restored. For example, the experimenter by repeated reinforcements achieved that the animal stopped responding to the conditioned stimulus. But then the door slammed or the telephone rang - and the animal again began to perform a movement caused by a conditioned reflex, which it had been taught.

For both types of conditioned reflexes is characteristic: the harder the reflex is produced, the faster it quenches. After the extinction of the reflex after a while, it can spontaneously recover.

It is noted that if reinforcement is not given every time, the extinction occurs slowly.

Dog Training Axioms

The studied features of reflexes and their extinction allows us to derive several axioms of practical training:

  1. Retraining is always more difficult than teaching.
  2. Wean the dog to do something can only be subject to negative reinforcement of each of its wrong actions. For example, in order for a dog not to take food from the ground, it is necessary to monitor it and punish it every time; otherwise, weaning a dog is almost impossible to pick up food: it will follow? and the trainer will pick up when he gets distracted.
  3. In the new conditions, the conditioned reflex developed may not work. Many trainers complain that their dogs, working unmistakably at home, begin to make mistakes on the playground, get distracted. In such cases, it is recommended to engage with the dog in a variety of conditions, teaching to work with any distractions.
  4. The developed conditioned reflex can not be reinforced every time. Even Pavlov proposed the principle of temporal communication - the ability of the nervous system to form links between any stimuli and activities. The temporal relationship is a broader concept than the conditioned reflex. Our whole life is a complex of habits and automatic actions. The brain (and the whole body) is designed in such a way that, while working, to consume a minimum of energy. Therefore, many of our actions are automated - performed without the participation of consciousness. The biological meaning of temporal communication is not only energy saving, but also time saving. A temporary connection allows the body to prepare for an event before its actual implementation, which gives a huge advantage. The ancient reptiles became extinct, perhaps also because they did not have such a plastic nervous system as mammals.

An important feature of the body is the ability to addiction (not to be confused with the habit!). Habituation — a type of negative learning — is a gradual decrease in the response to the repeated action of the stimulus or to its continuous action. For example, a dog clearly responds to a knock on the door with an alert. But if a knock is heard every minute, then it stops paying attention to it.

Thompson and Spencer habituation characteristics

Thompson and Spencer suggested the following habituation characteristics. ”

  1. When the stimulus is repeated, the response decreases.
  2. The termination of the action of the stimulus - the restoration of the ability to respond.
  3. With repeated series of stimuli, addictive behavior deepens.
  4. The more often the stimulus is given, the faster the addiction occurs.
  5. The addiction depends on the intensity of the stimulus.
  6. If you continue to affect the stimulus after the onset of addiction, it is aggravated.
  7. After the action of a strong stimulus, the response to the first stimulus is restored.

The addiction is a wide class of phenomena, and its particular case is the extinction of the conditioned reflex. Addiction to new conditions, in essence, is reduced to the extinction of an approximate (defensive) reaction to unknown stimuli or to their unusual combination or intensity. So gradually dogs are taught to travel in transport, to loud noise, crowds, shots, etc.

One of the most talented students of Academician Pavlov, PK Anokhin, created the theory of the functional system, for which he was awarded the Lenin Prize. The essence of the theory consists in asserting the existence in the brain of a specialized system, including the entire brain and periphery, and aimed at achieving an adaptive result.

An irritant acts on the animal. Turns on the memory block. There is a synthesis of real events captured in memory. An action program is developed. In parallel, a model of the future result is created. The action takes place. Information on the result of the action is given. When the model is not matched with the actual result, the approximate reaction is restarted. The cycle starts over. If the result of the action coincides with the model, the mechanism stops.

The functional theory of Anokhin is recognized in Russia and abroad, it is widely used for applied purposes, and its knowledge may be useful in practical training. Discrepancy between the model of the future and reality sometimes leads to unexpected results.

An interesting case from practice

The owner of one vicious, well-trained dog argued that no one could take away the thing protected by it. The volunteer who was summoned did not behave like the dog had expected. He did not offer her a treat, did not try to persuade her with affection, did not try to drive her away from the thing with a stick. To all this, the dog was ready. The man stood on all fours, took a briefcase in his teeth, and, growling, crawled straight at the dog. She was confused and backed away. Having taken the thing, the man backed up safely back to a safe place - the animal did not have time to adjust the program of his behavior in a short time. And when later, having “realized”, she rushed to the offender, he was out of reach.

One of the basic concepts of the physiology of higher nervous activity is motivation, i.e. state of the organism, rejected from some biological optimum. The body tends to reduce the level of motivation, i.e. to meet their needs. According to Skinner, reinforcement (reduced motivation) increases the likelihood of a reaction. Without the presence of motivation can not develop a conditioned reflex. For example, it is impossible to train a well-fed dog to any team, using food as reinforcement. Motivation is a powerful factor affecting the functional state of the brain. Everyone recognized that each activity is characterized by a specific specific state of the brain. In addition to motivation, the state of the brain is determined by the following factors: a set of genetic programs, brain plasticity (ability to reorganize), memory, environment, the state of metabolic systems.

It is necessary to imagine well that for the realization of a conditioned reflex it is necessary that the dog has a definite state of the brain. If she is too excited or inhibited, she did not have time to walk, she is ill, she “forgets” everything or starts to get confused. When she returns to normal, the missing reflex is restored without additional effort.



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