Teaching Fido to say woof

Why is it that certain animals (dogs, horses, elephants, etc.) can be trained whereas others (snails, pidgeons, humans, etc.) simply cannot? Is it just a question of brain capacity?

Humans can’t be trained?

Who says you can’t train pigeons? IIRC, B.F. Skinner trained pigeons in order to use them to guide missiles to a desired target.

This is not an expert opinion, but it seems to me that animals that are naturally social are more trainable. Wild dogs and elephants both have sophisticated social structures. Of course, they are also both very intelligent. I’m not too sure about the social nature of wild horses.

Skinner, the pioneer in Behaviourism did military work!!??

In any case, using pigeons to guide something doesn’t sound like “training” to me. It sounds like a creative use of the homing instict.

My dad used to do Psych conditioning experiments, and he said that pigeons were very slow to catch on. Rats were far, far quicker.

Pigeons can be trained, and have been used (on an experimental basis)in certain manufacturing processes where their superior visual acuity is used to have them accept/reject components that fall within a size tolerance imperceptible to humans.

No word on whether head-bobbing affected their job performance.

This doesn’t answer the question, but I taught my cat to say, “Feed me, you fat, lazy bastard!”…but you have to listen very closely.

I realize, belatedly, that my choice of the pigeon as an example was perhaps a bit unfortunate, but no doubt largely motivated (on a subconscious level?) by my profound abhorrence of these lovable little creatures.

As for my reference to humans, Strainger, it was a feeble attempt at humour on my part, as I’m sure you have already guessed :slight_smile:

I figured you must’ve been kidding, omniscientnot. Unfortunately, though, when I begin to think about certain individuals…hmmm…maybe you weren’t too far off.

Severin Dardin had a routine about whether fish could think. He trained his fish by feeding them at the same time each day, so they knew to gather at the side of the tank at that time… but then he started feeding them a little early and a little earlier each day… and they starved to death. So, yes, fish think – but not fast enough.

In their case, shouldn’t we say that the fish…tank :smiley: ?

I don’t remember anything about using pigeons to guide missiles, but Skinner did use pigeons for the majority of his experiments. My favorite was where he made superstitious pigeons.

Intelligence can make it harder to train an animal (or human). In order to modify behavior, the trainer has to choose a suitable reward, and that requires some understanding of the motivations of the trainee. Simpler animals have much less complex needs, so rewarding is easier. In addition, social animals tend to respond well to our normal modes of reward and punishment (praise, pain, food.)

You would think this would make us the easiest of all to train, but our needs and motivations are extremely complex, and we tend to not be aware of the more important factors in ourselves, much less others.

I suspect the difference between rats and pigeons is that rats are adapted to a wider variety of conditions, so exhibit a greater variety of behaviors.

Final note: I’ve seen behavioral experiments performed on everything from humans to something along the lines of tapeworms.


Mastery is not perfection but a journey, and the true master must be willing to try and fail and try again

I’ll tell you what, you sure can train a seagull. Anyone who went to high school within reach of a So. Cal. beach can tell you that the birds are very aware of where the school is and when the feeding times are.

Didn’t the crew for “The Birds” train the birds to land on peoples’ heads, and then have the actors run away while the birds tried to land on their heads?

And…
Ever hear the story about the MIT student who went to the Harvard football field at the same time every day during the summer (presumably the same time as the first H. game of the next season), wore a striped referee shirt, blew a whistle, and threw bird seed?

Needless to say, the beginning of the H. football season had an interesting twist the next fall.