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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle

Training Petting Zoo Sheep to Act Like Petting Zoo Sheep: An Empirical Evaluation of Response-Independent Schedules and Shaping with Negative Reinforcement

School of Behavior Analysis, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL 32901, USA
Animals 2020, 10(7), 1122; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10071122
Received: 1 May 2020 / Revised: 14 June 2020 / Accepted: 29 June 2020 / Published: 1 July 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Theory Applied to the Welfare of Animals)
The present study examines the use of response-independent food schedules (food delivered independent of what an animal is doing) and negative reinforcement in the form of a trainer removing themselves from the presence of an animal to effectively train approach and contact behaviors in petting zoo sheep. All sheep had previously been reported to avoid/escape the presence of zoo staff and caretakers, as well as refuse to eat in the presence of any persons. In Experiment 1, we were able to effectively use response-independent schedules to produce both approach and contact behaviors in a Hampshire sheep. In Experiment 2, a Jacob sheep was trained for approach/contact via a shaping procedure that initially rewarded approach behaviors by removing the presence of the trainer (negative reinforcement), and was later switched to rewarding responses directly with food (positive reinforcement) once the sheep began to regularly eat in the trainer’s presence. The results are discussed with respect to how both procedures are effective in examining the applied approach/avoidance behaviors with zoo animals, as well as the greater ethical considerations involved in using negative vs. positive reinforcement to train animals.
Shaping through differential reinforcement of successive approximations to a target response has been a cornerstone procedure for the training of novel behavior. However, much of how it has traditionally been implemented occurs through informal observation, rather than any direct, systematic measurement. In the present study, we examine the use of response-independent food schedules and shaping for increasing approach and contact behaviors in petting zoo sheep. In Experiment 1, a fixed-time (FT) 15 s food schedule was used to effectively increase approach and contact behaviors in one sheep. In Experiment 2, negative reinforcement in the form of removal of the presence of a trainer was made contingent on the successful completion of approximations within a shaping procedure and later switched to food rewards. A changing-criterion design was used to empirically examine the effects of the shaping procedure during each step of the program. The result is one of the first studies to demonstrate the utility of using negative reinforcement within a shaping procedure to successfully intervene on approach/avoidance behaviors in an applied animal setting. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal training; counterconditioning; husbandry; negative reinforcement; operant conditioning; petting zoo; response-independent schedules; sheep; shaping animal training; counterconditioning; husbandry; negative reinforcement; operant conditioning; petting zoo; response-independent schedules; sheep; shaping
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Fernandez, E.J. Training Petting Zoo Sheep to Act Like Petting Zoo Sheep: An Empirical Evaluation of Response-Independent Schedules and Shaping with Negative Reinforcement. Animals 2020, 10, 1122.

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