Special Issue "Learning Theory Applied to the Welfare of Animals"

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Animal Welfare".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 July 2021).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences,The University of Adelaide,Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia
Interests: zoo welfare; behavioral enrichment; animal-visitor interactions; husbandry training; behavior analysis; learning theory; applied ethology
Ms. Sabrina Brando
E-Mail Website
Co-Guest Editor
AnimalConcepts, Cami del Castellons 15A "Villa Tadeo", 03725 Teulada (Ailcante),Spain
Interests: animal welfare, behavioral enrichment, environmental enrichment, animal training, research training, and human-animal interactions

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The modern field of Applied Animal Behavior has brought about two major advances in the behavioral welfare of animals: (1) The use of environmental/behavioral enrichment, and (2) the implementation of voluntary training procedures to improve human-animal interactions. Both these practices have their roots in behavior analysis and learning theory. However, few studies have examined the learning effects observed in the application of these practices. For instance, most implementations of operant conditioning to the training of animals is done without measurement of the learning process. Likewise, the effects of enrichment, while originally proposed as a form of behavioral engineering to modify learned behavior, is almost exclusively measured in terms of its pre- vs. post-enrichment effect. Both modern advances thus miss a significant result of their implementation: How behavior is shaped by these environmental manipulations.

The following special issue looks to address how learning theory has been applied and measured to address the welfare of animals. Original manuscripts that examine any aspect of how learning theory has been applied to improve the lives of animals, from studies of behavioral training procedures to the modification of behavior as a result of some environmental change, are welcome submissions. Specific interest will be given to papers that use within-subject methodology to measure changes in behavior over time, as well as papers that address how behavior analysis has served the welfare of animals and can better contribute to the field.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez
Ms. Sabrina Brando
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Animals is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • animal welfare
  • husbandry training
  • behavioral enrichment
  • learning theory
  • behavior analysis
  • applied behavior analysis with animals
  • within-subject methodology
  • reinforcement
  • shaping
  • behavior change

Published Papers (5 papers)

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Research

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Article
Individualized Target Training Facilitated Transfer of Group Housed Capuchin Monkeys (Sapajus apella) to Test Cubicles and Discrimination of Targets on Computer Touch Screens
Animals 2021, 11(7), 2070; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11072070 - 12 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1458
Abstract
Animals in captivity often experience fear, anxiety and aggression during non-voluntary procedures, leading to adverse behaviors and ineffective outcomes for both animals and caretakers. Negative reinforcement and punishment, often due to ignorance regarding animal learning, can hurt animal welfare. However, voluntary participation through [...] Read more.
Animals in captivity often experience fear, anxiety and aggression during non-voluntary procedures, leading to adverse behaviors and ineffective outcomes for both animals and caretakers. Negative reinforcement and punishment, often due to ignorance regarding animal learning, can hurt animal welfare. However, voluntary participation through positive reinforcement training (PRT) can decrease stress related to these procedures and increase desired behaviors. Our goal was to demonstrate the positive effects of “target training” on animal welfare by training 10 captive capuchin monkeys (Sapajus apella) in two experiments designed to facilitate movement from a group home enclosure to a test cubicle. In Experiment 1, each monkey was assigned an individualized target (a unique shape/color combination). In daily training sessions, the animal was rewarded with a click-sounding stimulus and a food reinforcer for (a) touching the target, (b) following the respective target into a test cubicle, and (c) touching progressively smaller targets until progressing to digitized images on a computer touch screen. All 10 animals learned to approach and touch their individual physical target in one or two sessions and were able to successfully transition this behavior to an image of their target on a touch screen, although they made more errors with the touch screen. In Experiment 2, the animals were presented with other animals’ targets and novel targets. The seven animals in this experiment all touched their target at higher-than-chance rates in Trial 1 without explicit discrimination training, but only five reached the learning criteria for the task (>83% correct for three consecutive testing days. These results demonstrate that target training can make voluntary movement from group housing to test cubicles easier and benefit future animal care and procedures. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Theory Applied to the Welfare of Animals)
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Article
Stimulus Control of Odorant Concentration: Pilot Study of Generalization and Discrimination of Odor Concentration in Canines
Animals 2021, 11(2), 326; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11020326 - 28 Jan 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 5140
Abstract
Despite dogs’ widespread use as detection systems, little is known about how dogs generalize to variations of an odorant’s concentration. Further, it is unclear whether dogs can be trained to discriminate between similar concentration variations of an odorant. Four dogs were trained to [...] Read more.
Despite dogs’ widespread use as detection systems, little is known about how dogs generalize to variations of an odorant’s concentration. Further, it is unclear whether dogs can be trained to discriminate between similar concentration variations of an odorant. Four dogs were trained to an odorant (0.01 air dilution of isoamyl acetate) in an air-dilution olfactometer, and we assessed spontaneous generalization to a range of concentrations lower than the training stimulus (Generalization Test 1). Dogs generalized to odors within a 10-fold range of the training odorant. Next, we conducted discrimination training to suppress responses to concentrations lower than a concentration dogs showed initial responding towards in Generalization Test 1 (0.0025 air dilution). Dogs successfully discriminated between 0.0025 and 0.01, exceeding 90% accuracy. However, when a second generalization test was conducted (Generalization Test 2), responding at the 0.0025 concentration immediately recovered and was no different than in Generalization Test 1. Dogs were then tested in another generalization test (Compound Discrimination and Generalization) in which generalization probes were embedded within discrimination trials, and dogs showed suppression of responding to the 0.0025 concentration and lower concentrations in this preparation. These data suggest dogs show limited spontaneous generalization across odor concentration and that dogs can be trained to discriminate between similar concentrations of the same odorant. Stimulus control, however, may depend on the negative stimulus, suggesting olfactory concentration generalization may depend on relative stimulus control. These results highlight the importance of considering odor concentration as a dimension for generalization in canine olfactory research. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Theory Applied to the Welfare of Animals)
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Article
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(7), 1122; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10071122 - 01 Jul 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2683
Abstract
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Theory Applied to the Welfare of Animals)
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Review

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Review
Effect of Environmental Enrichment on the Brain and on Learning and Cognition by Animals
Animals 2021, 11(4), 973; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11040973 - 31 Mar 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1069
Abstract
The humane treatment of animals suggests that they should be housed in an environment that is rich in stimulation and allows for varied activities. However, even if one’s main concern is an accurate assessment of their learning and cognitive abilities, housing them in [...] Read more.
The humane treatment of animals suggests that they should be housed in an environment that is rich in stimulation and allows for varied activities. However, even if one’s main concern is an accurate assessment of their learning and cognitive abilities, housing them in an enriched environment can have an important effect on the assessment of those abilities. Research has found that the development of the brain of animals is significantly affected by the environment in which they live. Not surprisingly, their ability to learn both simple and complex tasks is affected by even modest time spent in an enriched environment. In particular, animals that are housed in an enriched environment are less impulsive and make more optimal choices than animals housed in isolation. Even the way that they judge the passage of time is affected by their housing conditions. Some researchers have even suggested that exposing animals to an enriched environment can make them more “optimistic” in how they treat ambiguous stimuli. Whether that behavioral effect reflects the subtlety of differences in optimism/pessimism or something simpler, like differences in motivation, incentive, discriminability, or neophobia, it is clear that the conditions of housing can have an important effect on the learning and cognition of animals. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Theory Applied to the Welfare of Animals)
Review
What’s in a Click? The Efficacy of Conditioned Reinforcement in Applied Animal Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Animals 2020, 10(10), 1757; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10101757 - 28 Sep 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 3349
Abstract
A conditioned reinforcer is a stimulus that acquired its effectiveness to increase and maintain a target behavior on the basis of the individual’s history—e.g., pairings with other reinforcers. This systematic review synthesized findings on conditioned reinforcement in the applied animal training field. Thirty-four [...] Read more.
A conditioned reinforcer is a stimulus that acquired its effectiveness to increase and maintain a target behavior on the basis of the individual’s history—e.g., pairings with other reinforcers. This systematic review synthesized findings on conditioned reinforcement in the applied animal training field. Thirty-four studies were included in the review and six studies were eligible for a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of behavioral interventions that implemented conditioned reinforcement (e.g., clicks, spoken word, or whistles paired with food). The majority of studies investigated conditioned reinforcement with dogs (47%, n = 16) and horses (30%, n = 10) implementing click–food pairings. All other species (cats, cattle, fish, goats, and monkeys) were equally distributed across types of conditioned (e.g., clicker or spoken word) and unconditioned reinforcers (e.g., food, water, or tactile). A meta-analysis on the effectiveness of conditioned reinforcement in behavioral interventions found a medium summary effect size (Tau-U 0.77; CI95% = [0.53, 0.89]), when comparing baseline, where no training was done, and treatment levels. Moderators of conditioned reinforcement effectiveness were species (e.g., horses) and research design (e.g., multiple-baseline designs). The small number of intervention-focused studies available limits the present findings and highlights the need for more systematic research into the effectiveness of conditioned reinforcement across species. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Theory Applied to the Welfare of Animals)
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