Summary of Louise’s Clicker Training Journey

September 25, 2008 at 5:26 am Leave a comment

Over the past two and a half weeks, I have been using classical conditioning to “clicker train” Louise.  The aim is to pair a clicking sound with food, in hopes of conditioning Louise to associate the click with food.  In the end, Louise should be under stimulus control. In other words, when Louise hears the click, she should immediately look for food.

We have come a very long way! Our journey began the day Louise and I met and she tried to jump out of my hands onto the lab floor. However, after a week of daily, hour-long play sessions, Louise became much more comfortable being handled.

Once Louise and I were comfortable together, I began placing the food in the tank and clicking when she ate it; however, after only a couple of trials of this method, I noticed that Louise was running up to my hand and not attending to the food. I then perused the blogs of last year’s students and noticed that a lot of them used the method of clicking and then dropping the food in a particular corner. I thus adopted this strategy in hopes that it would work for me.

I began by dropping the small pieces of pellet (about 1/4 of the size of my pinky finger nail) into a corner of a glass tank that was approximately 12″ by 18″. However, this strategy was not successful because the pellets would hit the bottom of the tank and bounce uncontrollably. To solve this problem, I rolled a white 8.5″ by 11″ piece of paper into a tube (it can be seen in my videos) and attached it to the bottom left corner of the tank. By dropping the food through the tube, it always landed in the correct corner.

I then repeated trial after trial of clicking and then dropping the food into the same corner. Eventually, I started clicking again when Louise actually ate the pellet. I felt that this served as an added opportunity for Louise to associate the food with the click, and I also thought that perhaps the second click would inhibit the potential association between the food and the mere sound of the food hitting the bottom of the tank.

In addition to this, I also had to work to extinguish the association Louise seemed to be making between my hand and the food. Louise often began sniffing the corner at the sight of my hand moving toward the tank, as well as to the sound of my fingers touching the paper tube. Thus, I began placing my hand at the usual corner over and over without the click and without the food. I mixed this method with actual trials and Louise began responding less to my hand.

Additionally, the amount of food Louise ate had a large impact on her training schedule. To start, I only managed to get in about 20 trials on average. I then began to withhold food from Louise except for when we were training, and after a few days I realized that Louise needed at least 12 hours between when she was fed and when she was trained. In response to this, she began to eat ravenously during sessions and on good days we could complete between 60 and 100 trials.

Furthermore, I weighed Louise’s training pellets before and after each training session in order to keep track of how much she was eating. Once I knew this number, I knew how much to give her for her daily “meal” because I made sure she ate at least 22 grams per day. I also weighed Louise daily in order to be sure that I wasn’t depriving her too much.

In addition to keeping track of her food, I also had to begin bringing water to training sessions. I had noticed that upon being put back in her cage after training, Louise would go directly to her water bottle and drink a ton! By providing her water during training, I was able to get in at least 10 to 15 more trials on average.

Another extremely important factor worth mentioning is that Louise and I worked best in a completely quiet, undisturbed environment. Any slight noise made us both get off task, and having other clickers around made training nearly impossible!

After weeks of training, I am now able to recognize the behaviors that mean Louise is distracted and will not react to the clicker. These behaviors include running, sniffing the air, standing up on her hind legs, grooming, and even sleeping! I even had two days at the beginning of the third week during which Louise seemed to completely regress. She only exhibited the above behaviors and she showed little to no response to the clicker. I was very worried that her previous training had become obsolete, but as I began working with her again she began picking up on her previous training.

Overall, it took about a week and a half before I began to see much progress. Although Louise seemed to know which was the “food corner” because she tended to hover there for long periods of time, she didn’t begin reacting to the click until the middle of the second week. Typical early responses to the click included ear perks, head turns, searching for food, and sniffing the air.

Once I noticed these initial responses, I began trying a “shaping” technique. This strategy consisted of allowing Louise to turn or walk away from the food corner slightly and then clicking and dropping the food. After about a session of trials of this method, Louise began to react to the click. She would turn abruptly toward the corner or even walk toward where the food was normally dropped. I continued to let Louise get further and further away before clicking. I would also click right as she began to walk over to the food corner of her own volition, hoping this would help “make the connection.”

Louise eventually responded to the click from all the way across the tank. This “responding” behavior began as a delayed response in which she would sniff around a bit or finish grooming before she “moseyed” to the food corner. After hundreds of trials of this, Louise eventually began reacting quicker and quicker until she was running to the correct corner upon hearing the click. At this point in time, Louise responds to the click about 90% of the time. It’s been a long road, but it was worth it!

As a supplement to the above description of Louise’s clicker training, I have also put together a number of clips that briefly chronicle our clicker training journey. Enjoy!

I also created a video of some of Louise’s most unproductive behaviors. Although they are pretty straight forward, I figured it would be helpful to show some of the things we don’t want our rats to do!


Entry filed under: Carly and Louise.

Phew, Much Better! Louise’s Trick

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