Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


40th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2014

Event Details

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Symposium #78
Why Do Dogs Engage Socially with Other Dogs and with Humans? Operant Aspects of Conspecific and Heterospecific Social Behavior in Dogs
Saturday, May 24, 2014
4:00 PM–4:50 PM
W182 (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: AAB/EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Alexandra Protopopova (University of Florida)

Social behavior in dogs has received attention from ethologists but less attention from behavior analysts. Thus, despite a general interest in dog play and dog-human interactions, the variables that control and produce such ubiquitous behaviors are not clearly delineated. In the three papers presented in this symposium, we address common dog behaviors that, despite being common, have not been typically explored in a behavior analytic fashion. Conspecific (dog-dog play) and heterospecific (human-dog) interactions are investigated using behavioral techniques to elucidate the variables that produce dog-dog and human-dog social interactions. Mehrkam and Wynne investigated the role of human attention for conspecific dog play, teasing apart antecedent and consequent functions for dog play. Feuerbacher and Wynne investigated dogs' preferences for types of human social interaction and whether owner return after an absence functions as a reinforcer for dogs. Finally, Muir and Feuerbacher investigated whether dogs who show separation related problem behavior are more sensitive to human attention as a reinforcer than dogs not showing such problem behavior.

Keyword(s): dog, play, social behavior, social reinforcement

Identifying Potential Controlling Variables of Social Play in the Domestic Dog

LINDSAY MEHRKAM (University of Florida), Clive Wynne (Arizona State University)

Play in nonhuman animals is of great interest to animal behaviorists, but proves difficult to study scientifically due to a lack of knowledge about the immediate stimuli that influence play (Bekoff & Byers, 1998; Burghardt, 2005). Domestic dogs are widely cited as a species that engage in play at high levels and are accessible, and regularly engage in social play in the presence of their caretakers, especially when caretaker attention is available (Mehrkam, Verdi & Wynne, in press; Mehrkam & Wynne, under review). We aimed to determine if the relationship between owner attention and social play could be accounted for using a behavior analytic approach. We conducted three experiments to determine if owner attention serves as a discriminative stimulus, establishing operation, or a reinforcer for social play in dogs. In addition, a functional analysis was conducted of social play in which various antecedents and consequences were presented that would be expected to increase social play levels. Finally, we investigated whether breed influenced the topography and motivation to engage in social play. Our results indicate that social play is highly sensitive to environmental variables; the specific role of owner attention is highly dependent on individual intraspecific and interspecific relationships.


Will Your Dog Work to Be with You? Domestic Dogs' Preferences for Types of Human Social Interaction and Owner Return as a Reinforcer for Dog Behavior.

ERICA N. FEUERBACHER (University of Florida), Clive Wynne (Arizona State University)

Domestic dogs in Western society are often treated like family members. Research demonstrates they show attachment behaviors to adult humans similar to those shown by human infants (Gacsi, Topal, Miklosi, Doka, and Csa'nyi, 2001; Topal, Miklosi, Doka, & Csa'nyi, 1998). We investigated dogs' preferences for their owners compared to strangers using concurrent choice in familiar and unfamiliar contexts. Dogs were more likely to engage with a stranger in a familiar context than in an unfamiliar one, in which dogs preferred owners. We then assessed whether, after an absence, owner return to the dog would function as a reinforcer for the dog's behavior. We tested this by investigating whether we could shape an arbitrary response (movement away from the departure door and towards a target location) by making owner return contingent on successive approximations toward the target. If dog behavior can be shaped by owner return, separation related problem behaviors might have an operant component and be amenable to an operant treatment. We measured latency to respond (move toward the target) and used an escalating criterion based on distance to shape the target response. We also investigated within session dynamics to detect possible satiation effects.


Are Dogs that Exhibit Separation-Related Problem Behaviors More Sensitive to Social Reinforcement?

KRISTY MUIR (Animal Behavior Training Solutions), Erica N. Feuerbacher (University of Florida)

Separation related problem behavior is a severe behavioral disorder in domestic dogs. Differences between normal dogs and dogs exhibiting separation related problem behaviors are relatively unknown. Previous research has found that brief social interaction is a relatively poor reinforcer compared to food for a nose touch (Feuerbacher & Wynne, 2012). We hypothesized that dogs exhibiting this problem behavior might be more sensitive to owner attention as a reinforcer than normal dogs. We used the same paradigm to assess normal dogs and dogs exhibiting separation related problem behaviors to investigate whether brief social interaction from the owner would maintain more responding in dogs with the problem behavior than normal dogs. Dogs received a minimum of 12 sessions in which either 4 s of social interaction or a small piece of food was delivered contingent on a nose touch. Each dog experienced alternating sets of three sessions of each condition (social interaction or food). We compared the total number of nose touches per condition and per session that normal and problem behavior dogs emitted, as well as the latency to respond.




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