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Learning by Observation: Across Species

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From Aidan Bindoff:

Most of you would be aware that the golden retriever excells in obedience, tracking, retrieving etc. This all-purpose dog is well known for its intelligence and ability to obey instruction, and cats are well known for their ability to lie around all day and look pretty, right?

Well, after my weekend training session I have to question those widely held beliefs. Just in case Django, my Golden, is reading this—"Yes mate, you're still a very clever boy—but Chloe did show you a thing or two, didn't she?"

I was training Django to target a Post-It note stuck to the wall. He is well versed in touching a target stick, so I thought I could move pretty fast. I stuck the note to the wall and he licked it—click! Unfortunately it was a one-off. We just couldn't seem to get back to that Post-It.

The whole time Chloe, my black cat, was watching quietly. She does this well because she gets a random treat if she waits her turn. Django hit a dry-spell, where he hadn't progressed and I hadn't clicked anything for about 10 seconds. He lay down, gave me a grumble and refused to look at me— "Hrumphhh...." At this point Chloe walked over to us, stood on her back legs and touched the Post-It with her nose, Click! I moved the target and she did it again. I left the target where it was and said "Touch" and she did it again. I put the target on the floor, said "Touch" and she did it again. I put the target on the bannister and she jumped up and did it again!

Did Django get the idea? I don't know, he went to sleep...

Karen Pryor notes: I have long been interested in the question of animals learning by observation. The conventional academic position is most animals, including dogs, cats, and horses, cannot mimic behavior or learn by observation, but are simply reacting to the same stimuli at the same time. This is nonsense, as we c/t ers know; but there is no good literature on the issue. I would like to collect a few observations from you, of learning by observation in your own clicker trained animals, such as the one below. Have you had a similar experience? Dog watching dog, horse watching horse, or, like this one, across species? Please e-mail me, at karenpryor [at] clickertraining [dot] com, with the subject "Learning by observation."

Observational learning

I know that the article above is not exactly new, I hope it is ok that I answer anyway....
My four dogs do this all the time.
First occasion was Bowie watching Taysha learning to roll over, when he got his turn, he just walked up to me and rolled over on the first pass - no hesitating, no trying.
Another tale: I was sitting on a chair, teaching Anuke to back in between my legs and sit down really close with her back against my right leg- a great thing for a gundog to know when in the crowded wagon going from one shoot to another on a days hunt - I was using our 9 week puppy as distraction, just letting him wander around a bit, tossing him a treat now and again. In less than five minutes he came running over and did the behaviour perfectly - back in, sit. We hadn't trained anything like that with him at all.
We do a little bit of flushing with our dogs. Bowie was taught, but the rest just picked it up from him, we never did anything to train it.
Actually, now that I think about it, we use observational learning a lot. Taking out both a young dog and one with experience, letting the old dog do the behaviour while the young one watches. Speeds things up a lot.

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