Persistent Behavior in Domestic Canines (Canis familiaris)
Behavioral persistence is the continuation of responding without reward. (Weiner, H. 1970) It is important to look at persistence in domestic dog behavior so people can better partner with them professionally in day to day life. Working dogs, such as service dogs and police dogs, often have to learn to work under conditions involving little or no reinforcement or delayed reinforcement conditions. To make training more effective for these working dogs understanding the factors that influence the persistence aspects would be important. Researching persistence also has an application with owned pet dogs, for example, owners may not want to rely solely on treats every time their dog behaves in public. Previous research found that owned dogs were more persistent than dogs in a shelter setting. (Gunter) Stress is one possible factor for this difference; shelter dogs face a lot of stress. Cortisol levels rise in shelter dogs during the first three days of being introduced to a shelter setting. (Davis, H.N., Douglas, C.W., Hennessy, M.B., Mellott, C., Williams, M. T., 1998) We investigated persistence in seven domestic dogs as they moved from a shelter to a foster program. The goal of the current study was to measure whether persistence changed from the time when the dogs were in the shelter, and likely in a state of stress, to six months after dogs were placed in a foster program and have adjusted to life in a home. Dogs were trained to touch the experimenter's hand, contingent upon which a treat would be delivered. After twenty trials on alternating hands, where the dog responded with nose presses, the behavior was put on extinction. No further reinforcers were delivered. We recorded how many times the dog continued to touch the hand as a measure of persistence. Each dog was tested once a month for five months. We analyzed how the dogs changed in their level of persistence over the five months, beginning with an initial shelter test before entering the foster situation.