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.


41st Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2015

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #74
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

Training Sniffer Dogs as Lab and Field Research Assistants: What They Can Teach Us

Saturday, May 23, 2015
4:00 PM–4:50 PM
Lila Cockrell Theatre (CC)
Area: AAB; Domain: Applied Research
Instruction Level: Basic
CE Instructor: Megan E. Maxwell, Ph.D.
Chair: Megan E. Maxwell (Pet Behavior Change, LLC)
SIMON GADBOIS (Dalhousie University)
Dr. Simon Gadbois is a canid researcher at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada. After studying behavioral endocrinology and behavior patterns in wild canids (foxes, coyotes, and wolves) for 15 years, he began a research program with sniffer dogs. He is particularly interested in the application of sniffer dogs to biomedical diagnostics, and for the detection and search of invasive species and species-at-risk. His approach to canine behavior and sensory processing is influenced by the ethologists (John Fentress, Peter McLeod, and Fred Harrington), experimental psychologists (Werner Honig, Vincent LoLordo, and Marvin Krank) and neuroscientists (Will Moger, Shelley Adamo, and Richard Brown) he has worked with since 1986. He believes in a strong integration and synthesis of ethology, experimental psychology, and neuroscience. He uses animal learning principles in fundamental and applied olfactory psychophysics and is strongly influenced by Gibsonian psychology (from J.J. Gibson, the "Skinner of Perception") and zoosemiotics. Dr. Gadbois is director of the Canid Behaviour Research Laboratory at Dalhousie University and the Canadian representative of the International Council of Ethologists. His work on wolves, coyotes, and dogs has been featured in documentaries (e.g., PBS Nature, National Film Board of Canada), and he has been a frequent guest speaker in North America and Europe since 2007.

Training sniffer dogs for specialty work, especially in the field, requires an unusual set of skills and knowledge: Fluid dynamics, analytical chemistry, psychophysics, microclimatology, and micrometeorology. Dogs are complex animals, and even the lab work (during training, or for diagnostic work) can have its challenges with long sessions of repetitive behaviors (e.g., responses in go/no-go tasks) with few stimuli and a sterilized and aseptic environment. Basic questions arise: Should we try to manipulate the dog, the stimuli, or the whole environment? When are interferences too much--or too little? And how can we train our dogs to succeed and keep performance steady over time? Dr. Simon Gadbois will address four main issues: (1) The role of motivation; (2) olfactomotor activation; (3) affordance training; and (4) understanding the where, what, and how much sub-systems of olfactory processing. He will, for example, discuss how modern training and assessment techniques treat olfactory detection and discrimination as a memory task when in fact, it is a fundamental sensory-perceptual task. Testing procedures that are mnemonically challenging should instead focus on perceptually challenging tasks. Dr. Gadbois will discuss how smell is a percept that needs to be processed in context. Much of this talk is derived from, and expands on, Gadbois& Reeve (2014).

Target Audience:

Behavior analysts interested in learning how behavioral techniques are integrated with and understanding sensory processing to teach dogs how to sniff out invasive species and species at risk in conservation work.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the event, participants should be able to (1) appreciate the intricacies of scent work and how it goes beyond mastering learning theory; (2) conceptualize ecologically valid training conditions, take in consideration ethological principles, and facilitate training by manipulation of the immediate environment; and (3) integrate the three main sub-systems of olfactory processing in designing training protocols.
Keyword(s): dogs, olfactory processing



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