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Monday, April 15, 2024

Overshadowing in Canine Coaching: Why You Must Know About It

A white dog with brown ears is sitting in front of a woman dressed in jeans and a blue tee shirt, whom we see from the waist down. Her hand is in her pocket and her dog is staring at the pocket with an eager look.
Why is Lewis gazing my pocket?

What Is Overshadowing?

The time period overshadowing has a long-established that means in classical conditioning. The next definition is slightly technical, however I’ll clarify in the remainder of the piece.

Overshadowing happens when two stimuli are classically conditioned on the identical time. Usually, the stimuli are of various sensory modalities. An instance can be a visual mild and an audible sound. When they’re conditioned concurrently, one stimulus might dominate and be extra strongly conditioned than the opposite. It is without doubt one of the many issues that may trigger a classical conditioning protocol to fail or be weak.

So the above definition could make sense to all readers, I’ll first assessment the distinction between operant conditioning and classical (Pavlovian) conditioning.

In operant conditioning, there’s an antecedent, a conduct, and a consequence. For instance, I cue my canine to come back to me (antecedent). My canine runs to me (conduct). I give my canine one thing terrific (consequence). Most of us are conversant in this type of studying.

In classical conditioning, no conduct is required of the animal. We pair one thing the animal is detached to or nervous about with one thing the animal loves. We do that regularly at intensities that don’t scare the animal. The order is: 1) current the bizarre factor; 2) current the nice factor. Then the animal eats, drinks, experiences, or performs with the nice factor. Over time, this transfers the animal’s respondent behaviors and good emotions concerning the great point to the previously bizarre factor.

We name the initially bizarre factor the conditioned stimulus. The nice factor is often an unconditioned stimulus: one thing the animal doesn’t need to be taught to take pleasure in or want. Right here’s a extra in-depth have a look at what classical conditioning is and isn’t.

Since there are solely two issues to do—expose them to the bizarre factor, then give them the nice factor—it looks like classical conditioning can be useless straightforward. However there are a lot of issues that may go incorrect, and one among them is overshadowing.

A tan dog with a black muzzle and black on her ears is lying down on a sidewalk. She is wearing a pink harness and is on leash. Her mouth is open and she looks happy.
Clara is blissful and relaxed throughout counterconditioning on the mall

Overshadowing is probably going when you may have a stimulus with multiple facet, resembling a light-weight and a sound collectively. That is referred to as a compound stimulus, they usually occur in the true world quite a bit. When the person stimuli get conditioned concurrently, whichever stimulus is stronger and extra noticeable to the animal shall be conditioned extra strongly. It’s mentioned that this stimulus is extra salient. Extra of the good things from the nice factor will switch to it. The opposite stimulus will get a lot much less conditioning. Experiments have been carried out, as an illustration, with a dim mild and a loud noise that happen concurrently (Kehoe, 1982; Moore, 2012, p. 204–205). They’re conditioned collectively, then examined individually. On this case, the noise will probably be robustly conditioned. However the mild can have little or no conditioning. You would reverse the experiment with a vibrant mild and a quiet noise, and the outcomes can be the alternative (though each examples would fluctuate by species).

The overshadowed stimulus doesn’t go solely unnoticed; it merely doesn’t change into an efficient conditioned stimulus.

Likelihood, 2003, p. 84

How is that this related to our real-world coaching? Most of us will not be attempting to situation a sound and a light-weight on the identical time. Extra probably, we’re engaged on a single factor like a muzzle, a noise, or the sight of one other canine. However unintentional compound stimuli occur on a regular basis. As one textbook factors out, it’s virtually inconceivable to keep away from them (Pierce & Cheney, 2008, p. 58).

There are all the time many issues happening within the setting, and our animals are consistently attempting to determine what one of the best predictors of excellent (and unhealthy) stuff are.

The explanation that is vital is that generally the stronger conditioning will connect to one thing we don’t intend, as a substitute of the factor we wish.

Pavlov found overshadowing very early on, and was the one who named it. Right here’s what he mentioned:

When the stimuli making up the compound act upon totally different analyzers, the impact of one among them when examined singly was discovered very generally to overshadow the impact of the others virtually fully, and this independently of the variety of reinforcements to the compound stimulus.

Pavlov, 1927, p. 141

Different scientists have identified that even when a stimulus is the weaker one among a compound stimulus, it could actually work high-quality as a person stimulus.

…if two stimuli are offered collectively as a compound DS, then one might dominate or overshadow the opposite, though each CSs can be completely efficient in the event that they had been offered alone.

Schwartz et al, 1995, p 59

It’s vital to remember that overshadowing applies to 2 conditioned stimuli being concurrently conditioned by the identical factor.

Why Do We Must Learn about Overshadowing (And Some Different Stuff)?

We have to perceive overshadowing so we will carry out the clearest, cleanest, most profitable coaching we will. Classical conditioning, advert hoc counterconditioning, and desensitization and counterconditioning are simple to explain however the satan is within the particulars. Timing is essential, and it’s a endless battle to get the conditioned stimulus to be completely salient to the animal. Coaching in the true world, exterior of the laboratory, means we will’t fully management the setting. For example, I guess you may have at the least one mild change in your home that clicks if you flip it on.

Overshadowing shouldn’t be the one potential downside.

To carry out clear and efficient classical conditioning:

• Make certain you additionally perceive easy methods to keep away from blocking and reverse conditioning.
• Make certain you understand how and why to do extinction trials.
• Know the distinction between delay and hint conditioning.
• Be sure you perceive the significance of the depth of the unconditioned stimulus.
• Make certain you understand why the primary few exposures get you essentially the most bang on your buck.
• Study concerning the optimum time between trials (longer than you suppose!).
• Study concerning the shock issue and easy methods to make use of it. There may be robust proof that the extra sudden the look of the unconditioned stimulus is, the stronger the conditioning have an effect on (Rescorla & Wagner, 1972). Nothing cleans up one’s classical conditioning act higher than determining easy methods to take away all of the “tells” that one thing fabulous goes to materialize.

These will not be simply theoretical issues. They’re ideas and practices that apply on to actual life coaching and may make your coaching one of the best it may be.

In case you have been studying the weblog and watching my movies for some time, you could say, “However you haven’t adopted all these items!” That’s proper! I’m all the time studying. I plan to get some higher movies up quickly.

Actual-Life Examples of Overshadowing

Listed here are some sensible examples of overshadowing in canine coaching due to a compound stimulus.

1. An auditory marker plus a hand reaching for meals. Clickers and different markers are classically conditioned to foretell a reinforcer, often meals. However when you all the time attain on your deal with bag on the identical time you utilize your marker, you may have a compound stimulus. Each are conditioned stimuli; your canine wasn’t born figuring out the importance of your hand motion or the sound of your marker. One stimulus, the marker, is often auditory. The opposite is visible. One will overshadow the opposite and be extra salient to the canine. In case your canine consistently stares at your deal with hand, you understand which one which may be. Lewis was blissful to oblige me by gazing my hand and pocket so I might take the picture above.

Reaching towards your deal with bag or pocket can overshadow the sound of your marker and will trigger its conditioning to be weak.  

Closeup of a leather dog collar with a bronze buckle and a group of metal tags attached.

2. A all of a sudden seen canine plus jingling tags. Let’s say you’re serving to a reactive canine utilizing classical counterconditioning. You expose the canine to the sight and sound of a helper canine at a non-aversive depth and current one thing fabulous. You carry out trials of this at totally different instances and areas, utilizing desensitization to regularly convey the helper canine nearer whereas staying within the skilled canine’s consolation zone.

However what in case your helper canine has loudly jingling collar tags? You’ve gotten a compound stimulus: the visible look of the helper canine and the sound of the tags. If the canine you’re working with has imaginative and prescient issues, or your setup brought on the looks of the canine to not be apparent, or your canine is delicate to sounds, the jingling tags may very well be extra salient. What occurs in actual life when a canine seems with out jingling tags, the higher conditioned stimulus? That constructive affiliation you tried to construct up so rigorously won’t be there. It bought overshadowed. When that kind of downside happens, persons are apt guilty the conditioning itself or blame the canine.

3. Saying “Drop” and dropping treats on the identical time (protocol particular). In the event you observe Chirag Patel’s methodology of instructing canine to drop an merchandise, there’s a hazard of overshadowing when you aren’t cautious together with your timing. (I’m not saying it is a flaw within the protocol; it’s only a useful instance of an error a coach would possibly make.) This methodology has a robust classical conditioning part, though it’s instructing an operant conduct. Within the methodology, you give a verbal cue, resembling “Drop,” and observe it by dropping a handful of meals. You do that first when there’s nothing already within the canine’s mouth. The canine learns that the verbal cue predicts meals on the ground, and their subsequent operant conduct is often to open their mouths and method the meals. After you repeat that course of, when you then say the cue whereas the canine has one thing of their mouth, they may typically open their mouth in anticipation of the meals. They drop the merchandise.

A hand is dropping a handful of pieces of white cheese

It’s a chic methodology, and pretty foolproof. However what when you mentioned “Drop” and all the time dropped the meals on the identical time? Dropping the meals might overshadow the verbal cue. The verbal cue would possibly merely be noise that occurs because the canine sees the meals. Then, if later you determined to wash up your method and mentioned “Drop,” then paused earlier than dropping the meals, the canine would wait till you dropped the meals to let go of no matter was of their mouth. Meaning your cue wouldn’t work in an emergency if you didn’t have treats with you. Whereas when you do the protocol with the suitable timing and observe the opposite steps, it can work even in case you have no meals with you.

Software to Operant Conditioning

For some cause, most articles on overshadowing I’ve learn by canine trainers use operant examples. They’re describing compound discriminative stimuli (cues) somewhat than compound conditioned stimuli used as conditioned reinforcers. (Whew!) There’s a robust relationship between these two. Cues may be larger order conditioned stimuli, and conditioned reinforcers present details about conduct. The distinction is often the position the stimulus performs in a coaching plan.

However in conduct evaluation, the time period overshadowing is used extra when referring to first order classical conditioning. Out of eight textbooks, I discovered just one operant instance (Domjan, 2014, p. 217). I’ve discovered some psychology articles that apply the time period to operant protocols, although.

Right here’s a paper about compound discriminative stimuli in operant protocols (Colwill & Rescorla, 1988). That is much like the examples within the canine trainers’ articles. The article doesn’t use the time period overshadowing (and the authors had been specialists on it). I’ll be blissful to be corrected if overshadowing is used formally within the operant enviornment although; maybe I haven’t discovered it but.

I feel I do know why operant examples of competing discriminative stimuli are often utilized in extra casual articles: examples are simpler to think about. Most of us have realized at instances {that a} canine is following our hand sign and never the verbal cue we thought we had been instructing. Although classical overshadowing can occur to us, it’s maybe much less frequent or much less dramatic.

When Overshadowing Doesn’t Occur

There’s all the time an exception. When coping with conditioned meals aversion, there are particular stimuli that intensify different stimuli somewhat than overshadowing them. That is referred to as the potentiation impact (Bouton, 2007, p. 216–217). However most of us are by no means going to run into this.

What Is Overshadowing Not?

An article is being handed round within the coaching world that makes use of the time period “overshadowing” to seek advice from conflicted emotional responses in horses resulting from defective coaching. The creator defines overshadowing as “…the meals reinforcer and related conduct are masking the animal’s true emotions and conduct round a stimulus.”

This idiosyncratic use of the time period can do nothing however trigger confusion. Overshadowing is a phenomenon with an infinite quantity of analysis behind it and has been within the vocabulary of scientists and educated trainers for nearly 100 years. Utilizing it as a substitute to seek advice from coaching errors that trigger a horse or different animal to finish up scared as a substitute of snug can solely muddy the waters.

Satirically, understanding what overshadowing and the opposite phrases I point out above imply might assist deal with the problems described within the article.


Bouton, M. E. (2007). Studying and conduct: A up to date synthesis. Sinauer Associates.

Likelihood, P. (2003). Studying and Habits. Toronto: Thomson-Wadsworth. p 84

Colwill, R. M., & Rescorla, R. A. (1988). Associations between the discriminative stimulus and the reinforcer in instrumental studying. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Habits Processes14(2), 155.

Domjan, M. P. (2014). The rules of studying and conduct. Cengage Studying.

Kehoe, E. J. (1982). Overshadowing and summation in compound stimulus conditioning of the rabbit’s nictitating membrane response. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Habits Processes, 8(4), 313.

Moore, J. W. (Ed.). (2012). A neuroscientist’s information to classical conditioning. Springer Science & Enterprise Media.

Pavlov, I.P. (1927) Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Exercise of the Cerebral Cortex. Translated and Edited by G. V. Anrep. Oxford College Press, London. Might be accessed right here.

Pierce, W. D., & Cheney, C. D. (2008). Habits evaluation and studying (4th ed.). Psychology Press.

Rescorla, R.A., & Wagner, A.R. (1972) A concept of Pavlovian conditioning: Variations within the effectiveness of reinforcement and nonreinforcement. In: Classical Conditioning II: Present Analysis and Idea (Eds Black, A.H., & Prokasy, W.F.) New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 64-99.

Schwartz, B., Wasserman, E. A., & Robbins, S. J. (1995). Psychology of studying and conduct. New York: W. W. Norton & Firm.

Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson

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