Tonawanda News

Features

September 10, 2013

Humans aren't the only ones with 'superstitious behavior'

Tonawanda News — Today can be measured in many ways. For instance, in exactly eight months from now it will be my birthday. Another way would be to note that this is the 70th article for Critter Companions. A third way would be to say that this is the first week back from my first week off as a columnist. Lastly, you could measure this day by noting that in only a few short days the first Friday the 13th in 2013 will be occurring (it happens again in December).

Forty-three articles ago, I had mentioned superstitious behavior in animal training. Superstitious behavior is when an animal offers a behavior during the request of another behavior even though it is unrelated to the behavior being trained. The behavior occurs again and again because the delivery of something good or bad happened close enough to the non-related behavior that their actions were accidentally reinforced or punished.

Superstitious behavior happens to humans often. A person buys a lottery ticket, generated by a computer, on a Monday. They win big. Instead of realizing that they were fortunate enough to get the lucky numbers that the computer randomly created, they give credit to purchasing the ticket on a Monday. From now on they only purchase lottery tickets on Mondays. It is their lucky day, after all.

A black cat walks by a child’s path. The same day the kid does poorly on a presentation at school. It could be easy (and foolish) to blame the cat for their bad luck. Yet, people and pets exhibit superstitious behavior. Pets show signs of superstitious behavior when they misunderstand what the trainer is asking.

I have recently seen this with the ‘come over’ cue. The pet caregiver wants their pet to come by their side. The person says their name out loud. The pet, laying down, perks up and looks right at them. The caregiver immediately opens up their arms and calls their name again. The pet stands up and starts to slowly walk their way. The caregiver then pats their thighs and continues to call their pets name until they are by their side.

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