Week 3

February 9, 2009

Goal:  To teach Sly to perform a trick using operant conditioning.

Process:  I intended to teach Sly to crawl up a 2″ tube to a raised platform and climb in a basket located on the platform.  In order to do this I broke the trick into its two parts and taught her each in succession using the clicker training we had already mastered.

For each part, I waited until Sly performed the desired behavior and then immediately clicked the clicker, stimulating her to create the conditioned food response.  I then gave her a piece of food.  The first condition, where she had to climb into the metal basket used for weighing (see video) was accomplished very quickly, because Sly has never had a problem going in the basket for weight checks.  In about 30 minutes she was climbing in, receiving food, climbing out, and turning right back around and climbing in.

The second part was somewhat trickier, as Sly did not seem immediately inclined to climb in the curved, 2″ tube I lay on the floor of the box (see video).  I had to place food pieces inside the tube before she ventured in.  Once she came out the other side, I clicked the clicker and fed her, and after about an hour she would go through, receive the food, and then turn and go back through the other way.

Finally, I placed a stack of books about 4.5″ high in the box and lay the tube so one end rested on this makeshift platform.  I placed the basket on the platform, intending for her to put the two tricks together.  However, Sly quickly found out she could just climb the books and get in the basket, so I had to remove the basket, wait for her to enter the lower end of the tube, and then place the basket back on the platform when she emerged (see video).  After a few trials in this manner she seemed to get the idea and made several straight shots up the tube and then into the basket.

Results:  Sly seems to have been conditioned to repeat the behavior much more regularly than her operant level.

As a side note, Sly has become increasingly interested in escaping from the containers I place her in, and once she finds a way it is impossible to distract her from that purpose until you block that exit.  In this case, Sly would climb on the basket edge, and then jump to the handle hole on the box, then climb onto the ledge from there.  I had to place an aquarium over that end of the box to get her back to work.

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Week 2

February 4, 2009

Goal: To use classical conditioning to have a clicker (CS) cause a sign tracking response for food.

Procedure:  For training purposes, Sly was kept on a lower amount of food to ensure activity during the sessions.  Instead of the 16 grams she usually ate in 24 hours, I reduced the amount to about 10-12 grams between both training and the cage.  While this caused an initial drop in weight from 200 to 184 grams, she then returned to a relatively stable weight of about 195 grams.  I was able to go through about 7 grams of food during training in about 60 trials each session.

I placed Sly in a glass aquarium for all of her training.  For the first day and a half, I used a method where I put my hand at a specific corner at random time intervals.  She would eventually come over and take a small piece of food from my fingers, at which point I would administer a “click”.  This did seem to teach Sly which corner she needed to go to for food, but it seemed she was using my hand as the stimulus rather than the click.

I therefore changed to a new method, which lasted about two days.  I waited for Sly to come to the food corner before raising my hand to give her food and click the clicker.  This seemed to do well at removing my hand from the equation, but when I tried to click and elicit the response of sign tracking, Sly showed no interest.

This lead to my final training method: double clicking.  I would click the clicker, then put my hand in the appropriate corner and click a second time as she took the food.  After about a day and a half of this method, Sly seemed to completely catch on to the idea.  Barring a conflicting behavior such as drinking or cleaning, she would respond quickly to the stimulus from any range in the aquarium.  On the last day I removed the second click, which as shown in the video did not cause any problems with the response.

Results:  Sly seems to have completely mastered the clicker training.  The CS shows a clear response on almost every trial.  Sly should now be ready to use this simple food-click association to learn more advanced tricks in the future.

Also, Sly does seem to respond better to training when she has had less food in her cage the previous day.  This will be useful for further training to ensure she pays the utmost attention for at least an hour.

Sprague Dawley Rats

February 2, 2009

The Sprague Dawley rats we are using in lab have been around since the 1920’s, when they were developed at the Sprague-Dawley Company in Madison, Wisconsin.  The company used a hooded male rat and six albino rats to produce the strain that exists today (Harlan, 2009).  The rats are very calm and easy to handle, making them common choices for research.

Several health issues are common to rats in general, the most common of which are respiratory infections (much like humans) and congestive heart failure.  Almost all American and European rats have a Mycoplasma pulmonis infection from birth that is incurable, but does not always present symptoms.  The biggest problem with this diseases is the increased likelihood of secondary infections.  A good way to tell if a rat is ill is to monitor the levels of pigment in their tears, an excess of which will cause red staining of their fur around the eyes and nose (Ducommun, 2008).

Since we are using female rats, another common health issue is mammary tumors.  These occur in about half of all intact female rats and are usually benign, but can be cancerous.  In addition, female rats are more likely to develop pituitary tumors.  Cancerous tumors are often dark in color while benign tumors are light.  Tumors can be removed with simple surgery (Ducommun, 2008).

Rats can also be affected by parasites such as lice and fur mites.  The lice usually do not cause symptoms and can be seen with the naked eye.  Each parasite can be treated with ingested medication.  Both the lice and mites are species specific, so transfer to humans is not an issue (Ducommun, 2008).

The housing used for the rats has wire flooring to allow easy waste separation.  Unfortunately, this flooring also causes an infection known as bumblefoot in some rats.  This red, inflamed swelling of the heel is more common in overweight rats (Ducommun, 2008).

One final health concern is malocclusion of the incisors.  Since rat incisors grow continuosly throughout life, they can cause problems with eating and even injury to the rat if not properly positioned to rub against each other (Ducommun, 2008).  The excessive tooth material can be removed with scissors or wire cutters.

References

Ducommun, D. (2008). Key points about rats. Retrieved February 1, 2009, from http://www.petrats.org/infoforvetsetc.html#Facts.

Harlan Laboratories. (2009). Sprague Dawley. Retrieved January 29, 2009, from http://www.harlan.com/research_models_and_services/research_models_by_product_type/outbred_rats/sprague_dawley_sd.hl.

Week 1

January 28, 2009

Goal:  To familiarize myself with my new rat (and her with me).

Procedure:  I played everyday with Sly for at least an hour.  She enjoys climbing in my sleeves, riding my shoulders, and peeing constantly.  In one instance, she unloaded an entire gram of urine (I actually weighed her before and after).  The amount of nervous huddling and pooping dropped off after the first day of handling, and she definitely perks up at the sound of my voice now.  I have been experimenting with the amount of food I give her, and she seems to eat about seven or eight food pellets in 24 hours.  She does not seem to drink as much water as I would have expected, especially given the size of the containers we use.

Sly seems very energetic but well tempered.  I have heard that some of the rats enjoy biting their owners, but Sly hasn’t tried anything agressive yet.  However, she does seem pushy with the other rats.  She has been allowed to run around with several different rats in the large wooden box, and she spends the whole time chasing them to smell their rears.  A few of the others even seemed to want to escape the box very badly once Sly was introduced.

Results:  Sly and I are getting along fine and are ready to try the first real work in the coming week.  I think I have figured out the average amount of food she eats, which will be useful during training.