Overshadowing in Canine Coaching: Why You Have to 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 which means in classical conditioning. The next definition is a bit of 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 could be a visual mild and an audible sound. When they’re conditioned concurrently, one stimulus could dominate and be extra strongly conditioned than the opposite. It is among 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 evaluation the distinction between operant conditioning and classical (Pavlovian) conditioning.

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

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

We name the initially bizarre factor the conditioned stimulus. The good factor is normally an unconditioned stimulus: one thing the animal doesn’t should be taught to take pleasure in or want. Right here’s a more in-depth look at what classical conditioning is and is not.

Since there are solely two issues to do—expose them to the bizarre factor, then give them the good factor—it looks as if classical conditioning could be lifeless straightforward. However there are a lot of issues that may go fallacious, and one in all 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 pleased and relaxed throughout counterconditioning on the mall

Overshadowing is probably going when you’ve gotten a stimulus with multiple side, resembling a lightweight and a sound collectively. That is referred to as a compound stimulus, and so they occur in the true world so much. When the person stimuli get conditioned concurrently, whichever stimulus is stronger and extra noticeable to the animal can be conditioned extra strongly. It’s stated that this stimulus is extra salient. Extra of the good things from the good factor will switch to it. The opposite stimulus will get a lot much less conditioning. Experiments have been carried out, for example, 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 may have little or no conditioning. You could possibly reverse the experiment with a shiny mild and a quiet noise, and the outcomes could be the other (though each examples would differ by species).

The overshadowed stimulus doesn’t go solely unnoticed; it merely doesn’t turn out to be an efficient conditioned stimulus.

Probability, 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 lightweight 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 unintended 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 surroundings, and our animals are always attempting to determine what the perfect predictors of fine (and unhealthy) stuff are.

The rationale that is necessary is that generally the stronger conditioning will connect to one thing we don’t intend, as an alternative of the factor we would like.

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

When the stimuli making up the compound act upon completely different analyzers, the impact of one in all 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 in all a compound stimulus, it will possibly work wonderful as a person stimulus.

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

Schwartz et al, 2008????, p 59

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

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

We have to perceive overshadowing so we are able to carry out the clearest, cleanest, most profitable coaching we are able to. Classical conditioning, ad hoc counterconditioning, and desensitization and counterconditioning are easy to explain however the satan is within the particulars. Timing is essential, and it’s a unending wrestle to get the conditioned stimulus to be completely salient to the animal. Coaching in the true world, outdoors of the laboratory, means we are able to’t fully management the surroundings. As an example, I wager you’ve gotten not less than one mild swap 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 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.
• Ensure you perceive the significance of the depth of the unconditioned stimulus.
• Make certain you recognize why the primary few exposures get you probably the most bang in your buck.
• Study concerning the optimum time between trials (longer than you suppose!).
• Study concerning the shock issue and 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 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 the perfect it may be.

When you have been studying the weblog and watching my movies for some time, it’s possible you’ll say, “However you haven’t adopted all this stuff!” That’s proper! I’m all the time studying. I plan to get some higher movies up quickly.

Actual-Life Examples of Overshadowing

Listed below 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, normally meals. However for those who all the time attain in your deal with bag on the identical time you employ your marker, you’ve gotten a compound stimulus. Each are conditioned stimuli; your canine wasn’t born realizing the importance of your hand motion or the sound of your marker. One stimulus, the marker, is normally auditory. The opposite is visible. One will overshadow the opposite and be extra salient to the canine. In case your canine always stares at your deal with hand, you recognize which one which could be. Lewis was pleased 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 should 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 abruptly seen canine plus jingling tags. Let’s say you might be 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 completely different occasions and areas, utilizing desensitization to progressively convey the helper canine nearer whereas staying within the educated canine’s consolation zone.

However what in case your helper canine has loudly jingling collar tags? You’ve a compound stimulus: the visible look of the helper canine and the sound of the tags. If the canine you might be 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 might be extra salient. What occurs in actual life when a canine seems with out jingling tags, the higher conditioned stimulus? That optimistic affiliation you tried to construct up so fastidiously may not be there. It received overshadowed. When that kind of downside happens, individuals are apt accountable the conditioning itself or blame the canine.

3. Saying “Drop” and dropping treats on the identical time (protocol particular). For those who observe Chirag Patel’s method of teaching dogs to drop an item, there’s a hazard of overshadowing for those who aren’t cautious along 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 may make.) This technique has a powerful classical conditioning part, though it’s instructing an operant habits. Within the technique, 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 habits is normally to open their mouths and strategy the meals. After you repeat that course of, for those who then say the cue whereas the canine has one thing of their mouth, they may usually 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 technique, and pretty foolproof. However what for those who stated “Drop” and all the time dropped the meals on the identical time? Dropping the meals might overshadow the verbal cue. The verbal cue may merely be noise that occurs because the canine sees the meals. Then, if later you determined to wash up your method and stated “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. Which means your cue wouldn’t work in an emergency if you didn’t have treats with you. Whereas for those who do the protocol with the suitable timing and observe the opposite steps, it should work even you probably 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) slightly than compound conditioned stimuli used as conditioned reinforcers. (Whew!) There’s a robust relationship between these two. Cues will be larger order conditioned stimuli, and conditioned reinforcers provide information about behavior. The distinction is normally the function the stimulus performs in a coaching plan.

However in habits 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 just like the examples within the canine trainers’ articles. The article doesn’t use the time period overshadowing (and the authors have been consultants on it). I’ll be pleased to be corrected if overshadowing is used formally within the operant area although; maybe I haven’t discovered it but.

I feel I do know why operant examples of competing discriminative stimuli are normally utilized in extra casual articles: examples are simpler to think about. Most of us have realized at occasions {that a} canine is following our hand sign and never the verbal cue we thought we have been instructing. Despite the fact that 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 slightly 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 discuss with conflicted emotional responses in horses as a result of defective coaching. The writer defines overshadowing as “…the meals reinforcer and related habits are masking the animal’s true emotions and habits 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 an alternative to discuss with coaching errors that trigger a horse or different animal to finish up scared as an alternative of comfy can solely muddy the waters.

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


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

Probability, 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 habits. 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 here.

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

Rescorla, R.A., & Wagner, A.R. (1972) A idea 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.

Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson

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