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 looking at my pocket?

What Is Overshadowing?

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

Overshadowing happens when two stimuli are classically conditioned on the identical time. Typically, 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 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 evaluate 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 accustomed to this type of studying.

In classical conditioning, no habits 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 step by step 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 in regards to the good thing to the previously bizarre factor.

We name the initially bizarre factor the conditioned stimulus. The good factor is often an unconditioned stimulus: one thing the animal doesn’t need to study to get pleasure from or want. Right here’s a extra in-depth take 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 good factor—it looks like classical conditioning can be lifeless simple. However there are numerous issues that may go improper, 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 glad and relaxed throughout counterconditioning on the mall

Overshadowing is probably going when you will have a stimulus with a couple of facet, similar to a lightweight and a sound collectively. That is known as a compound stimulus, they usually occur in the actual world lots. When the person stimuli get conditioned concurrently, whichever stimulus is stronger and extra noticeable to the animal will likely 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, 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 possible be robustly conditioned. However the mild could have little or no conditioning. You could possibly reverse the experiment with a brilliant mild and a quiet noise, and the outcomes can be the other (though each examples would range by species).

The overshadowed stimulus doesn’t go completely 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 should not making an attempt to situation a sound and a lightweight on the identical time. Extra possible, 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 nearly not possible to keep away from them (Pierce & Cheney, 2008, p. 58).

There are at all times many issues happening within the surroundings, and our animals are consistently making an attempt to determine what the most effective predictors of fine (and dangerous) stuff are.

The rationale that is vital 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 among them when examined singly was discovered very generally to overshadow the impact of the others nearly 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 might work high-quality as a person stimulus.

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

Schwartz et al, 1995, p 59

It’s vital to understand 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 are able to carry out the clearest, cleanest, most profitable coaching we are able to. Classical conditioning, advert 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 battle to get the conditioned stimulus to be completely salient to the animal. Coaching in the actual world, outdoors of the laboratory, means we are able to’t fully management the surroundings. As an example, I guess you will have no less than one mild swap in your own home that clicks while you flip it on.

Overshadowing just isn’t the one potential downside.

To carry out clear and efficient classical conditioning:

• Ensure you additionally perceive easy methods to keep away from blocking and reverse conditioning.
• Ensure you know the way 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.
• Ensure you recognize why the primary few exposures get you probably the most bang to your buck.
• Be taught in regards to the optimum time between trials (longer than you assume!).
• Be taught in regards to the shock issue and easy methods to make use of it. There may be sturdy 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 should not simply theoretical considerations. They’re ideas and practices that apply on to actual life coaching and might make your coaching the most effective it may be.

You probably have been studying the weblog and watching my movies for some time, you might say, “However you haven’t adopted all this stuff!” That’s proper! I’m at all times 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, often meals. However in the event you at all times attain to your deal with bag on the identical time you utilize your marker, you will have a compound stimulus. Each are conditioned stimuli; your canine wasn’t born understanding 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 recognize which one which is perhaps. Lewis was glad to oblige me by looking at my hand and pocket so I might take the photograph 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 all of a sudden 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 places, utilizing desensitization to step by step 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 will have 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 triggered 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 obtained overshadowed. When that sort 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). When you comply with Chirag Patel’s methodology of instructing canine to drop an merchandise, there’s a hazard of overshadowing in the event you aren’t cautious along with your timing. (I’m not saying this can be a flaw within the protocol; it’s only a helpful instance of an error a coach may make.) This methodology has a powerful classical conditioning part, although it’s instructing an operant habits. Within the methodology, you give a verbal cue, similar to “Drop,” and comply with 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 often to open their mouths and strategy the meals. After you repeat that course of, in the event you then say the cue whereas the canine has one thing of their mouth, they’ll 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 in the event you stated “Drop” and at all times 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 approach 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 while you didn’t have treats with you. Whereas in the event you do the protocol with the suitable timing and comply with the opposite steps, it’s going to work even when you’ve got no meals with you.

Utility to Operant Conditioning

For some purpose, 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 sturdy relationship between these two. Cues could be larger order conditioned stimuli, and conditioned reinforcers present details about habits. The distinction is often 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 specialists on it). I’ll be glad 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 consider. 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. Regardless that classical overshadowing can occur to us, it’s maybe much less widespread or much less dramatic.

When Overshadowing Doesn’t Occur

There’s at all times an exception. When coping with conditioned meals aversion, there are particular stimuli that intensify different stimuli slightly than overshadowing them. That is known 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 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 unlimited 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 seek advice from coaching errors that trigger a horse or different animal to finish up scared as an alternative of comfy can solely muddy the waters.

Satirically, 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 Conduct. 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 Conduct 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 Conduct 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. Will be accessed right here.

Pierce, W. D., & Cheney, C. D. (2008). Conduct 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 Principle (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 habits. New York: W. W. Norton & Firm.

Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson

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