Pavlovian Lullaby

July 17, 2008 at 4:47 am 2 comments

This adorable little video was recently posted to one of the dog lists I subscribe to:

Along with the utter sweetness of puppies piling up and dropping off to sleep, there are some really interesting things going on here.

Nods to a friend on the list who posted a link to Greenpa’s LittleBlogintheWoods, where he wrote about how he did this with his children.

It started with my first child- when I was youngish and raring to go forth and prove that education is useful.  As far as I know, I just thought this up – by using what I knew – People expect singing to soothe the child; but I set out to intentionally CONDITION the baby to fall asleep when I sang.

Oh yes!  Being able to sing a tired, fussy baby or puppy to sleep would be a godsend to every parent, breeder and new puppy owner in the world!  As Greenpa posted: “Sometimes, when you are dead tired and want sleep- the little stinkers won’t.  And won’t let you do it, either.”

So, is this just a case of choosing the right song?  Will the right song or the right musical tones ease a fussy young one to sleep?   Um, not usually.  Try singing to a crabby toddler or a pup who won’t settle in his crate and what you’re likely find is that “The dirty so-and-so WAKES up to listen.”

So, what would Pavlov do? 

Classical Conditioning or Pavlovian Conditioning is a form of associative learning. It is typically induced by repeated pairings of a neutral (or conditioned) stimulus with a second (unconditioned)  stimulus that evokes an innate, usually reflexive, response. With repeated, perfectly timed pairings, the two stimuli become associated with each other and the organism begins to produce a reflexive response to the conditioned stimulus.

In Greenpa’s plain English the process is:

With somnolence aforethought then, I made an EFFORT.  I made it a point to be there, when the durn critter was already falling asleep because of sheer exhaustion. 

DON’T start to sing- until the child is nine-tenths gone.  Sing softly.  Continue singing for a good minute after the creature is clearly asleep.

Then do it again.  And again.  Then start singing when the kiddle is HALF asleep.  Repeat.

Then start singing just as they’re getting sleepy.

You should be getting the idea by now.  You are getting sleepy…  drowsy… so warm and comfortable, it’s hard to keep your eyes open…  you will send me money, lots and lots of  money…

Unending patience and perfect timing are the key.  It will also be helpful if you choose a specific song to sing exactly as the young creature drops off to sleep.  

When the child is actually conditioned, singing in the accustomed way can MAKE the child sleepy, and put them to sleep; ready or not.

And it works for things other than sleep.  This is pretty much the same process I’ve used to teach my dogs to urinate on command.  Say the word (not being one to employ baby language or other silliness I simply say ‘urinate’) just after the dog adopts the position (i.e. squats or lifts leg) but before it releases the stream.  The goal is initially to have the dog associate the cue with the sensation of urgency it feels right before it starts to urinate.

There’s even a nifty little book out on the process (teaching a dog to eliminate on command – not singing puppies to sleep). It’s called, appropriately “You Can Teach Your Dog to Eliminate on Command.”  (Note – if you check out the book on Amazon, be sure to read the reviews.  The third one – Bitterly Disappointed –  posted is a riot.)

Thank you, Pavlov.

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Entry filed under: behavior science, dog training, dogs, puppies. Tags: , , .

Free Body Bag With Puppy Purchase! Random Observations

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Audie's Gramma  |  July 17, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    What impresses me is that he was able to do this with a *whole litter* of pups — and they are maybe five or six weeks old, so he hasn’t had a lot of time to accomplish this conditioning.

    Whole litters of pups are *never* all in sync. While five are settling down for a nap, #6 is always looking for some mayhem opportunity. This guy had to have a ton of time on his hands.

    People never believe me about the eliminating on command, but all it takes is patience and timing, patience and timing.

    Took about three weeks for my first GSD pup, about three days for the second one. If Mel was a human, she’d have been easy to hypnotize.

  • 2. Audie's Gramma  |  July 24, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Two thoughts, this has been bugging me.

    Conditioning puppy to helplessly fall asleep when you sing a song: adorable.

    Conditioning baby/toddler to do the same: highly convenient.

    But how long does the conditioning last?

    I learned the English alphabet nearly 40 years ago.

    Barring a colossal act of will, I cannot alphabetize in my mind without the GOD DAMNED SONG taking over my head.

    I would call that particular conditioning permanent.

    I bet a parent singing a baby to sleep for four or five years yields a lot more repetitions than my kindergarten teacher had to use to implant that song-virus in my brain.

    Now, take your song-conditioned infant and fast-forward sixteen years.

    Do we have the kid who instantly nods off at the wheel when “Yellow Submarine” comes on the car radio?

    Oops. Guess Dad shouldn’t have chosen a classic.

    And doG help the kid whose siblings catch on to the trick, not to mention the little bastards at school.

    Conditioning human beings is always fraught with ethical traps. Conditioning human beings who did not or cannot give their consent for this conditioning is very dangerous territory indeed.

    On another note …

    I’m conditioning my chicks (future laying hens and one roo) to expect a yummy treat from my hand when I sing “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.”

    This will take a while, but they are curious and love their treats. Should make it easy to put them up at night once they are big enough to free-range.

    I don’t expect them to get drivers’ licenses, so not too worried about the long-term consequences.

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