Young Guinea Pig Double-Blind Scent Test in Pasadena

This only five weeks old Guinea pig learned to discriminate and indicate a specific target-scent after three days of training. Yes, it does not take long if you do everything correctly, starting with creating a relationship with the animal.

You can learn all about scent detection in the course Canine Scent Detection. We used the same method and precisely the same procedures as for dogs. We only had to adjust our signals, reinforcers, and inhibitors according to the species.

If you are a student, pay attention to details in the movie so you can answer the two questions in the quiz below.

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

"Young Guinea Pig Double-Blind Scent Test in Pasadena" Video Quiz

You have five minutes to complete this quiz.


Guinea Pig Scent Detection—Three Samples Double-Blind Test

“Guinea Pig Scent Detection—Three Samples Double-blind Test” shows the result after three days of training with a six-weeks-old Guinea Pig. We went a step further than our usual two samples test, and we succeeded without any problems. Notice the calm with which the trainers handle the Guinea Pig and the whole situation. In the first test (two-samples), the GP takes its time for the reasons you will see. Keeping calm and collected and giving the GP the time it needed was undoubtedly the best strategy.

How could we achieve such results after only three days? By proceeding stepwise with a Swiss watch precision, from creating a relationship with the piggie, to teaching it the desired indication behavior, target scent and so forth.

Interested in scent detection. Take a closer look at our course Canine Scent Detection. You’ll be surprised to see how far we can get if only we care to study behavior and learning scientifically. Our approach is unique and so are our results.

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

"Guinea Pig Scent Detection—Three Samples Double-Blind Test" Video Quiz

You have five minutes to complete this quiz.


Scent Detection Memories From Germany

“Scent Detection Memories from Germany” shows you yet a CSD workshop—a memorable one, though. All teams, 11 in total, passed the double-blind test after three days of training. One even succeeded in teaching the dog to identify and indicate a second target scent in only 21 minutes. Our state-of-the-art scent detection procedure (devised and developed by Roger Abrantes throughout the years), does not need any further proofs that it works to perfection!

The second target scent is not as difficult for the dog as it seems. Provided the handler taught the first one correctly, the dog will have no difficulty in adding the second one to its repertoire of reinforcer-giving stimuli. All the hard work (where precision is crucial) is at the beginning of the learning process, starting with teaching the dog to show the correct indication behavior (commonly called ‘alerts’). The scent discrimination in itself is no problem for the sharp nose of the dog.

Pay attention to the movie so you can answer the quiz questions and earn study credits (if you’re a student). Check also our Canine Scent Detection course and learn about our unique CSD learning procedure.

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

"Scent Detection Memories From Germany" Video Quiz

You have five minutes to complete this quiz.


Guinea Pig Camp by Roger Abrantes

The Guinea pig, Cavia porcellus, or domestic guinea pig, also known as cavy or domestic cavy, is a species of rodent belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia. They live from four to eight years of age. They are very active, up to 20 hours a day, sleeping only for short periods. They are social animals living in small groups.

Like all prey animals, they startle easily but recover quickly. They show good learning abilities as our Guinea pig camps demonstrate. We teach them to deal with various obstacles and scent detection. They perform as well as dogs or rats. We train them using clear finger pointing signals and tapping sounds, sound reinforcers, mainly our customary ‘dygtig,’ and food treats consisting of bits of various vegetables.

To learn more about animal training, the scientific way, go to our course The 20 Principles All Animal Trainers Must Know.

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

"Guinea Pig Camp by Roger Abrantes" Video Quiz

You have five minutes to complete this quiz.


Guinea Pigs Scent Detection

In this short video, you see a summary of the five steps leading to the final and successful double-blind test in scent detection. Notice that, contrary to the practice everywhere else, we start by teaching the animal the indication behavior. The goal of this procedure is to allow us to reinforce the animal’s behavior whenever it encounters the target scent. Since it will associate the container with the previous indication behavior, it will indicate it and receive its reinforcer for that—while all the time subject to the target scent. That and the exceptionally carefully planned plans of action (POA) are the reason why we succeed in teaching scent detection to Guinea pigs, dogs, and rats in only three days of training.

If you’re interested in staging a scent detection workshop, be it with dogs, Guinea pigs or rats, please contact us.

To learn more about Professor Roger Abrantes’ unique scent detection method, please go to our course Canine Scent Detection.

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

"Guinea Pigs Scent Detection" Video Quiz

You have five minutes to complete this quiz.


Guinea Pigs Camp at the APDT Conference 2015

Guinea pigs starred at the APDT dog conference 2015. Roger Abrantes and Michael McManus demonstrated in a one day workshop how eager to learn the small piggies are.

To learn more, please go to our course The 20 principles All Animal Trainers Must Know.

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

"Guinea Pigs Camp at the APDT Conference 2015" Video Quiz

You have five minutes to complete this quiz.


Waltzing at the Rhythm of Life

Guinea pig camp

The first time I realized it for real was maybe 20 years ago. I was giving a horse workshop in LA, and they had gotten me a Mustang stallion to work with.

I looked at him for a moment as he looked at me. There was no defiance or diffidence in our gazes. We were just two lost creatures thrown in the arena of life. I cannot know what he thought at that moment. Maybe he was dreaming about running in the great plains of the mighty North-American continent where his ancestors once roamed freely. As to me, I found myself longing for home, for the comforting peace of my South-Andaman sea. None of us dared to move. The seminar attendees were absolutely silent, sensing or expecting they were going to get value for their money.

I might have been as reticent about the situation as the horse was. I don’t know who started it—maybe the horse, perhaps me, or both at the same time. As we began walking, suddenly, we were in sync. Slower, quicker, left, right, stop, we were mirroring one another: no words, no big gestures, just motion. We were not adversaries, not in opposition. We were partners at that moment. Our differences did not matter; our similarities did. We were like dancing together. If one of us missed a beat, the other would immediately step forward and follow up.

Many years later, in a completely different environment, I experienced the same again. I was diving in the magnificent South Andaman, so spellbound by the underwater beauty around me that I think I forgot I was just a human out of my natural environment. Without realizing it, at first, I found myself following the movements and the rhythm of a school of snappers swimming in front of me. Before I knew of it, there were another fish all around me, and they didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the presence of this bubble-making, definitely not a fish-like creature. For the first time underwater, I felt I was not a stranger, a visiting tourist.

Life has a rhythm, I learned. Since then, I’ve applied the rhythm factor to all my interactions with animals independently of species. When I train dogs, I always begin by getting acquainted with the dog, walking with the dog rhythmically forth and back. Once we have established contact, all the rest works much smoother, independently of what we’re supposed to do.

Yesterday, I showed it to my Guinea pig camp attendees. We worked on coordinating the movements of the team mates like a school of fish. I think it became clear, yesterday, what I meant days earlier when I emphasized how crucial it was for us to control ourselves, our movements and our emotions. Once they were all synced, the Guinea pigs fell in, and the results did not wait to show up.

Yesterday was the day we “waltzed with the Guinea pigs” at the rhythm of life.

Waltzing with the piggies at the rhythm of life. Victor Ros (Ethology Institute’s Graduate Trainer) working with Guinea pig in Pancalieri, Italy, in 2013. Being a skilled horseman, Victor knows the importance of rhythm (filmed by Roger Abrantes).

Dramatic Second Day Guinea Pig Camp

Guinea pig camp

So many lessons to learnGuinea pig camps are intense. In the morning, one of the little ones was almost unconscious. At first, I thought he was dead. Guinea pigs are fragile and when they get sick, usually, it goes quickly downhill and there’s not much we can do about it. I notified everybody that he would probably die so no one would be shocked by it, and proceeded to give him emergency care: warmth, orange juice and rest. I also gave him a few “flakes” of cucumber and carrot, and he ate them, which was a good sign.

Danielle, of the team where he belonged, monitored his progress closely. Surprisingly enough, he improved rapidly, and, at noon, he seemed to have recovered. At 2 pm, he was working, going the full course of obstacles and learning the indication behavior “paw on cube” he will need to point out the target scent when we get to that step today.

I dubbed him ลูกปุย (Lūk puy). I have this habit of naming the Guinea pigs in Thai. His name means “fluffy baby” or “fluffy ball.” ปุย is a common nickname for Thai girls, but I don’t think he cares too much about that.

Here is ลูกปุย showing his newly acquired “paw on cube” skill.

Less than perfect is… perfect, seemed to be a lesson to learn from Michael’s team. His teammates are rookies, but dedicated and positive, and Michael is an excellent team leader. Everybody commits mistakes and, naturally, rookies error more often than experienced trainers. In order to progress, we must evaluate our POA (plan of action), analyze our mistakes and correct them—but that’s it, no more, period. Alas, I see many trainers getting too upset when things don’t go the way they want, which ends up working against their best intentions. Not so in Michael’s team, they took it cool and at the end of the day both their piggies were running the whole course and showing the indication behavior they should just perfectly.

To bring it all into perspective (see my blogs from yesterday and the day before), a little emotion and stress are necessary to learn and to achieve success—and too much defeats the purpose.

It’s all a question of balance. Amazing, isn’t it, what little creatures like the Guinea pigs can help us realize? Then again, there are lessons to learn everywhere if we care to watch and to listen. The difficult part in doing it, is that we have to, if only for a moment, forget ourselves, be aware that we are not the center of the universe even though it may appear to be so for us. Not easy, but doable and extremely gratifying, if you ask me.

Life is beautiful.

Featured image: Guinea pig showing target indication (photo by Manuel Castaneda).

Learn more in our course Ethology and Behaviorism. Based on Roger Abrantes’ book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism,” this online course explains and teaches you how to create a stable and balanced relationship with any animal. It analyses the way we interact with our animals, combines the best of ethology and behaviorism and comes up with an innovative, yet simple and efficient approach to animal training. A state-of-the-art online course in four lessons including videos, a beautiful flip-pages book, and quizzes.


How Splendid They Are—or the Importance of Imprinting


First Guinea pig camp day. How splendid they are, the little Guinea pigs! Between three and eight weeks of age, they are curious, friendly and quick learners. They are so totally cute! (To put it in modern American English.)

The clip above, which I’m sure you watched as soon as you arrived at this page, is a quick iPhone recording to show you little Chupa-Chupa only two hours after the team started training it. It does not live up to the quality of the movies I usually show but bear with me. I just had to capture the moment and show it to you.

I must compliment Michael and Natalie for the brilliant job they have done imprinting and socializing the young Guinea pigs. Without it, we would have spent the whole day yesterday, and would spend most of today, habituating them to the environment, novel stimuli, humans, etc. As they are, the teams could teach them all the agility obstacles. This is the first time we have achieved it in one day, undoubtedly due to the perfect imprinting and socialization of the piggies.

Though this makes it much easier for the camp attendees to train the Guinea pigs, it also deprives them of the experience of going thru the laborious process of imprinting and socialization. Fortunately, we have a couple of older piggies, Michael and Natalie got later, for comparison.

I wished dog breeders knew more about these all relevant mechanisms in the formation of behavior. Imagine that all puppies were perfectly imprinted and socialized to the human world. I bet we would see a dramatic fall in problem behavior and wouldn’t that be splendid?

Imprinting describes any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior.

Imprinting affects subsequent social adjustment and sexual behavior among others. It occurs immediately after birth or early in life. Though critical for the future behavior of the animal, its preferences and aversions, the consequences of imprinting are not as rapid or as irreversible as Lorenz and the early ethologists thought.

Studies of wolf cubs show that although the period of imprinting is longer than in ducks, and most birds, it is just as important. Holding a wolf cub in our hands for three minutes a day in the first 10 days makes all the difference in its behavior towards humans later in life. The same applies to our domestic dogs, even if they are more flexible. The difference is that we have selected dogs for thousands of years for their sociability. They have probably many genes determining this trait, allowing imprinting for longer, or over several periods.

A sensitive period (or critical period) is a limited time in which an event can occur, usually resulting in some transformation. If the organism does not receive the appropriate stimulus during this time, it may be difficult, or even impossible, to develop some functions later in life.

Evidence suggests that there may be more than one type of a sensitive period. Recent studies point out that the critical phase for sexual imprinting occurs later than that for filial imprinting. Researchers discovered that learning components are more important than previously thought. There is evidence that cumulative learning entails the release of endorphins in the brain providing a comforting feedback and, thus, fixing the association.

As amazed as the camp attendees are with the speedy progress of their training (at the end of the first day, they have gone thru all agility obstacles, including weave poles), what left them flabbergasted today was the limited use of food treats and that we did not use training tools and gadgets at all.

This is training the ethology way, my preferred method of interacting with animals. We create a relationship of mutual trust and respect, with higher benefits than costs, leading by example, meeting the animal half-way, controlling ourselves rather than the animal.

Watch this space, my friends, I will tell you more tomorrow.

Featured image: Konrad Lorenz and his geese showing the effect of imprinting.

Bonding in Dogs

Bonding With Your Dog – Friendship With Your Dog.

Bonding in dogs is indeed an interesting topic. You’ll see in a short while what I mean.

Guinea pig camp starting tomorrow, Michael and Natalie of Ready, Sit, Go are busy with the last preparations, but there’s always time for a nice dinner and a couple of hours around the pool table. Fantasia on San Fernando in Burbank is my favorite pool hall and sports bar in the area. It has a relaxed atmosphere, a diversity of clients, good Brunswick 9-foot tables and Guinness on draught.

Pool is a great game. It requires technique, strategy, mind, skill, and it is a social activity. You play, talk, crack a joke or pick up a serious topic, and you have a good time with your mates (= buddies in the US).

Thinking about my blog for today, I asked Michael, “What should I write about?”

“Bonding,” he answered, “bonding in dogs”—and so bonding it is.

Parents and offspring develop strong bonds so that the former take care of the latter and the latter accept the teachings of the former. This serves both parties best. As a result of filial bonding, offspring and parents or foster parents develop an attachment. This attachment ceases to be important once the juvenile reaches adulthood, but may have long-term effects upon subsequent social behavior. Among domestic dogs, for example, there is a sensitive period from the third to the tenth week of age, during which normal contacts develop. If a puppy grows up in isolation beyond about fourteen weeks of age, it will not develop normal relationships.

Males and females of social species develop strong bonds during courtship motivating them to care for their progeny, so they increase their chances of the survival of 50% of their genes.

Social animals develop bonds by living together and having to fend for their survival day after day. Grooming, playing, mutual feeding, all have a relevant role in bonding. Intense experiences do too. Between adults, surviving moments of danger together seems to be strongly bonding.

Bonding behavior like grooming and feeding seems to release neurotransmitters (e.g., oxytocin), which lowers the innate defensiveness, thereby increasing the chances of bonding.

We often mention bonding together with imprinting. Even though imprinting is bonding, not all bonding is imprinting. Imprinting describes any type of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a specific life stage) that is rapid and (apparently) independent of the consequences of behavior. Some animals appear to be preprogrammed to learn about certain aspects of the environment during particular sensitive phases of their development. The learning is pre-programmed in the sense that it will occur without any visible reinforcement or punishment.

Our dogs in our domestic environments develop bonds in various ways. Grooming, resting with each other, barking together, playing and chasing intruders are strong bonding behaviors. Their bonding behavior is by no means restricted to individuals of their species. They bond with the family cat as well and with us, humans.

Bonding is a natural process that will inevitably happen when individuals share responsibilities. Looking into one another’s eyes is only bonding for a while, but surviving together may be bonding for life—and this applies to all social animals, dogs and humans included.

We develop stronger bonds with our dogs by doing things together rather than by just sitting and petting them. These days, we are so afraid of anything remotely connected with stress that we forget the strongest bonds ever originate under times of intense experiences. A little stress doesn’t harm anyone, quite the contrary. I see it every time I train canine scent detection. The easier it is, the quickest it will be forgotten. A tough nut to crack, on the other hand, is an everlasting memory binding the parties to one another.

I even suspect one of the reasons we have so many divorces these days is that we want everything to be easy, and oh so pleasant, that in the end, nothing is holding the two together—but that’s another story for maybe another time.

Guinea pig camp tomorrow—it’s time to bond with these loving little creatures.

Featured image: Bonding with your dog. (photo by pixabay,

Learn more in our course Canine Scent Detection, which will enable you to pursue further goals, such as becoming a substance detection team or a SAR unit. You complete the course by passing the double-blind test locating a hidden scent. You take the theory online in the first three lessons. In lesson four, you train yourself and your dog, step by step until reaching your goal. We will assign you a qualified tutor to guide you, one-on-one, either on-site or by video conferencing.

Canine Scent Detection
Ethology Institute