Let’s do an experiment!


New Member
Some of you know about this already, but I thought it might be interesting to posit an experiment and then guess the results. Or maybe nobody will feel like answering, in which case I’ll just post the answer after a while and move on :dogunsure:

We’ll split our dogs into two groups, very originally called Group A and Group B :dogtongue2:

First we build a wooden box – a large rectangle. In the middle we place some boards as a barrier. It is low enough that a dog can jump from one area to the other over the boards. Then in one half of the box, electric shock mats are placed, not strong enough to hurt the dogs, but enough to produce an extremely unpleasant sensation on the threshold of pain.

A dog from Group A is placed on the mats. The mats are turned on, and of course the dog jumps over the barrier to the other half where there are no mats and no shocks. All Group A dogs go through this experience. So far, so good.

Now we raise the barrier so that the dogs can’t jump and reach the other area. Group B dogs experience the shocks for a while with no means of escape.

Now we lower the barrier so it can be easily jumped again, and repeat the experiment with both Group A and Group B dogs.

How do the dogs react when the mats are turned on? Is there any difference in response between the dogs in Group A and Group B?

This experiment was actually done at a university, (with a slight variation involving a third group of dogs), so the results are known.

I’m curious as to how many here have heard of this experiment, and how those who don’t know about it would guess the dogs would behave in the final stage.

Jean Cote

Staff member
Never heard this exact study being done, but I'd guess that the study ends with the dogs in GROUP A jumping over immediately while the dogs in GROUP B are curled up in a little ball resulting in learned helplessness.


Well-Known Member
My guess is the dogs jumped over the barrier. Most dog I think do not like being enclosed in a small area, unless they are used to it, and become aware of their surroundings.


Experienced Member
It's called "learned helplessness", which is a psychological principle, and applies equally to humans and dogs.

So, in this case, I would strongly suspect that the dogs did nothing, as most with learned helplessness do.


New Member
Bipa I've read about this experiment before, if I remember right this is called the "Skinner box", but the original experiment was done on rats? am I correct...?

I believe Group A learns very quickly to jump over the barrier, it is called an escape response. If a audio tone is always sounded just before the electric shock, then the dogs in Group A quickly learn to jump over the barrier the minute they hear the tone without awaiting the shock, that is then an avoidance response.

Group B, which had no way to escape the shock no matter what they did, just went into a state of learned helplessness, as Jean and Collie Man already said, meaning that initially they tried frantically but unsuccessfully to escape, and were expressing anxiety-related behaviors, but in the end just did nothing and were completely passive and accepted the shocks.

Furthermore, I think that while both Groups experience a lot of anxiety, Group B experiences more anxiety than Group A (quantified in the lab as increases in saliva cortisol levels and heart rate or blood pressure) I don't think this was actually done in the original experiment but in later similar experiments by different people on dogs , I think...unless I'm getting things mixed up....