Trixie the Trickster!

8 02 2009

Trixie cannot bend it like David Beckham but she does an awesome job connecting certain responses with certain stimuli. Originally for this assignment I wanted to train Trixie to place a ping pong ball inside a tissue box. After two long hours of sitting in the lab and Trixie showing no interest in the ball regardless of 9g of reinforces I decided to have her attempt a more simplistic trick. I though long and hard of the endless possibilities but I decided to stick with something that she would do voluntarily but allow me to modify. In the end I decided to have Trixie run through a tunnel (tissue box) following my command.

After observing fellow classmates in the lab and talking to my lab partner I realized that my method of training was a bit different. I approached the trick training as you would teach a dog to sit. When teaching my dog at home to roll over I would issue the command “sit” to signal that it was now time for him to roll over in order for him to receive a reward. I applied the same method to Trixie but instead of saying “tunnel” I would simply click my clicker.

In order to achieve this trick we went through various phases of training. Initially I practiced the double click training method; clicking once to get her attention and the second time to notify her of her reward once she had completed the “trick”. During phase one of our trick training Trixie ran freely throughout the aquarium tank and I would click and reward her for sniffing the tunnel. Once she started associating sniffing the tunnel with a reward I then waited for her to put her two front paws inside the tunnel before clicking and rewarding her. Following the second phase I would only reward her for going through the tunnel. Trixie quickly caught on to me wanting her to run through the tunnel and would do so repeatedly waiting for her reinforcement. After observing Trixie run through the tunnel four times in a row and looking at me waiting for her reward I decided to take it a step further and only reward her for running through following my command (click). I then phased out the second click and would only reinforce Trixie with a food pellet if she ran in the tunnel following my click.

Below is a video of Trixie performing her trick.

I apologize for some of the dead time and the additional outside clicks. Trixie did respond correctly 100% of the time, however a few of her responses were delayed.  My computer and I are currently at war because it is being stubborn and not letting me open my video in movie maker.


Click! Click! Click!

1 02 2009

clicker2Trixie’s clicker training is almost complete! I have been working diligently over the past week training her to sign track the sound of the clicker.  I began her clicker training by using the double click method.  She quickly associated the feeding corner and standing on her hind legs with food.  After 3 days of using the double click method Trixie was correctly responding to the clicks. Once I observed Trixie correctly running to the food corner and waiting for 2 seconds before I hand fed her 90% of the time, I began to phase out the second click.

Below is a video of Trixie correctly responding to the double click method.

At this point in time Trixie correctly response to one click 95% of the time. The remaining 5% of the time Trixie does not exhibit a response.   Below is a video of  Trixie correctly responding to the clicker. In the beginning of the video Trixie is showing off,  she just realized today that she can jump out of the aquarium tank.

During our clicker training sessions Trixie eats 9 grams of food.  Following our session I leave 5 grams in her cage, which she quickly hoards to the back of her cage.

Sprague Dawley

29 01 2009

Robert W. Dawley impressed his first wife by deriving a strain of laboratory rats after her maiden and his surname. The Sprague-Dawley strain is a polyvalent strain and is the most widely used animal in laboratory research. This strain of rat serves as an excellent model for toxicology, reproduction, pharmacology and behavioral research areas (Ace Animals 2006). Dawley mated a Douredoure strain female with an unknown male who was of exceptional size and vigor in order to achieve this multipurpose albino rat (Scanbur 1998).

The main advantages to the Sprague-Dawley rat are its calmness and ease of handling. They also have excellent reproductive performance and maternal characteristics. Sprague-Dawley litters average 9-11 pups depending on the breeder. This strain of rat has a typical life span of 2.5-3.5 years. The adult body weight for females is generally 250-300g and 450-520g for males. (Ace Animals 2006).

The Sprague-Dawley strain has a unique anatomy and physiology. Due to its curvature in the rat’s esophagus, it is unable to vomit. The rat does not have a gull bladder, and has five mammary glands. The Sprague-Dawley has one lobe in its left lung, whereas the right lung contains four lobes.Another unique feature to the Sprague-Dawley strain is its Harderian gland. Other species also possess the Harderian gland, which is located behind the eyeball, encircling the optic nerve. (Ace Animals 2006). The Harderian gland has a special importance to the rat. During periods of stress and certain diseases, the tears from the Harderian gland overflow and stain the face around the eyes and nose. The tears appear dark, and once dried have an appearance of dried blood. (Ace Animals 2006).

Aside from the tears produced from the harderian gland when stressed or ill, the nutrition of the rat could also be a warning sign of such aliments. Food intake is approximately 5g per 100g of body weight per day. The water intake of Sprague-Dawley is typically 10-12ml per 100g of body weight per day. It is important to watch the food intake of your rat for it may be a sign of illness.

Rats suffer from a variety of aliments similar to humans. These animals are especially known for respiratory problems and inner ear infections. Respiratory problems are often caused by a flaring of the mycoplasma pumonis, which is a rare form of bacteria (Sandford 2007). If a rat is experiencing respiratory problems it may display some of the following symptoms: coughing, clicking noise in the chest, weight loss or dull coat. Rats which are infected with inner ear infections will display symptoms of head tilting, or walking without balance (Sandford 2007).

Ace Animals, Inc. (2006). Sprague Dawley. Retrieved January 25, 2009, from

Sandford, Estelle (2007). Rat Health. Ratz. Retrieved January 25, 2009 , from

Scanbur (1998). SD Rat. Retrieved January 25, 2009, from


21 01 2009

On Friday, January 16th, 2009 I experienced love at first sight. Well, maybe not, but after looking into Trixie’s tiny red eyes and holding her petite frame in the palm of my hand we connected. After spending numerous hours cuddling and bonding with my girl; Trixie and I became very comfortable with one another. She loves to crawl up on my shoulders and sniff my hair. After four consistent sessions of Trixie sniffing me out and tickling me with her whiskers, she was now interested in other surroundings in her environment. I have to admit I’m a bit of a helicopter mom, hovering over her as she explores, but she generally does really well and doesn’t get into trouble with the exception of today. She loves to run around the edge of the wooden box, but today she decided to jump from the ledge of the box onto the metal cart which holds all the cages. I was really proud of her large leap and even managed to capture it on camera (as shown below), but I’m afraid she is going to fall and hurt herself. She is a sweet girl and I don’t want anything to happen to her so I will continue to hover.

I will continue to post throughout the semester and update everyone on Trixie’s behavior, her tricks, and later with Trixie’s experiment.