Date of Award

Fall 12-2015

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Stan Kuczaj

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Evan Dart

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Mark Xitco


The current study examined the immediate effects of two types of failure during operant-conditioning based training sessions in 11 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) at the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program in San Diego, CA. While learning a multi-faceted behavior not commonly found in nature, such as beaching, animals are likely to perform approximations of the behavior that are not successful and do not result in reinforcement. The effects of failure on beaching trials were systematically investigated over a three-month period by determining the mean failure rate and the probability of success after initial success, initial attempts, and initial no-attempts. This study, the first to analyze failure response types in bottlenose dolphins, showed that four subjects’ mean performance decreased after either initial attempts or initial no-attempts when compared to initial success and two subjects’ mean performance was enhanced by either initial attempts or initial no-attempts when compared to initial success. Five subjects’ mean performance was not affected by initial attempts and initial no-attempts. Both types of failure decreased performance. However, only initial no-attempts increased performance. In addition, several individuals had a mean failure rate that differed based on the trainer, time of day, criteria, mat type, number of sessions, and hand station requests. This study demonstrated that initial failure was not solely responsible for subsequent performance.

Doctoral dissertation: