The Breland’s encountered this same sort of problem in a variety of other species, including chickens, pigs, dolphins, and whales. In each case, the training began well. Virtually any animal can be trained to hand over a symbol in order to receive a food reward; however, after extensive training, virtually every animal that has been studied begins to “misbehave”. The behavior initially learned – relinquishing the symbol in order to gain a food reward – seldom occurs. In its place are persistent patterns of feeding behaviors typical of the species and directed at the symbol of reward. Ironically, the behavior seems to serve no other purpose than to delay the delivery of the food reward itself.
Just as Pavlov’s dogs developed the tendency to salivate upon merely hearing the tone that preceded food, The Raccoon of the story washes and gnaws on the symbol of reward as though it were actually food. The Brelands labeled this pattern of activity “misbehavior” because the actions required greater physical output and served only to delay, sometimes endlessly, the time for the delivery of the actual food reward. This behavior should not be interpreted as the distraction of an animal that has lost interest in eating, because increasing the animal’s hunger merely intensifies the effect.