Training the Animals in Your Life

Animal Training

  • Rythmic Ability In A California Sea Lion

    This video is absolutely amazing. While it is enjoyable and comical to watch this sea lion 'dance' to the music, it also is a great finding for modern science and animal behaviorists. Until this study, animal behaviorists have maintained that the only animals that are able to keep a beat are humans and animals capable of voice mimicry. This would include parrots and some other birds. This study shows that other animals are capable of recognizing a beat in music.

    What this says to me is that we have been asking questions of animals that they do not understand. Once this sea lion, named Ronan, was taught to bob its head to one song, it quickly caught on and was able to bob its head to multiple songs with multiple different beats. Sea lions do not grow up learning how to 'dance' from other sea lions, so how can humans expect them to 'dance' without being taught?

    I think that if the people doing these studies can figure out new ways to let the animals know what we are asking of them, that we will quickly find that animals are much smarter than scientists once thought.

    To read more about this study and how it was performed, click here.

  • The Cost of Working with Animals

    Today's post was inspired by an article written by David Segal for the New York Times. This article is long but it contains a lot of valuable information for those considering becoming a vet. Click here for the full article.

    I think that it is is extremely sad that anyone that wants to work with animals gets paid so little. The cost of becoming a vet is extremely high while the starting salaries are relatively average for the general work force. DVMs are coming out of school with their debt to income ratio at 3:1. That is insane.

    Photo courtesy of wikicommons

    In the article, Segal states that the need for vets is declining in this country. While there are communities that are in desperate need of vets, most of the people in those communities are unable to afford vet care. A vet can see a need in a small, rural community and move there to open a practice, only to find out that the people coming to see them cannot afford to pay. I'm sure that the vet wants to help and offer their services for free, but with student loan debt approaching $300,000, they are not really in a position to do so. This reminds me of the book Water for Elephants, when the main character is left with nothing after his parents die because his dad was a vet and had been accepting vegetables from people's gardens for payment.

    I think there needs to be a total overhaul of all animal related jobs. Choosing to work with animals should not be a financial death sentence. Sure, you can choose not to go to school and try to get a job working at a zoo (not as a vet) but most job postings nowadays specify that a bachelor's degree is preferred and desired. With the amount of competition for all zoo jobs, it might take a while to land a zoo job without a degree. The reality is that most zoo professionals are highly educated, highly skilled individuals. Long gone are the days when zookeepers were all burly men hired only to do physical labor. The zookeeping profession now involves daily animal training, enrichment and behavioural studies as well as knowing the warning signs of animal illnesses.

    If you are able to come out of school with no debt then you can probably survive on these salaries. I know that people with debt still survive on these salaries but they often have credit collectors knocking on their door. Personally, I don't want to just survive, I want to get ahead and therefore had to leave the zoo profession, at least until I get my student loans paid off. People working with animals either need to be paid more or there needs to be more education about not taking out student loans for school. Something has got to change.

  • How to Weigh Your Animals with Little Stress

    Weight is often the best indicator of health in an animal. In some species, you will notice a change in their weight way before you notice that they aren't eating as much as they used to. A primary reason for a change in appetite or weight is usually some sort of health issue.

    So how do you weigh a porcupine for example? How do you weigh an 800 pound steer? This is an example of a husbandry behavior. You are training the animal to participate in their own health care so that there is as little stress to them as possible. You want for standing on a scale to become an everyday habit.

    Let's start with the porcupine. This is actually a multi-step process that I am going to speed through. First of all you need a large scale, but even when you have a large scale it is difficult to ensure that the porcupine is all the way on the scale everytime. You need something on the scale that the porcupine can stand on. We have found that a large dog carrier works well. You put the kennel on the scale and ask the porcupine to step into it. Then subtract the weight of the kennel from the weight of the porcupine in the kennel equals weight of porcupine. Obviously you first have to get the porcupine used to going into the kennel before you ever place it on the scale. You can do this by placing its food inside the kennel for several weeks. Don't mess with the kennel once the porcupine is inside. Let it learn that no harm comes to it while it is in the kennel.

    In the image below, the kennel is sitting on the scale and the porcupine is about to crawl into it. 

    You can also train a steer to walk on a large piece of plywood that is placed over a scale. The steer will most likely be afraid of the large dark thing on the ground. First just place the plywood in the enclosure for several days (make sure to give the animal plenty of room to get away if it wants to). After a few days you can start to throw a few bites of bread on the plywood so that the animal has to touch the plywood to eat it. It will start to learn that nothing bad happens when it is near the plywood. Ask the animal to step on the plywood by targeting over the wood. Step by step the steer will learn that nothing bad happens when it steps on the plywood. You can place the scale under the plywood and make it a daily routine to step on the plywood.

    Watch the video below to see an example of scale training.

     

    Scale Training with a Miniature Zebu Steer from Brittany Mead on Vimeo.

    The steer in the video above was terrified of the plywood. It took several weeks for him to even go near it or to go in the stall with it. The video above shows tremendous progress where he is ready for us to place the scale under the plywood and weigh him.

  • Why Is My Dog Attacking My Other Dog?

    Dog Eat Dog?

    A friend of mine is having a problem with one of her dogs attacking her other dog. She came to me to ask why this might be happening. There are several reasons that this could be happening and I could not fully judge the situation without observing it directly so I decided to put together the top 5 reasons that this might be happening.

    First, let's observe what we know. This particular situation involves two fixed, female dogs that have lived together for most of their lives without issues. The younger dog, let's call her Sadie, has just been diagnosed with Cushing's disease and is the one doing the attacking. The older dog, Molly, seems to be an innocent bystander in all of this.

    Reason #1. My first question was to find out if the dogs were fixed. Dogs have hormones and all storts of issues that come along with not being fixed. This can cause extreme hormonal changes that affect behavior. I want to add to this that even fixed females will sometimes still fight for dominance if there is a male around.

    Reason #2. Food aggression. Food aggression can seem to come out of nowhere. Dogs that used to be perfectly happy eating side by side suddenly cannot be anywhere near each other. Perhaps this is just grumpiness from old age or perhaps one dog has decided it doesn't like the way that the other one chews with their mouth open. Who knows. In any event, there are a few ways to try to work around this. Try to seperate the animals when you feed them. Bring one dog inside and have one outside. Seperate them before you even begin to prepare the food and do not allow them back together until all food bowls have been put away for a few minutes. I suggest keeping the dog that is being attacked on her "home turf" and removing the dog that is doing the attacking. That way, the attacking dog is the one that is out of her element and is being reintroduced to the other dog after eating. I have seen dominant dogs attack more submissive dogs everytime they are brought back into their home turf, even if they only left for a few minutes.

    Let's say that the attacking doesn't seem to only occur around feeding time. Sometimes, the dogs simply know that dinner time is in a few hours and they are already jockeying for feeding position. Try bumping feeding time up a few hours without warning (still separate both dogs to feed). This way the dogs are surprised and don't have time to argue about who is going to get dinner first. After dinner, the arguments seem to calm down most of the time. Fighting just doesn't seem as important when you have a full stomach.

    Sometimes the dogs are fighting over food that isn't even theirs. If a family member is snacking, the dogs may think that is fair game and are fighting over who is allowed to beg for scraps. I suggest trying to get the family to eat at one time and in one place. For example, everyone eats dinner at the table while the dogs wait outside. No food comes out until the dogs have safely been placed outside. This may help to eliminate some bickering.

    Reason #3. The dog being attacked may be sick. Animals can often tell when other animals are sick. In the wild, they would use this as a survival tactic. They might pick off the weak, sick or injured animals so as not to attract other predators, not to be slowed down, or to get rid of another mouth to feed. Sometimes dogs do this when they can sense the other animal has an illness. This could be cancer, heart failure or any other number of things.

    Reason #4. One, or both, of the dogs may be in pain. The reasoning I offered to my friend was that Sadie simply may not be feeling good and the other dog got on her last nerve. This explanation seems silly but I do think there is truth to it. Sadie may be developing arthritus and it hurts her to be touched, she may be lashing out at Molly either to tell her to stop touching her or because she thinks that Molly is somehow causing her pain. She also may be simply expecting the pain to come and so she lashes out in advance hoping to avoid the pain.

    Reason #5. Stress. I have heard of dogs becoming more aggressive during the winter due to being kept inside more. Any number of small changes in your home could have led to stress on your dogs. Did a family member recently leave for college? Did you get a new dog bed? Have you started leaving earlier for work? All of these can be stressful to a dog and she gets release when she snaps at her neighbor. I suggest looking for these changes and trying to spend more time with the dogs, perhaps one on one. Take each one out into the yard seperately and spend some running time with them.

    These clearly are not all of the reasons that your dog could be attacking another dog but I hope they help in some way. For more information, I recommend checking out this post by Pat Miller in The Whole Dog Journal. It has some very descriptive explanations.

    Do you have experience with dogs attacking each other? What are some of the things that helped you to solve the problem?

  • What Is A Husbandry Behavior?

    A husbandry behavior means that the animal is trained to participate in their own health care and well-being. An example of this might be an elephant that is trained to stand against a fence and present the equivalent of their underarm, for blood sampling. Elephants are also sometimes asked to place their feet on a special platform so that keepers can work on their feet and toe nails. You can ask an animal to stand on a scale rather than forcing it onto one. Lions can be trained to open their mouth wide so that a vet can peer into their mouth and check their teeth.

    The purpose of husbandry behaviors is to keep the animal from getting stressed. If the animal is used to crawling on a scale every day then it will not be stressed when you ask it to do the same when the vets need a weight.

  • Ultrasound Training with a Porcupine

    To follow up on the post about stationing, I will fill you in on why we wanted this particular porcupine to crawl to a certain point on the fence. This porcupine lived in an exhibit with a male porcupine and occassionaly she became pregnant. Before this training, we did not have an easy way of monitoring if and when she was pregnant, much less have a way to monitor the development of the baby.

    We began to train her to climb to a certain point on the fence where we had cut out a small portion of the fence so that an ultrasound could be used to examine her belly. The vets could be on the outside of the fence, open the cut away portion of the fence and check her belly while we kept her busy with treats. In this image, you will see me reaching over and touching her belly so that she could get used to it. As the weeks of training went on, she was rewarded for staying on the fence a little bit longer each time.

    Touching her belly to get her used to the feeling so that she will be prepared for an ultrasound.

    Sometimes the male porcupine would interrupt and want a treat too.

    Training this kind of behavior is called a husbandry behavior. The animal is being trained to participate in their own care. This is much less stressful for the animal.

    All of this training was so that we could enjoy little cuties like this one.

    Have you ever heard of ultrasound training a porcupine? Have you ever participated in an endeavor like this one? I would love to hear about it!

  • Foot Training a Miniature Zebu Steer

    This is Miniature Zebu ster named Zamir. Zamir is being asked to touch his foot to the tennis ball. The tennis ball serves as his target. This is the first step in getting Zamir to put his feet where we ask so that we can trim his hooves when needed. 

    When we first started this training with Zamir, he was terrified of the tennis ball. It took us several weeks of simply rewarding him for getting near the tennis ball. Then we would reward him when he let the tennis ball touch him. 

    We were in the process of transitioning Zamir's bridge from the word "good" to a whistle at the time of this video so you will see me use both bridges. 

    I know this doesn't seem complicated but with most animals you have to train in tiny baby steps and Zamir had made great progress at this point. 

    Enjoy! 

  • How to Train Two Animals at Once

    How to Train Two Animals at Once

    If you are working with two animals at the same time, it can be immensely harder to train them. I want to teach you one possible way to work with both animals at the same time. There are other methods, and we can discuss those at a later date, but today we are going to talk about "stationing". 

    In the picture of the North American Porcupine above, you can see that she has climbed on the fence and is hanging there. If you look right past her nose, you can see that there is a yellow, triangle shaped piece of wood that she has climbed to. That yellow, triangle shaped piece of wood is her station

    There is another Porcupine in the exhibit as well. He has been trained to station to a red, square shaped piece of wood. This way, the keepers can hang both of the stations on the fence at seperate areas and ask the animals to "station". They each recognize their station and climb to it. The animals are not rewarded until their noses touch their station. 

    Here is a better view of one of the stations. It is simply a piece of wood with a hook on it. 

    Photos courtesy of Tina Carpenter with Life's A Zoo Photography

    A station can be anything. It can be a rubber mat that you put on the ground, it can be your dog's bed, it can be a particular rug in the house that you ask your dog to go to. 

    These behaviors can also be trained with your dogs at home. I have a friend that asks her dogs to station every night before they get dinner. Each dog goes to an opposite end of the kitchen and sits while she prepares the dog food. She places each bowl in front of the dogs and they are not allowed to eat until she says "ok". (I'm sure that some of you reading this right now think that your dogs can never get to that point, with training, they can)

    So, how do you train your dog to station? First you choose two completely different shaped items. Remember that some animals are color blind so the items need to be very different shapes. Let's go with the example above and pretend you have chosen a triangle and a square. Choose which animal will station to the triangle and put it on the ground (or on the fence if you are training porcupines). When the animal comes to investigate, reward it every time their nose touches the triangle. After a few minutes, put the station away and end the training session. 

    The next day, pull out the station and place it on the ground again. Reward the animal for investigating. Depending on the personality of your dog, you may have to do this for several days until they get used to the item. Begin to say "station" and wait until they touch their station before you reward them. They will begin to associate that word and that action with getting a treat. 

    Eventually you can get your animal to go to its station even if it is on the opposite side of the room. 

    Two last suggestions, don't expect your animal to stay at the station for very long. This is especially difficult if another animal is receiving attention. You will have to praise and reward both animals. Even the animal that is just staying still at his station is performing a behavior that you have asked and deserves a reward. 

    Also, in the initial training phases of getting your dog to learn his station, you may have to separate the dogs while you teach them their stations. Sometimes the dogs get too excited and jump all over each other in competition for treats. 

    There is so much to share about training multiple animals but it will have to be saved for another day. Any questions in the mean time? Let me know if you try this and how it works out. 

  • What is Protected Contact Animal Training?

    I’ll never forget the response I got from a good friend of mine when I texted and told him that I might take a job training tigers. He told me that training tigers was the definition of crazy and he wished me well for the rest of my short life. I was taken aback at first and then realized that he had no concept of what training tigers in a modern day AZA accredited facility meant.

    He was picturing something like this

     

    Image courtesy of Cameron Coup from "Sawdust and Spangles"/Wikimedia/Public Domain  

    Images like these are what most people grew up seeing in the movies and even sometimes in real life. In parts of the world things like this still take place but this is not the way things are done in present day AZA facilities.

    Animal training with dangerous animals is done by protected contact these days. Protected contact means that the trainer and the animal are never in direct contact with one another. There is always a barrier between the animal and the trainer.

    For example, when I worked with an Ocelot, there was a series of levers, pulleys and gates that could be raised and lowered to keep us separated from each other at all times. I would lock him out in his yard while I placed his food near his nest box. After I was safely out the locked door, only then would I lift the gate to allow him access to his food. All training conducted was through a chain link fence, also known as fence training. The keeper can stand on one side of the fence and use a target on a long stick to show the animal where it needs to go. The animal can touch the target with their nose or paw through the fence. Treats are then delivered through a long device with a type of claw on the end that holds the meat until the animal takes it.

    Elephants and other large or dangerous animals are also trained this way at most zoos. The elephant can reach through large bars with its trunk and the keepers can reach through the bars to give the elephant a bath or give it a pedicure, but the keeper does not go in the actual enclosure with the elephant. This prevents a keeper from accidentally getting crushed against the bars.

    Of course there is still risk when working with these animals but the practice of protected contact training helps to greatly reduce the risks.

    How about you? Do you still think that training tigers or other large animals is the definition of crazy? Do you use protected contact training at your zoo or wildlife center?

  • Should I Train with a Whistle or Clicker?

    Why do some animal trainers use a whistle or clicker? Should I be using that to train my pet?

    Using a whistle or clicker to train your animal is all about preference as well as the situation that you are in. When you say "good" after your pet has done something correct, that is the bridge before you reward your pet. A whistle or a clicker is just a different form of bridge but it has the same meaning.

    Trainers that work with large animals, such as elephants or dolphins often use whistles because the animal can be a long distance from the trainer while performing a behavior. The sound of the whistle travels much farther and can be heard more easily by the animal. This is also true of trainers that work with sheep dogs that are working in the fields across vast distances.

    Clicker training can be used if you don't want to have to be saying "good" all the time. One of the best places I have seen this used is when trainers had animals performing behaviors for a stage show. The trainer could reward the animal but continue speaking to the audience without interruption.

    You are certainly welcome to use any of these three methods to train your pet at home. It often is simpler to just give a verbal bridge of "good". In the next post we will visit how to teach an animal to associate a whistle or clicker bridge with their reward.

    What type of bridge do you usually use for your pet or for animals that you work with? In your experience, what have you found works best?

  • Can a neck collar hurt your dog?

    I have to admit that I never gave this subject much thought until I came across this post by Emily Larlham on her blog, Dogmantics Dog Training Blog. I think that her reasoning is very sound and it will definitely make you think.

    Photo courtesy of Elf/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    I can remember having dogs in my youth that pulled on the leash horribly. These dogs also ended up having major thyroid issues. Could the leash pulling and the thyroid issues be related? Emily Larlham thinks that they can. She points out that a dog's neck is built much the same as a human's neck, and I can't imagine putting a collar around a human's neck.

    In the future, I will use a well made harness for my dogs. What do you think? Will you switch over to a harness or continue to use a collar?

  • What is a Bridge?

    Training Terms- Bridge

    In training terms, a bridge is a word or signal used to reward an animal when you cannot immediately give them their physical reward. For example, when a dolphin does a flip in the middle of the pool, the trainer cannot give them their fish right away. To let the dolphin know that they have done a good job, the trainer gives another signal, such as a whistle, to let the animal know that they have succeeded. The animal then knows that they can return to the trainer for their reward.

    This can work the same way with an animal at home. When you ask your dog to roll over, you can use the term "good" to let them know that they have completed the task to your satisfaction. The animal will know that they can return to you for their reward, whether that be a treat or a loving pat.

  • What is a target?

    In training terms, a target is any object used to get an animal to touch it. A target can be your fist, a wooden, plastic or tennis ball on a stick. It can also be a beach ball or boomer ball such as what is used for Dolphins to touch their nose to when jumping.

    This target will quickly become your animal's favorite behavior once they have learned it because it will become their simplest behavior. You simply hold out the stick and train the animal to touch their nost to it. You can also train them to touch their feet, or any other body part, to the target.

    With some animals just getting used to the target touching them might be an adjustment. You may have to just leave the target in the vicinity and let them explore it on their own. Be sure to reward them if they touch it.

    Eventually they will learn to touch their nose to the ball when you say the word "target". Make sure that you hold the target still and make the animal touch it themselves, don't help them out by moving the target towards them. As soon as they touch the target, reward them with a treat or verbal praise. Repeat over and over. This is an immensely important skill and comes in handy when you need to move your 800 pound steer calf off of your toe.

     

    Step 1: Hold out target and say "target"

    Step 2: Wait for animal to touch target

    Step 3: Reward when they touch it

    Step 4: Repeat

     

     

  • Species and Breeds I have Worked With

    1. Boer goats
    2. Afrian pygmy goats
    3. Nigerian dwarf goats
    4. Nubian goats
    5. St. Croix sheep
    6. Babydoll sheep
    7. Domestic rabbits
    8. Dwarf rabbits
    9. Flemish giant rabbits
    10. Chickens and roosters
    11. Cochin chickens
    12. Polish chickens
    13. Jungle fowl
    14. Ocelot
    15. Texas tortoises
    16. African Spurred tortoises
    17. Bare-eyed cockatoos
    18. Molunccan cockatoos
    19. Eclectus parrots
    20. Blue and gold macaws
    21. Chinchillas
    22. African hedgeog
    23. Ferrets
    24. Silky-feathered dove
    25. White-winged dove
    26. Pink headed dove
    27. African grey parrot
    28. Senegal parrot
    29. North American porcupine
    30. Indian runner ducks
    31. Toulouse goose
    32. Rouen duck
    33. Eastern screech owl
    34. American kestrel
    35. Harris hawk
    36. Bald eagle
    37. White tail deer
    38. American turkey
    39. Raccoons
    40. Miniature zebu
    41. Llamas
    42. Guinea hogs
    43. Tarantula
    44. Vinagaroom
    45. Tailless whip scorpion
    46. Red-legged tortoises
    47. Box turtles
    48. Bearded dragons
    49. Black and white tegu
    50. Red tegu
    51. Blue-tongued skink
    52. American alligator juveniles
    53. San Esteban island chuckwalla
    54. Greater plated lizard
    55. American crow
    56. Uromastyx
    57. White's tree frogs
    58. East Asian toad
    59. Houston toad
    60. Hogg Island boa
    61. Ball python
    62. Louisiana pine snake
    63. Milk snake
    64. Prairie kingsnake
    65. Speckled kingsnake
    66. Eastern rat snake
    67. Pancake tortoise
    68. Kenyan sand boa
    69. Glossy snake
    70. Lorikeets
    71. American Quarter-horses
    72. Domestic dog
    73. Domestic cat
  • How Did I Get Here?

    My credibility- If I'm going to write about animals and animal training, I figured I should share with you where I am getting my experience from.

    First of all I have always had a passion for animals and have soaked up every bit of knowledge about them I could get since I was a young girl.

    I attended Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas and graduated with a Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences degree. During my time there I was lucky enough to take lots of interesting classes about animals. A few of these were animal behavior, entomology, ornithology, ichthyology, natural history of the invertebrates, natural history of the vertebrates. Through these classes I got to meet with many interesting professionals in the animal field. For example, one time we got to watch a horse trainer that trains his young horses to sit in his lap while he sits on a bean bag chair. Strange and I can’t see how that turns out well once the horse is more than a few months old and used to sitting on his lap.

    After graduating I participated in the Walt Disney college program and moved to Florida for six months. I got to meet many more animal professionals here and had meetings with several of the animal keepers at Animal Kingdom. I also because an aviary volunteer for the Brevard County Zoo while I was there.

    Immediately after this, I returned to Texas for an internship with Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas. I worked in the Children's Animal Center as an animal caretaker. There was only one other woman who worked with me so I ran the center completely on my own for two days out of every week. The animals I worked with here included goats, parrots, an ocelot, and more (see complete species list). Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is an amazing place where the humans are the ones confined. You get to drive through this huge safari park and have animals poke their heads in your car while you feed them. This was an amazing experience. However, Glen Rose was a little too small of a town for me so next I moved to Houston.

    I worked at the Houston Zoo as a zookeeper in the Children's Zoo. This experience allowed me the opportunity to work with dozens of species. I was responsible for daily care, feeding, diet preparation, enrichment, cleaning and training of animals. I also got to participate in daily outreach stage shows and training demonstrations for the public. In my primary area I was responsible for packing up our animals to go out on educational programs. While at the Houston Zoo, I trained North American Porcupines, a miniature zebu steer and a Nigerian Dwarf goat. Again, refer to my species list for a full list of all species I have worked with. See my Houston Zookeeper bio here. (Keep in mind it uses my maiden name)

    While I loved my job at the zoo, I unfortunately could not stay there forever due to my need to pay off my student loans. My second love, writing and marketing, helped me to find a position with a busy law firm in Houston. I get to learn marketing and event planning while I write about and help to educate others about animals on my blog. I have also volunteered at the Austin Zoo and Houston zoo during various periods.

  • What is Training?

    There are so many different schools of thought when it comes to the subject of animal training. Some people think of training like you would potty train a child while others can only think of circus-like images of a bear riding a tricycle.

    When I mention training I am referring to the capture of a natural animal behavior. For example, a goat naturally raises up on its hind legs before it is going to head-butt another goat in play. When we are able to encourage a goat to rear up on their hind legs with a simple command, this is training.

    Training is used for many different reasons. We can train husbandry behaviors in animals. A husbandry behavior is an action that helps us to medically treat the animal or to care for it in some way. For example, I have trained a porcupine to make her belly available for ultrasounds. As you can imagine, it is very difficult for a vet to work with a porcupine. Having a porcupine that will actively participate in her own treatment is very helpful. Climbing is a natural behavior for porcupines, who spend most of their life high up in the trees. My colleagues and I simply trained the porcupine to climb a fence and stay there. Her soft underbelly was now available to the vets and the ultrasound machine through a hole in the fence that we had previously cut. This allowed us to check on her pregnancies in a way that otherwise would have been impossible.

    Another use for behaviors is for enrichment, or entertainment for the animal. In the wild, most animals spend the majority of their time looking for food. When they live in a zoo environment where their food is provided for them, their daily duties have effectively been eliminated. To keep them from becoming bored we can train them to participate in an interactive session and give them a portion of their daily diet as a reward. Parrots are a good example of this. A trainer can have a variety of verbal cues that they give the parrot and the parrot must perform a specific behavior to receive a reward. The parrot generally enjoys this exchange as it gives them a chance to use their brain in a novel way. Part of their daily diet can be given as rewards throughout the session.

    In my opinion, training is an integral tool in the bonding between an animal and its trainer. The trainer learns to trust the animal and the animal learns to trust the keeper at the same time.

     

     

  • How To Teach Your Dog To Turn in a Circle

    This is a cute trick that is simpler to teach than even I realized. I first taught this trick to a goat at the zoo where I was working. He loved to turn in a circle and would turn three or four times in a row if you asked him to. 

    One weekend, I was pet-sitting my neighbor's dogs and, on a whim, decided to see if I could teach her dog to turn in a circle. The dog picked it up after about thirty minutes. I was very impressed with myself! I didn't realize how well she had picked it up until the owner came home and called with an exciting story. "You'll never guess what Gracie did!" "What?" "Well, I was getting her dinner and pouring it in a bowl and she turned around in a circle and sat down like she was waiting for it!" To this day, the dog still turns in a circle every time someone gets out her food.

    If that little dog can learn this trick then yours can too! So, how do you start? First you get a small treat in your hand. This can be pieces of kibble, slivers of bread etc. You hold the treat in your hand and put it to your dog's nose without allowing them to eat it. You then move your hand in a slow circle, slow enough so that your dog can follow the scent of the treat and turn around with you. At the same time you say "circle" and point with two fingers in the direction you want the dog to go. Once they make it in a complete circle you give them the treat.

    You will have to do this several times, I would say upwards of fifteen or more with some dogs. Try to be very consistent with saying the word "circle" and giving the physical cue of pointing. You want them to learn the connection between the verbal and physical cues with the act of turning and then getting a treat.

    After they have made several circles with you guiding them with the treat, try just pointing and say "circle". They may start to do a half circle and you have to come in with the treat to guide them the rest of the way. This is ok. Just keep practicing and guiding them until they get it.

    Eventually, the dog will learn that they get a treat every time they face the front again. Then they will realize that they get the treat after they turn around and THEN face the front. It will click. Every dog has the capacity to learn.

    You may have to remind them of their new trick for a few days but eventually they will pick it up. Then you will have a cute trick to show your friends when they come over for a party and your dog will enjoy getting to interact with you!

Hi! I'm Brittany and I started this blog to share my love of animals and to try and help save them in the wild. 

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