Why Training Is Essential

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Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.

Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with "Flat Stanley" at the Audubon Zoo

Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with “Flat Stanley” at the Audubon Zoo

There are many reasons people choose to train an animal.  Some people train animals to avoid being bitten, attacked, or crushed by them.  Some people train animals to avoid being their next meal.  Some people train animals to make their lives easier when working with them.

Those are a few of the reasons why I started training animals, but over the years I started to appreciate other reasons for training them.

I became dedicated to training animals because we had fun together!  I enjoyed training them because it enhanced our relationship.  I looked forward to training them because it was fun challenge, where everyone would win!   I appreciated training animals because I always learned something new about them.  I became humbled when training animals because they always found a way to “train” me in the process.  Training became one of my favorite forms of communication.  Training became an essential part of my life.  Training was an essential part of their life.

Something else I learned while training animals:  If someone acquired the skills, understood the techniques, and practiced patience, they could do it, too.

I am not special.  I merely took the time to learn the techniques.  I practiced the skills.  I learned patience.  I made mistakes.  And I tried again and again.

That’s why I want to talk with you about training.  You can train animals the force-free way, too!  But before we begin, you have to understand what training really is.


What Is Training?

 

Training is “teaching”.

When we make a conscious effort to train an animal to display a particular behavior, we are training the animal.  However, sometimes we influence (train) our animal’s behavior inadvertently, without being aware that we are teaching them.  We do this through our actions, or through other stimuli present in their environment.

That’s why it’s so important that we become aware of that fact that we are always training.

Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you influence what your animal companion learns.  You are their teacher.  As their caretaker, you are teaching the animals that you care for 24 hours a day!  Now ask yourself, what are you teaching them?

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When Menari, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) was born, we made sure that every interaction she had with us was a positive one. She was gradually exposed to people, places, and things that would help her to feel safe and secure in our human world.

Training is all about associations.

The key to an optimal environment at home (or in captivity) is to assist an animal’s opportunity to make associations that enhance its overall well-being.   Simply put, as their guardians (or caretakers), we help animals to feel more secure, safe, and content in their environment by creating scenarios where the animal feels good about who and what they encounter every day.   As various training methods are being applied to an increasingly diverse number of species, it is important to understand what methods are appropriate (and which are not appropriate).

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Dedicated animal trainers teaching one of our giraffe that people = only Good Things!

Training is about building a relationship.

When we are training an animal using positive methods, we are building trust.  Trust is the foundation on which all relationships are built upon.   Positive-based training is one of the best ways to enhance the relationship between a person and an animal, and maintain this trust for a lifetime.  Training increases trust and builds confidence. It builds bonds that last a lifetime!  Training creates a happy, harmonious environment.

 

Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!

Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!

Trust is one of the most important aspects of any training plan.  What defines a good relationship between trainer and trainee is a strong positive reinforcement history.

 


Why Training Is Essential

Training is a key component to an animal’s well being.  Training is the key to safety, harmony, and well-being in our homes!  A home without a well trained, well behaved animal is chaotic and stressful.  Most – if not all – animal behavioral issues can be successfully managed with a formal training plan.  From trips to the vet, to trips to the park, training is at the heart of having these experiences be a positive one for everyone involved.

This Rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our zoo guests to interact with her.

This rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our guests to interact with her on a daily basis. She could choose if she wanted to interact with them, or not. These same methods of learning can be used on your pets at home!

 

Animals deserve the best care we can possibly provide. Training should not be considered a luxury that is only provided if there is time; it is an essential part of good animal care.  Just as one would never consider developing an animal care program without a veterinary component, a nutritional component, a social component, and an environmental component; nobody should consider caring for an animal without a behavioral management component integrated into the program. ~ Ken Ramirez

 


Every year, Ken Ramirez leads a sold-out seminar for students and professionals in the animal training field.  Ken was one of my greatest teachers as I was learning about the science of animal training.  Watch Ken’s interview, as he explains why training is essential, how we are training animals every day- whether we realize it or not, and how the laws of learning work on all species, including people!

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CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO WATCH the VIDEO!

We are limited in what we can accomplish because of preconceived notions of what is possible.  When we limit ourselves or our pets, we also limit our view of what is possible.  Of course, there are limits to what we can train.  But sometimes we don’t give our dogs credit for being capable of far more than what we see them do traditionally.  

~Ken Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Animal Training at the world-renowned Shedd Aquarium; Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer at Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT)


Why Training Your Pet Improves Their Life, and Yours!

In the video below, Ken Ramirez share tips on how to train your own furry friend using the same world-class training and care that endangered species receive in captivity!  He also explains why clickers and “targeting” are helpful when training pets.  Ken demonstrates these techniques with a shelter dog that was once trained for dog fighting.  See how force-free, science-based training has transformed this Fighting Fido into a Canine Companion:

My message would be simple: Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.  Everyone who has a pet should understand that basic fact.  Training is a way to enhance the quality of life for our pets.  It is far more than just teaching a dog to do a cute trick.  Training is about teaching a dog (or any animal) how to live in our world safely.  ~Ken Ramirez

 

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Positive, reward-based training has transformed my relationship with Hocus Pocus, and it has helped her to live in our human more safely and securely.

 

Animal training should be about mutual respect.  The goal is to build a relationship based on trust.  When we build trust while respecting the animal’s individual needs and preferences, we enhance the bond between the animal and the human.  The results improve our life, and the life of our animal companion. ~ Conscious Companion

Coming Up Next:  How Animals Learn – It’s Not an Opinion; It’s Science!


Recommended Reading:

Thinking Beyond the Cue: Ken Ramirez Takes Animal Training to a New Level

Shedd Aquarium Participates in Beluga Conservation Research Program

Nature’s Last Party of the Year

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Autumn Animals fall quote

Astronomical Autumn officially begins tonight.  Simply put, fall has arrived!

The weather here in our nation’s capital turned delightfully brisk overnight.  The sun is shining down without a cloud in the sky, but the air is crisp, and carrying scents of the season in the breeze.  The animals in our home are feeling frisky and full of energy, as they welcome the cooler weather.  As I watch the animals run, chase, and pounce around the house, I am reminded to welcome the changing season with them.  I am guided to be outdoors, to stand in the breeze, to watch the leaves fall, and to let the sun warm my face.  I am reminded to enjoy this season’s fleeting moments with the animals I love.

May the changing of seasons inspire you to get moving with your pets, and to enjoy the sights, sounds, and scents that Autumn has to offer us all.

Autumn is Nature’s last party of the year.  And dressing for the occasion, forests don their brightest attire, while the creatures follow suit with plush coats of fur.  As the birds savor their final flights in the waning embers of light, Nature’s children scamper about in search of manna for their winter pantries, pausing long enough to frolic in the heaps of newly fallen leaves.

― Debra Welsh, “Autumn Suppers,” Orange Coast Magazine, Oct. 1983

Try Giving Instead of Taking

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There is a very common myth that taking an animal’s food or toys away while they are enjoying them, will teach the animal to allow anyone to come up and take things from them. This “technique” at best, is usually viewed as an annoyance to the animal, but at worst it can trigger defensive behaviors such as resource guarding, growling, and even biting.

Instead of taking food or toys away from an animal, offer Good Things to whatever they are enjoying!

For example, calmly approach a relaxed pet (cat, bird, dog, pig, etc.) when they are eating or chewing on a toy, and add another yummy piece of food or another exciting toy to his/her bowl or play area, then walk away.

This teaches your animal companion that approaching humans, or brief touches while they are enjoying their valued resource are Good Things!

This technique helps to prevent resource guarding and other defensive or aggressive behaviors.

You can see an example of how to do this here:

For it is in giving that we receive. ― Francis of Assisi


Recommended Reading: Myths, Truths, and Tips about Resource Guarding