Why do we train our animals?
To reduce stress of veterinary procedures and health checks
To promote increased mental and physical activity
To aid better and safer animal husbandry
It creates positive animal keeper relationships
Animal training creates educational opportunities
What do we train our animals?
Target training – teaching an animal to touch a target means we can ask the animal to move into areas or positions without force or bribes. This is very useful for moving animals on and off exhibit for husbandry and maintenance and to view different parts of the body for health checks.
Open mouth for oral examinations without the risk of bites or necessity for restraint or anaesthetic.
Injection/blood draw acceptance training means the animals a desensitized to these potentially scary procedures. With training the animals allow the procedure to be done voluntarily therefore reducing stress and without the need for risky anaesthetic.
Claw and beak trims reducing the animals stress during a necessary procedure
Crate training making transportation and catch ups less stressful.
Demonstration behaviours are great to teach the public about our animals and their abilities and natural behaviours
Interaction behaviours are again a fantastic learning opportunity and allows the public to connect with animals.
How do we train our animals?
Our animal training programmes are implemented using operant conditioning, this is a training technique based on the science of how animals learn. The probability of a behaviour being repeated or reduced depends on the consequence that follows. If we want to see an animal repeat a correct behavioural response we will reinforce that behaviour by offering the animal something it likes, usually a food item. This is called positive reinforcement.
Keepers and trainers utilise clickers or whistles to let the animal know what it did right. Clickers or whistles are referred to as a bridge. This is because the sound will ‘bridge’ the gap between the behaviour occurring and the treat (reinforcement) being delivered.