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Animal training refers to teaching animals specific responses to specific conditions or stimuli. Training may be for the purpose of companionship, detection, protection, entertainment or all of the above.

An animal trainer may use assorted forms of reinforcement or punishment to condition an animal's responses. Some animal trainers may have a knowledge of the principles of behavior analysis and operant conditioning, but there are many ways to train animals and as a general rule no legal requirements or certifications are required.

The certification bodies that do exist (in some, not all, countries) do not share consistent goals or requirements so it can be difficult to tell what kind of training a trainer has had to do his or her job. The United States does not require animal trainers to have any kind of certification or psychological screening.

The type of training is often determined by the trainer's motivation, background, and psychological makeup. An individual training a seeing eye dog, for example, will have a different approach and end-goal than an individual training a wild animal to do tricks in a circus.

However, any attempt at training any animal, be it wild or tame, should consider the natural behaviours of the animal and aim to increase desirable behaviour through a basic system of reward and punishment.[1]



The Ursar, drawing by Theodor Aman

Animal training is generally performed in adherence in some form to the concepts of operant conditioning, although modern training methods frequently utilize tools not included in the original Skinnerian conception.

Certain subfields of animal training tend to also have certain philosophies and styles, for example fields such as companion bird training, hunting bird training, companion dog training, show dog training, dressage horse training, mahout elephant training, circus elephant training, zoo elephant training, zoo exotic animal training, marine mammal training. The degree of trainer protection from the animal may also vary. The variety of tasks trained may also vary, and can range from entertainment, husbandry (veterinary) behaviors, physical labor or athleticism, habituation to averse stimuli, interaction (or non-interaction) with other humans, or even research (sensory, physiological, cognitive).

Training also may take into consideration the natural social tendencies of the animal species (or even breed), such as predilections for attention span, food-motivation, dominance hierarchies, aggression, or bonding to individuals (conspecifics as well as humans). Consideration must also be given to practical aspects on the human side such as the ratio of the number of trainers to each animal. In some circumstances one animal may have multiple trainers, in others, a trainer might attend simultaneously to many animals in a training session. Sometimes training is accomplished with a single trainer working individually with a single animal.

Other important issues related to the methods of animal training are: operant conditioning, stimulus control, SD (discriminative stimulus), desensitization, chaining, bridge, and the s-delta.

One form of animal training is to combine positive reinforcement (follow a desired behavior with something worthwhile to the animal and the behavior will increase) with negative punishment (withdraw something the animal wants when it performs undesirable behaviors). Other trainers may rely on positive punishment (follow an undesirable behavior with a punishment to reduce the rate of the behavior) and negative reinforcement (withdraw an undesirable stimulus when the animal performs the desirable behavior).

Service animals

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-09185, England, Abgerichteter Affe.jpg

Morphy, an Orangutan with his toy, a horse, on a walk with his keeper in a traveling circus.

Service animals, such as assistance dogs, Capuchin monkeys and miniature horses, are trained to utilize their sensory and social skills to bond with a human and help that person to offset a disability in daily life. The use of service animals, especially dogs, is an ever-growing field, with a wide range of special adaptations.

In the United States, selected inmates in prisons are used to train service dogs. In addition to adding to the short-supply of service animals, such programs have produced benefits in improved socialization skills and behavior of inmates. Template:Expand section

Companion animals

Main article: Companion animals


Main article: Dog training
File:Australian Shepherd agility cropped.jpg

A trained dog competing in dog agility.

Basic obedience training tasks for dogs include walking on a leash, attention, housebreaking, nonaggression, and socialization with humans or other pets. Dogs are also trained for many other activities, such as dog sports, service dogs, and other working dog tasks.

Positive reinforcement for dogs can include primary reinforcers such as food, or social reinforcers such as vocal ("good boy") or tactile (stroking) ones. Positive punishment, if used at all, can be physical, such as pulling on a leash or spanking, or may be vocal ("bad dog"). Bridges to positive reinforcement include vocal cues, whistling, and dog whistles, as well as clickers used in clicker training, a method popularized by Karen Pryor. Negative reinforcement may also be used. Punishment is also a tool, including withholding of food or physical discipline.


Main article: Horse training

The primary purpose of training horses is to socialize them to be around humans, teach them to behave in a manner that makes them safe for humans to handle, and, as adults to carry a rider under saddle or to be driven in order to pull a vehicle. As prey animals, much effort must be put into training horses to overcome its natural flight or fight instinct and accept handling that would not be natural for a wild animal, such as willingly going into a confined space, or having a predator (a human being) sit on its back. As training advances, some horses are prepared for competitive sports, up to the Olympic games, where horses are the only animal athlete that is used at the Olympics. All equestrian disciplines from horse racing to draft horse showing require the horse to have specialized training.


A human with a trained horse and a trained Peregrine Falcon

Unlike dogs, horses are not motivated as strongly by positive reinforcement rewards as they are motivated by other operant conditioning methods such as the release of pressure as a reward for the correct behavior, called negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement techniques such as petting, kind words, rewarding of treats, and clicker training have some benefit, but not to the degree seen in dogs and other predator species. Punishment of horses is effective only to a very limited degree, usually a sharp command or brief physical punishment given within a few seconds of a disobedient act. Horses do not correlate punishment to a specific behavior unless it occurs immediately. They do, however, have a remarkably long memory, and once a task is learned, it will be retained for a very long time. For this reason, poor training or allowing bad habits to be learned can be very difficult to remedy at a later date.


Typical training tasks for companion birds include perching, non-aggression, halting feather-picking, controlling excessive vocalizations, socialization with household members and other pets, and socialization with strangers. Some birds of prey are trained to hunt, an ancient art known as falconry or hawking. In China the practice of training Cormorants to catch fish has gone on for over 1,200 years.[2]


Parrot training - The large parrot species frequently have lifespans that exceed that of their human owners, and they are closely bonded to their owners. In general, parrot companions usually have clipped wings, which facilitates socialization and controlling aggression and vocalizations.


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Chicken on a skateboard

Training chickens has become a way for trainers of other animals (primarily dogs) to perfect their training technique. Bob Bailey, formerly of Animal Behavior Enterprises and the IQ Zoo, teaches chicken training seminars where trainers teach poultry to discriminate between shapes, to navigate an obstacle course and to chain behaviors together. Chicken training is done using operant conditioning, using a clicker and chicken feed for reinforcement. The training of chickens has become a popular event for dog trainers. Trained chickens may be confined to a display where they play Tic-Tac-Toe against humans for a fee. Template:Expand section


Fish can also be trained. For example, a goldfish may swim toward its owner and follow him as he walks through the room, but will not follow anyone else. The fish may swim up and down, signalling the owner to turn on its aquarium light when it is off, and it will skim the surface until its owner feeds it. Pet goldfish have also been taught to perform more complicated tasks, such as doing the limbo and pushing a miniature soccer ball into a net.[3] Template:Expand section


Main article: Hymenoptera training

Insects in the order Hymenoptera can be trained to perform a variety of tasks. The sensitivity of the olfactory senses of bees and wasps in particular have been shown to rival the abilities of sniffer dogs, though they an only be trained to detect a single scent each. Sniffer bees and sniffer wasps have been trained to detect substances such as explosive materials or illegal drugs, as well as some human and plant diseases.

Wild animals

Wild animal training

Wild animals may also be trained, such as bears, lions, tigers, leopards, or other big cats. The Ursari Romani people were specialized in bear training, although they sometimes also used Old World monkeys. Later on, the German animal merchant Carl Hagenbeck, used brown bears and lions in his shows.

The wild animal training used for lions is called lion taming. Template:Expand section

Zoological parks

Animals in public display are sometimes trained for educational, entertainment, management, and husbandry behaviors. Educational behaviors may include species-typical behaviors under stimulus control such as vocalizations. Entertainment may include display behaviors to show the animal, or simply arbitrary behaviors. Management includes movement, such as following the trainer, entering crates, or moving from pen to pen, or tank-to-tank through gates. Husbandry behaviors facilitate veterinary care, and can include desensitization to various physical examinations or procedures (such as cleaning, nail clipping, or simply stepping onto a scale voluntarily), or the collection of samples (e.g. biopsy, urine). Such voluntary training is important for minimizing the frequency with which zoo collection animals must be anesthetized or physically restrained. Template:Expand section

Marine mammal parks

Many marine mammals are trained for entertainment such as bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, belugas, sea lions, and others.

In a public display situation, the audience's attention is focused on the animal, rather than the trainer; therefore the discriminative stimulus is generally gestural (a hand sign) and sparse in nature. Unobtrusive dog whistles are used as bridges, and positive reinforcers are either primary (food) or tactile (rub downs), and not vocal. However, pinnipeds and mustelids (sea lions, seals, walruses, and otters) can hear in our frequency, so most of the time they will receive vocal reinforcers during shows and performances. The shows are turned into more of a play production because of this, instead of just a run through of behaviors like cetaceans generally do in their shows. Guests can often hear these vocal reinforcers when attending a Sea World show. During the Clyde and Seamore show, the trainers may say something like: "Good grief, Clyde!" or "Good job, Seamore". The trainers substitute the word "good" in the place of food or rubdowns when teaching a specific behavior to the animals so that the animals no longer need constant feeding as praise for achieving the appropriate behavior. Template:Expand section

See also

  • Animals in sport
  • Behaviorism Psychological theory under which operant conditioning falls
  • Cognition Psychological field antithetical to behaviorism. Cognition posits that internal mental representations and operations may affect behavior, unlike behaviorism, which is concerned only with the effects of external events (stimuli) on behavior.
  • Dog training and dog trainer
  • Falconry Raptors (birds of prey) trained to hunt or pursue game.
  • Horse training
  • Lion taming
  • Military dolphin
  • Obedience
  • Operant conditioning The development of discriminative stimuli (SDs)
  • Reinforcement
  • Shaping (psychology)
  • B. F. Skinner founder of Behaviorism


Further reading

External links

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