Welcome to my blog - a diary about living with donkeys, notes about care, my training sessions and the absolute pleasure of donkey companionship.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Thoughts on dealing with dominance ...

I've been reading Kicked Bitten & Scratched by Amy Sutherland.  It's a look at the program for students at a teaching zoo in California - Exotic Animal Training & Management, two very intense years where the students learn to work with exotic animals and go from there to working at zoos, marine parks, or the movie industry.  It's a tough program, long hours, very competitive and the students can be kicked out or demoted for being late or talking to the animals during the first year!

The students work with the principles of operant conditioning, although the author doesn't specifically refer to "clicker training."  Anyway, what's interesting to consider it this:

say you are training a baboon, or a hyena or a lion and say that animal is aggressive towards you for some reason - perhaps fear or confusion or the animal is startled or not feeling well.  You wouldn't strike any of these animals, would you?  You wouldn't whack an orca whale or a parrot - it just doesn't make sense!

I'm not talking about responding to an "attack"  such as a grizzly bear has you in his mouth and you need to fight or die.  I'm talking about training.

In training, you want the animal to "like you" not be afraid of you.  You want them to be motivated and willing, not submissively obedient and bummed out.  That's the goal in clicker training.  Keep the animal feeling successful and "right" by reinforcing, in tiny increments, the behaviour you want .

So punishment is out.  While I have understood that, it's so hard not to be reactive to an animal that is bullying you!  That's a BIG challenge for me and Ringo.  Many people feel it's okay to whack a donkey or a dog or horse and that somehow it's going to change their behaviour.  Or yank hard on the lead rope or leash, show them who's boss, etc.  We humans are primates - we're a grabby, touchy feeling bunch who use hands a lot. 

I don't know - a light bulb came on for me when I made the connection that I absolutely would not whack a gorilla so therefore I can't/ shouldn't/ won't whack a donkey!

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