Sometimes we trainers get caught up in everyday distractions, other tasks and do not fully see what is going on, especially if you are a supervisor or have many other responsibilities. We may not realize that behaviour quality is diminishing. When this happens always rely upon your Operant Conditioning knowledge, many trainers underestimate its power to keep their animal responding with fluency ensuring the behaviour is under stimulus control.
Dolphins are usually sedentary animals; they also pick up unwanted behaviour habits along the way and if the trainer does not remind them and review it, there is a possibility of behaviours deteriorating little by little.
During sessions, programs or the daily routine it is easy to ignore little signs that show that we are compromising the quality of our animal’s behaviour.
A distracted trainer runs the risk of their animal eliciting unwanted behaviour, such as superstitious behaviours, latency responses and other unwanted behaviour.
The most beautiful and natural characteristics of dolphins are their intelligence, synchronicity, acrobatic and their fast instinct, which have become symbols of mysticism and elegance for us humans.
Trainers should take advantage of this and keep behaviours shaped and under criteria to give the animal a clear indication that the behaviour is right. Shaping their behaviour whilst using positive reinforcement is the best way to achieve this.
If your animal has performed a good session, do not take it for granted, take the opportunity to closely interact with your animal and build up trust by giving your animal the reward, love and affection they deserve. Keeping behaviours under control will help to avoid accidents.
You may find some who love to manipulate information and advertise our animals are in an unfair environment and that our animals are not feed if they don’t perform…make sure you do not fuel their argument, ensure your animals are fed during training sessions and during show or interaction programs. When your animals are performing at their best, take the opportunity to give them most of the diet designated for that session as a big reward, remember positive reinforcement!
Food management is simply ensuring proper dietary allocation throughout the day, just like us humans, having breakfast, lunch and supper at certain times throughout the day.
With our practice of positive reinforcement (ignoring unwanted behaviour) which covers all area of animals under human care, we make sure our animals are content and have a stress-free environment.
Case study tip
One way you can avoid and spot behaviour deterioration is to ask someone to record your session, so you can objectively look at the animal’s behaviour in playback; you can spot your mistakes also and improve your technique. As a supervisor, you could record a trainer’s session without their knowledge, so they do not have the opportunity to alter what they usually do. This should be constructive not negative, remember positive reinforcement works for humans too!
Trainers often don’t realise until it is pointed out by another trainer. A good trainer always knows when the animal is content and responding excellent, by the animal eliciting extra excitement and cooperation during their interaction.