Discover why the “theory” and not “hands-on” training is the first step to becoming a successful dolphin trainer


Jermaine Harris
Experienced Trainer

In most Dolphinariums, when you first start working, you do not handle an animal until you have acquired certain training techniques in theory. To touch an animal, before you have acquired this knowledge, could be counter-productive to your development as a trainer. When stating a job as a trainer, companies should give you the time, to catch up with theoretical knowledge, which is 70% of marine mammal training.

For many years I have being training dolphin trainers, in fact I trained my first student in year 1993. In 2001 I was in Dolphinarium management and one of my responsibilities was to create an educational department. I hired assistant trainers, assessed a swimming test and created material to help beginners become trainers. One of the most important tasks is to constantly improve the trainer’s knowledge.

I thought that it would be a great idea to create a system for beginners and staff new to training, which would be more effective and efficient. As I explained before, animals should not be involved at this first stage and my system helps prepare staff physically, mentally and theoretically before they get to handle the animals. It is important to take this opportunity, without the animal present, so the trainee can firstly learn plenty of technical work that is not so easy to learn, whilst having the animal in front of them. Often in Dolphinariums many trainers never learn the most important technicalities or do not get full training at all, because they are not given this opportunity at the start and other factors such as the insecurity of their teachers.

Learning to distinguish what is relevant when observing an animal’s behaviour and its environment, is paramount and this needs to be learnt before touching a dolphin. Giving an animal to a student, in most cases, confuses the animal in many ways.  This can also deteriorate behaviours and in time, these can become difficult to correct and may require the behaviour to be taken back at criteria again. Whilst training a trainer, you will repeat your explanation of a technique over and over, until the assistant understands the right technique to use. This then confuses the dolphin. After an animal has been used for trainee training purposes, an experienced trainer must then work with that animal to make sure they are not confused.  Thanks to the experience, patience, love and care of professional behaviourists, every behaviour can go back to normal, but it does take time and a great amount of effort and required knowledge.

Usually when a new assistant is learning to work with an animal, they cannot get to see the chosen behaviour they are working on, because the animal does it too fast or because of the position of the behaviour. Most often though, it is because of a lack of attention to detail from the new trainee and who does not understand what the expected criteria or goal is.

In a hands-on training session, whilst I was teaching an assistant, I realised the need for a more accurate system when teaching assistants. I saw the need for a system where the trainee has an idea of what is expected before touching the animal. With this new system, we protect the animal by not using them repeatedly or confusing them. By the time we reach hands on sessions, the student can observe what went wrong and see the animals unwanted behaviour, without running out of time. Trainers will then have a reaction time, anticipating the behaviour that they would not have time do spot if they did not learn about it in theory before getting to the hands-on training.

For all the benefits I have explained above, I have created my “Step by step Behaviour Training Program”

After studying this new program, students will be fully prepared and aware of their role before the hands-on training begins.  They will be ahead of the game and in an advantaged position. The benefit for the trainer is clear, but don’t forget the benefit to the Dolphinarium also, in not having to spend time correcting behaviours of dolphins used repeatedly in training scenarios. A dolphin that is not confused is a happy dolphin and happy dolphins are less stressed and healthy, reducing vets bills and increasing productivity. Lastly and most importantly, the system assists in the well being generally of the dolphins which must be everyone’s primary goal.

I can also explain easier the confusing Operant Conditioning techniques with examples videos.

I believe in offering the best quality training material and provide the best opportunity for my students become successful trainers.

Here are just a few of my former students who are now enjoying a successful training career around the world.

I am immensely proud of all my former students!


Javier Labrada
Head Trainer


Karlinton Williams
Supervisor Trainer


Akim Smith
Experience Trainer

Published by viadolphin

Lover and enthusiast of all things nature and animal related. Professional Dolphin Trainer from the Caribbean. Adviser and mentor in the Marine Mammal field.

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