The trainer’s main tool, the Acme whistle

In the early years marine mammal trainers used to communicate with their animals during training sessions, using the fox whistle. Around 20 years ago we realized that such a harsh sound was not necessary, as these animals could hear to a very low frequency.

Although there are other ways of bridging/whistling to communicate with our animals, Acme whistles have been the favourite whistle for animal training, especially in our dolphinariums.

We encourage fading the use of fox whistles gradually, to the alternative Acme whistle and ultimately to using the lowest frequency whistle.

The story behind the Acme whistle

In the late 1800`s a British manufacturer based in Birmingham, invented a whistle that could be heard over many streets, to be used by policemen.

The company was family-run for over 100 years and by three generations of the Hudson family. Joseph Hudson began working at the age of 12 and in 1883 after noticing policemen struggling to communicate to each other and raising alarm, he realised his whistles could be a useful tool. He put a pea in the whistle which made a sound that could be heard over a mile away and sold the first police whistles to Scotland Yard in 1884. The Hudson whistles company became the largest manufacturer in the world and the Acme Thunderer whistle and its variations became the world’s best-selling whistle.

Why we encourage the use of the Acme whistle

When more than one trainer is using the fox whistle the sound can be quite distressing, even for us humans. Therefore fading use away from the fox to the Acme whistle is desirable because it is less harsh to the more sensitive hearing that marine mammals have. Whilst the fox whistle is still used in other animal related areas, we encourage an alternative whistle with less harsh sounds, for work with marine mammals.

The fading from use of the fox whistle to the Acme basic whistle and through to the lowest frequency Acme whistle shown above, is the best way to transition trainers and animals to use of these more suitable whistles.

How to deal with unwanted behaviours or generally difficult situations

For a trainer, whether in a show or an interaction program, the key to success is planning. Whilst interacting with their animal, being relaxed and confident, will create the right environment and that confidence will be felt by their animal and the customers. Proper planning, knowing step by step what the trainer wants to do and what is required of their animal, is paramount. Executing what was planned, as closely to that planning as possible, will give the opportunity for calmness and confidence.

However, whilst training behaviours, as a trainer plans a routine or program sequence, there will often be times when unwanted behaviours occur. There are emergency techniques to immediately take control of the situation and restore calm. These actions also greatly support the safety of interactive programs, by a trainer having techniques ready to use as soon as they are required.

Having these emergency techniques to rely upon in difficult times is not only extremely useful but it also ensures difficult situations are dealt with safely.

The technical terms included in these techniques are the behaviours known as Recall, Stationing and Gating.

  • Always correct difficult behaviour during interactive programs as soon as it happens, without having to involve customers or any other persons in the water.
  • Remove the animal from the program, restart session, review troubleshooting behaviour in the holding with a group of staff to give the animal a chance to get it right and remember to end with a happy session.
  • Have available space to move the animal into, whilst correcting the unwanted behaviour.
  • Try to have a spare animal, so you can replace an animal in a program, if you need to remove one.
  • Once the animal understands where/what was the wrong, have Individual enrichment or play time in the holding whilst other programs or training sessions are taking place.
  • Finally correcting a behaviour should be in a holding pen, away from any other animals and programs that are taking place.

Does dolphintherapy really work or is it a myth?

What experts comment about its benefits.

For those who are not familiar with the terminology, dolphin therapy is a program used on children with disabilities.

In this program there are tasks performed which will teach children to be patient and learn to listen

The attention span will increase as a result of desire to interact with dolphins

Since immersion in water moderates anxiety, re-establishes cognitive and sensory motor perceptual patterns, provides kinaesthetic feedback, and relieves pain

There have been great improvements in children with dolphin therapy specific behaviours related to speech, language, gross and fine motor movement with, development, rote or conceptual thinking.

Scientists, however, are considering the possibility that the sonar of the dolphins can actually trigger the healing process by increasing T-cells and endorphins.

In some cases, scientists have suggested that dolphins actually have the ability to target areas in the human body with their sonar and repair damaged tissue.

The protocols devised in the aforementioned investigations, formed the basis for 10,000 clinical sessions conducted between 1988 and 1996 on 700 children, with 35 diagnoses, from 22 countries and 37 states of America.

Dolphin therapy is an element to improve their life quality and well-being by providing positive experiences with the dolphin.

This will allow enhancing of emotions, such as: happiness, joy, peace and strengths like optimism, creativity, gratitude, wisdom and resilience.

Dolphin therapy

Emotional Benefits

Findings of dolphin therapy improvements with cognitive deficits affecting attention led to hypotheses that, communication reluctance, as well as poor interpersonal interactions, may benefit from DT.

Monitoring neurological and behavioural changes over a 6-month program of DT as well as differences in symptoms of aggression, concentration difficulty, nightmares, depression and anxiety at home, school and play

 Even more Benefits

Autism

General development disorder
Asperger
Attention deficit
Learning disorders
Language disorders
Neuromotor disorders
Sensory disorders
Socialization problems
Down syndrome

Naturally it is always difficult to explain how therapy actually works, but the results speak for themselves. I have used such dolphin therapy and witnessed a child speak for the very first time, after his encounter with the dolphin. This eight year old child did not speak, had a mental disability and doctors had no answer to his lack of speech. However, after his contact with the dolphin, his mother heard him speak for the very first time. Why is a mystery, but dolphin therapy simply reaches parts of a humans experience like no other.


How to manage animal/guest behaviour during interaction

On a recent chat with a trainer, she was expressing her concern and difficulties when dealing with guest interacting with our animals. This is very common in our profession, just need to be patient and find the best way of dealing with it and making sure everyone is happy during this activity.

It is lovely to see when trainer have a genuine concern and really care for their animal!

Trainers main concern:

People touching the animal blowhole and eyes on animal guests-animal interactions.

Many times, this scenario can turn into an awkward situation, but never forget you are the one in control of your session or program…if you are having difficulties with the way the guests are petting your animal, even after you have given your instructions and you see it done incorrectly by touching the animal’s eyes and blowhole, you must call your animal to your platform. Explain again to the guests the correct way of doing it…then you send your animal one more time… mostly people listen and respond positive at this stage…if the guest continue petting in an incorrect way…you call your animal again…then you need to take measurement to protect your animal…be patient, do not take it personal, sometimes people are very excited, this is a big event for them, some people have waited their whole life for this kind of activity and they just can’t control themselves…remember how you felt the first time you touched a dolphin!

How to handle this situation

Some trainers would get distressed and worry and they tend to make the petting time shorter and as a result the guest end up missing out on the magic of this lovely experience…what I would do is in this case, if I have an assistant in the water I ask for help. If not, in a very friendly manner with the guest I would help them by bringing the animal and the guest closer to my platform, where I can closely observe and direct that particular petting session…making sure the animal’s blow hole is away from the guest’s reach. This way the animal is comfortable, the guest is relaxed and petting the animal and everyone is a winner!

A great tip to start your day!

A healthy animal is a happy animal and at the start of our day, our priority is to check that our animals are healthy and happy. As a trainer, you must have already been taught that training Husbandry behaviours is the best way to ensure your animal’s health and wellbeing.

Gastro/hydration behaviour is part of Husbandry

This should be one of the principal behaviours in our daily routine. One of the most practical, easiest and reliable ways of training or performing this behaviour is shown below.

Sitting on a platform, place your feet gently below the pectoral fins allows the animal to comfortably stay in the position longer, without drifting away or sinking and it relaxes you both. You can now perform the Husbandry in a much easier way.

More husbandry behaviours, more useful tips and full step by step guides to training and behaviours, can be found in my Behaviour Training Tutorial Handbook available to buy on Amazon or through direct email viadolphin@viadolphin




Creds to fiture image sorce: ggle

Understanding even dolphins have a dark side

Dolphins are one of the most loved marine animals in our seas, they are playful, friendly and inquisitive when interacting with humans. Dolphins helping people stranded at sea are often positive media stories and everyone it seems, appreciates the intelligence and playful nature of dolphins.

However, many people believe that they can just jump in the sea or swim with any dolphin they see. The dolphins you see in an aquarium or dolphinarium respond to a connection and the trust with the people they work with, even working with different trainers can cause the animal to respond differently. An animal with a good relationship with the trainer would do anything the trainer asks them to do, but this is due to the trust and the bond they have with each other. These animals are also regularly interacting with humans on a daily basis, but sometimes they are not in the mood and we trainers know that and respect it.

It is not recommended that a person just jumps into the sea and attempts to swim with the first dolphin that they see. We, as humans, tend to overlay our human characteristics and emotions on other animals and judge them by what we consider acceptable human behaviour. Do not forget they are wild animals.

Many people have interacted with a dolphin and when they did not receive the playful and welcoming reaction that they had expected, they described the dolphins as being aggressive. However, animals are entitled to react whichever way they desire, they are a living organism and as such we should expect unpredictability. We have no human right to expect behaviour based upon our beliefs, indeed what we perceive as friendly an animal may perceive as aggressive or just unwanted in their current environment.

Just like humans, dolphins can display unwanted behaviour, be in a bad mood, feel like being left alone or just playfully aggressive. Dolphins can have different personality traits and groupings (good & bad) that we must be aware of when dealing with any intelligent animal.

Dolphins are amazing animals and like all other animals, including us humans, they can have their dark side or undesirable behaviour, so understanding they are entitled as we humans are to both sides of a character, good and bad will help us all get along.

Understanding behaviour is having the knowledge to accept good and bad without prejudice, so we can learn from each other and live respectfully and more in harmony.



creds ggl image

How to make better use of your time whilst training

Every trainer loves to spend time with their animal but having quality time to train a new behaviour or to be creative is not always possible, so creating the time or taking the opportunity is important. Making better use of the time they do have with their animal, will create these opportunities for quality time.

Having constant daily interaction programs or performing husbandry behaviours, often place limits on the time with the animal. However, you can try to incorporate some things that take only small amounts of time, but result in building up more fun, variety and quality time for the trainer and their animal.

Divide behaviours into sections

Being creative and using any small windows of opportunity to create variety, train sections of a behaviour or to bond with the animal will be highly effective and rewarding.

By using small amounts of time wisely, especially when it is difficult to find longer periods, a behaviour can be trained and learnt in stages and then each learnt part can be put together on the final day, as a new behaviour.

My approach is to take the first minute I have free and train the first stage, the most important part of the new behaviour. I make sure the animal totally learns the first stage of this behaviour and responds to my que with fluency and at criteria. Every time I ask the animal to perform it, the response is at criteria, then I review this behaviour until this stage is totally finished and accurate.

Once the first stage has been learnt, approach each subsequent stage the same way, one at a time until each part is learnt and performed at criteria. It is very important that the trainer maintains a patient attitude, and does not rush the animal, no matter how short the time available is.

When you have trained all stages, then you put all the sections together. The animal should perform all the sections one after the other and then learn the behaviour in full. Because each stage is pre learnt, putting all the stages together will take a fraction of the time, compared with training the whole behaviour all at once.  

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

The images above are just three of the stages in the American Football Behaviour, which can be taught separately using the approach I have described. The full details and all the stages of this approach can be seen in my Behaviour Training Tutorial Handbook, which explains this approach step by step together with many more training techniques, Operant Conditioning and countless helpful tips, to teach and improve behaviour training.

My book can be purchased through Amazon using the following link

Link: https://cutt.ly/zb0zH2n

If anyone is interested in purchasing my book but cannot access it through Amazon, then please email me on  viadolphin@hotmail.co.uk and I will arrange delivery with you directly.

How animal trainers become better carers

Understanding the animal you work with, is pivotal for your development as an animal trainer.

The best way to become a great trainer is upgrading your training knowledge by learning and researching information about the animals you work with and by continuously learning new techniques. Learn about you animals physical and biological characteristics.

As a female animal trainer, I was flabbergasted when I learnt one particular aspect affecting adult female whales, showing they are not too different to us. It is amazing to realise that adult marine mammals go through hormonal changes in later life, just like us females. Knowing this, gives a trainer the opportunity to know and understand the reason why some behaviours or manoeuvres of older female mammals, may be affected at certain times, without any obvious reason.

Besides humans, only four other mammals are known to experience menopause and they are all whales, they are;

Beluga Whale


Narwhals Whale


Killer Whales


Short-Finned Pilot Whales



Although most humans with ovaries go through menopause, marking the end of the child-bearing years, most animals do not. Almost all animals continue reproducing throughout their lives. Now a new study has found two whale species Beluga and Narwhal that do go through menopause, bringing the total number of known menopausal species to five. Scientists have long been puzzled, about why these few species have evolved in such a way, stopping reproduction, partway through life.

The more you know about your animal, the better results you can achieve during training sessions and if your animal realizes you understand them, the more trust you can gain.




creds to inet images

Best practice for Dolphins diet in Dolphinariums

How to provide the best quality diet in your Dolphinarium.

A trainers’ daily priority and first task…nutrition.

In most facilities when staring a working day, a trainers first task is to prepare their animal’s diet.

Making sure their food is defrosted and ready to eat is their first step, which is not too different to us humans, when we select frozen food to eat from the freezer. 

When preparing the diet, every morning a specialist continuously monitors the animal diet to make sure it complies with the animals requisite nutrition before it reaches the animal, which offers the best care to the animal. The nutrition area is sanitised before and after use and is scrutinised by specialist personnel. The animals diet consists of a variety of fish and various crustaceans. Within dolphinariums, the animal’s food is selected according to an animals weight, behaviour and environment within which they live. Although their regular diet is rich in nutrients, a selection of a variety of fish is chosen depending on an animal’s needs. For example, during a very hot summer when the water is warmer, the animals temperature is warmer, so fat intake is closely monitored, because the

animal needs less fat to keep it warm and too much fat during this time can cause the animal to get sluggish.

The fish is sorted and selected one by one. By the time the food reaches our animals, trainers must make sure that the fish is defrosted, covered with ice in warm environments and as fresh as possible. The animals food is provided by professional suppliers with extended years of experience. As soon as the fish is caught it must be frozen right away this ensures the food selected maintains the best quality for our animals. The food is matched specifically to the kind of animal, to ensure good quality, it must only be frozen once. The food we provide for our animals has often better quality than food made available for humans. Fish supplied for your animal must not show any signs of discoloration, tears, being broken or have blood marks, because all these sings may indicate that the fish was already frozen and defrosted. Fish supplied for your animals must only be defrosted once, by the trainer when required for their animal’s feed. It is always better to throw away any fish that we feel is not up to standard, rather than compromise the animals diet and ultimately their health.

Dolphins fresh-water intake is paramount, they get their water from the fish which is naturally high in water. Finally, as we do with human diets, we add vitamins to the animals diet, to ensure they have the best and most complete nutritional benefit possible.





Female trainers

Employment law and attitudes to women generally have improved throughout the world, however some prejudices remain and hiring female trainers, can be an area where such prejudice still occur.

Some animal care companies are actually reluctant to hire female trainers, believing them to be less reliable or less likely to stay, if they become pregnant. Perhaps they also consider the effect of relationships, within the training team. All of these reasons are not acceptable, neither is the thought that females could be better than male trainers. All of the reasons listed count as being forms of prejudice and should not be allowed to exist within any workplace.

Some jobs can however favour what are considered to be natural male attributes and females also, have many commonly found attributes which seem to come naturally to them. It is perhaps no coincidence that many jobs that provide care, such as nurses, nurseries, and elderly home care jobs, have a majority of female staff. Females can be seen as natural care givers, again not to prejudice against men, but it could be accepted that by nature many women understand caregiving. If we also accept that training an animal requires exceptional care, could it not be argued then that many females could perhaps start with an advantage.

I have experienced facilities that did not wish to hire females and in one case, actually fired a female trainer once she informed them she was pregnant; she was even told not to bother complaining because no-one would listen. Obviously, these attitudes are unacceptable, which rightly should be addressed through employment right law, however we all know that taking action against an employer, is costly and can damage your future employment prospects.

My advice is to be aware and prepare, when seeking a job, you could ask how many female trainers they employ, or their policy regarding maternity leave. Remember also, if a facility cares little for their employees, how should you expect they care for their animals. Do not get disheartened, rather use your natural ability and promote your caregiving tendencies to show an employer the benefits of hiring you. Animals that are cared for correctly stay healthier, live longer and are able to perform better.

Do not underestimate the power of promoting the choice of choosing a female trainer.