SOS Seals – Human Rescue

For years humans have trained animals for many reasons, entertainment, research, education, sport you name it. For centuries people and animals have shared a deep bond, such connections have created moving stories that very often come to light.

The fact that dog is man’s best friend is undeniable, when you consider the many incredible stories of dogs saving people’s lives. There are some heart-warming tales of dogs rescuing humans and other acts of canine bravery. Some of those incredible stories are,a dog saves boy from cougar, dog rescues infant from house fire, dog saves woman from choking, dog rescues family from carbon monoxide poisoning, dog conditioned to call 911 for collapsed owner, dog saves baby from rattlesnake, blind dog rescues drowning girl, all these stories show a deep bond between dogs and people.

Another big example of where training and this bond is being utilised is sniffer dogs, keeping us in dangerous or law breaking situations. These dogs also are used for saving human life in disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, as well as other specialist work with paramedics and police investigations, where saving time is paramount.

As with dogs, there are different stories of many other animals saving human life, including marine mammals, especially dolphins with their high level of intelligence. Having a natural friendly nature and instinct, humans have trained marine mammals to the highest level, by creating a ground-breaking program with a sophisticated and exciting project to rescue human life. Faster and more accurate than any other rescue team, marine mammals are reaching places and depths that we humans cannot reach.  One example of the incredible work is the amazing work that has been developed with seals in military missions.

This project was initially created in a working environment to retrieve items or tools lost out of human reach in the sea, but now is being upgraded to rescue human life.

A training program with Sea Lions rescuing humans in dangerous situations in deep or dark waters has been developed. There appears no faster or better way to rescue human life, in these certain situations.

Open Water Human Rescue Program



The first instinct of any trainer should be to protect and care for their animal

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We all know the world is not perfect and trainers do not ultimately determine the fate of their animal, however they should strive to protect and care, making their animals life easier, both physically and mentally.

In a recent forum, trainers were discussing moves to remove the use of toys, such as rings and balls. What may not be realised is that these toys play an important role in secondary reinforcement, their removal will be detrimental to an animals wellbeing.

The benefit of using these toys is enrichment.

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We marine mammal trainers would like to know that our animals have a stimulating life, with opportunities to engage in natural behaviours. Encouraging natural behaviours, increases activity and allows animals some control over their environment. Enrichment helps satisfy both the physical and psychological needs of animals and allows them to make choices. Thus, animal enrichment creates a win-win-win situation for both animals and trainers.

We trainers provide for an animals needs, so we must assist and encourage the use of toys for instance, as methods to aid physical and mental stimulation, which in turn encourage natural behaviours. Chasing after a toy, or jumping over a tube, or challenging each other to do so, all involve natural instincts and behaviours.

Enriching an animal’s environment comes in many forms, including altering the physical environment, modifying animal care and creating stimulation. You will see play with plastic tubes and play with a ball used in most animal facilities, not just with marine mammals. These are examples of adding “furniture” for an animal to play with that enriches their environment. 

I have read criticism of videos showing dolphins playing with a ball, from people who have not idea about these animals and they make a big issue about it, without any knowledge whatsoever to support their comment. We trainers know that living with the animals every day gives us knowledge and experience, to see the real benefit of utilising such toys.

We have rescued animals near to dying and during their recuperation a toy is part of the process,  providing big improvements in their health and well-being. I have heard comments such as, how can a ball be more benefit for these animals than playing with other animals in the wild? Well, these animals include ones saved from the wild, is it better to save them with a ball or let them die? If an animal can play all day with a ball and not get tired, how much pleasure, stimulation and enrichment is then being achieved for that animal?

Gray whale population drops by quarter off U.S. West Coast

Researchers say the population of gray whales off the West Coast of the United States has fallen by nearly one-quarter since 2016, resembling a similar die-off two decades ago

SEATTLE (AP) — Researchers say the population of gray whales off the West Coast of the United States has fallen by nearly one-quarter since 2016, resembling a similar die-off two decades ago.

In this May 24, 2019, file photo, teachers and students from Northwest Montessori School in Seattle examine the carcass of a gray whale after it washed up on the coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, just north of Kalaloch Campground in Olympic National Park. Researchers say the population of gray whales off the West Coast of the United States has fallen by nearly one-quarter since 2016, resembling a similar die-off two decades ago. In a paper released Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, NOAA Fisheries reported that surveys counted about 6,000 fewer migrating whales last winter, 21,000 as compared to 27,000 in 2016.
Gene Johnson / AP

In a paper released Tuesday, NOAA Fisheries reported that surveys counted about 6,000 fewer migrating whales last winter, 21,000 as compared with 27,000 in 2016.

The agency declared an “unusual mortality event” in 2019 as dozens of gray whales washed up on Pacific Ocean beaches. Scientists aren’t sure what has been causing the die-off. But they believe that it is within the range of previous population fluctuations and that the number of whales may have exceeded what the environment can support.

After an estimated die-off of 23 percent in 1999-2000, the population rebounded to even greater numbers, NOAA said. The agency said it appears the big population swings don’t reflect long-term threats to the whales’ survival.

The eastern north Pacific gray whale has recovered from being hunted to near extinction in the middle of the 20th century. It was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994.

The whales migrate 10,000 miles (16,093 km) from feeding grounds in the Arctic to birth their calves along Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Teams of researchers counted the whales as they passed Granite Canyon, California, near Carmel, on their way south from December 2019 to February 2020.

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Starting them early: Pregnant dolphins sing their names to their babies in the womb

  • Dolphins teach babies a ‘signature whistle’ two weeks before birth
  • The whistles are sounds made by individual dolphins that identifies them
  • At about two months, the babies then go on to produce their own whistle
  • Humans have a similar phenomenon, in which babies develop a preference for their mother’s voice in the last trimester

Many expectant parents will chat away to their babies in the womb.

But it appears that humans are not the only species who like to communicate with their young before they are born.

New research has shown that dolphin mothers sing to their unborn calves by singing their name. 

The mothers teach their babies their ‘signature whistle’ before birth and in the two weeks after, which the animals use to identify one another.

The mothers teach their babies their ‘signature whistle’, which is our equivalent to a name, before birth and in the two weeks after

Researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi, have suggested that the mothers teach their babies the whistle as part of the imprinting process.

Signature whistles are sounds made by dolphins, used to identify different individuals.

Dolphin calves will eventually make their own individual whistle, but in the first stages of life, they use their mother’s.

Previous studies have shown that mother dolphins whistle their signature tune more in the days before birth.

However, this is the first study to look at how a mother dolphin whistles in the presence of other dolphins, before and after birth.

The researchers studied a dolphin mother at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California, who gave birth to a dolphin baby called Mira in 2014.

They recorded 80 hours of sounds from the mother, baby, and other dolphins in the enclosure, during the two months before birth, and two months after birth.

The recordings showed that the mother dolphin began increasing her signature whistle two weeks before birth, and continued to do so for two weeks after birth, before tapering off.

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Scientists Discover a Mouth-Breathing Dolphin

If you’ve been watching Netflix’s Stranger Things, you know being called a “mouth-breather” is an insult of the highest order. But for one dolphin, being a mouth-breather has likely meant the difference between life and death.

Dolphins don’t normally breathe through their mouths. Instead, they inhale and exhale through the blowhole on the top of their heads. But three years ago, researchers in New Zealand noticed the strangest thing—a single Hector’s dolphin willfully ignoring millions of years of evolution, and instead gasping out of its big, toothy mouth. And this story gets even weirder if you know anything about dolphin anatomy.

Unlike humans, a dolphin’s larynx, which carries air to the lungs, and esophagus, which carries food to the stomach, do not usually share an opening. In other words, dolphins don’t have to worry about something “going down the wrong pipe.” But the two systems aren’t totally separated. The dolphin’s larynx actually punches straight through its esophagus.

This arrangement could actually be a problem for dolphins when they’re trying to eat a particularly large fish, says Stephen Dawson, a marine biologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and lead author of a paper published last week describing the mouth-breather. But this quirk of physiology also enables this dolphin’s particular workaround.

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In their normal physiology, shown above, air flows between a dolphin’s lungs and its blowhole. In the mouth-breathing dolphin, the scientists suspect that the larynx disconnects from its normal pathway at the epiglottic spout, and instead creates an opening to the mouth. Adapted from an illustration by Stephen Dawson

In dolphins, the larynx is not a solid tube connecting the blowhole to the lungs. Instead, a dolphin’s airway is made of multiple interlocking sections of cartilage. At the end of one of these sections is the epiglottic spout, which sits where the larynx passes through the esophagus. Normally, the epiglottic spout is held in place by a strong muscle. But in this mouth-breathing Hector’s dolphin, the scientists suspect that every time it breathes, it withdraws this spout so that the lungs connect to the mouth, rather than the blowhole.

Dawson and his coauthors can’t say for sure why the dolphin does this, but they have a few ideas. The most likely scenario seems to be some sort of quirk of the muscles that control the blowhole, since it remains shut tight even when the dolphin surfaces. This could be an injury, abscess, tumor, or other obstruction that prevents the blowhole from opening properly. It’s also possible the muscles where the esophagus closes around the larynx have become injured or infected, or that a foreign object has found its way elsewhere into the respiratory system.

Whatever the cause, the same dolphin has been spotted performing this behavior for three years, apparently without ill effects.

Dawson says he’s long-suspected dolphins have some way of moving their larynx to create more room. “But the published literature states, and the prevailing view among marine mammalogists was, that this was impossible,” he says.

That is, until ole Mouth-breathy McMouthface showed up.

“The behavior is a bit surprising since it has not been observed or reported previously,” says Ted Cranford, a marine biologist at the San Diego State University who was not involved in the new research.

Cranford studies evolution in dolphins, particularly as it relates to biosonar, and he said that, anatomically speaking, it checks out.

“It is clear that there is nothing that prevents these animals from using this new pathway,” said Cranford. “We should all keep in mind that behavioral plasticity probably has more scope for variation than we might expect.”

In other words, there’s no telling what an animal might be capable of when survival’s on the line. Mouth-breathing in a dolphin—why not?

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A Once-Captive Dolphin Has Introduced Her Friends to a Silly Trend

“What we had here was an example of dolphin culture being established.”

In 1995, a bottlenose dolphin named Billie leaped from the water of Port River, Australia, and began “tail-walking” in circles around Mike Bossley’s boat. Her tail was pumping vigorously, her snout was pointed to the sky, and her body was in the air and moving backward. “It was spectacular,” recalls Bossley, a naturalist and conservationist. “But I didn’t appreciate the significance of it until she started doing it again and again.”

Up until that point, a wild bottlenose dolphin had never been seen tail-walking, and for good reason: It’s a trick that’s taught to dolphins in captivity. Bossley soon realized that Billie had not only learned the trick during a brief stint in dolphin rehab, but that she had then passed it on to her wild peers. “What we had here was an example of dolphin culture being established,” he says. “I got very excited and focused on documenting it.”

Billie had first come to national attention years earlier. In 1987, a racehorse trainer regularly took his horses for a swim in Port River, towing them behind his small boat. The trainer noticed that every morning, a young dolphin would swim alongside them. He named the dolphin Billy—a spelling that would later need to be tweaked when Bossley realized that she was actually female.

That December, Billie followed a regatta of sailing ships out of Port River and ended up trapped in a particularly polluted harbor. A nearby dolphinarium called Marineland rescued her and kept her at its facility for three weeks. There, she lived alongside five captive dolphins that had been trained to tail-walk in public shows. Billie never received any training, but she didn’t need it. She learned to tail-walk just by watching them.

That became clear after she was released back to Port River. She tail-walked around Bossley’s boat. She tail-walked in the bow of ships—the only dolphin ever known to do so. Then, in 2007, Bossley and his team of volunteer observers saw another female, called Wave, perform the trick. Her proficiency grew as Billie’s health started to falter. And after Billie died of kidney failure in 2009, “Wave’s tail-walking exploded, and she started doing it all the time,” says Luke Rendell from the University of St. Andrews. “The sheer number of times she did it was probably the influence that got other dolphins to do it, too.”

Indeed, Wave’s daughter Ripple also picked it up, as did four other adult females in the group, and four other juveniles. Some still do it, but the fad is fading; it peaked in 2011, and has declined since then.

No one really knows why Billie learned to tail-walk from the captive dolphins, or why her wild peers learned it from her. Many animals have been seen imitating one another’s actions, but most of these examples of wild culture involve techniques for getting food or attracting mates. Tail-walking seems to carry no benefit. There are only a few examples of such apparently arbitrary traditions, including orcas that started carrying dead salmon for a few weeks, macaque monkeys that began playing with stones, and capuchin monkeys that poke one another in the eye as a greeting.

Bossley says that tail-walking is unlikely to be a straightforwardly playful behavior: When one of her calves died, Wave could be seen tail-walking beside its body. It’s probably not just a call for attention either, since the dolphins do it when alone.

“We know that dolphins are social learners,” says Diana Reiss, a dolphin expert at Hunter College. “There have been past reports of captive cetaceans imitating the behavior and vocalizations of other dolphins, and even other species, with which they are housed. In doing so, perhaps they’re trying to fit in or bond with the others.”

Rendell agrees with that idea, and notes that humans do something similar. “Human children copy irrelevant actions as part of belonging,” he says. “It’s the Salesman 101 technique: Just copy the person you want to sell to and they feel warmed toward you.”

But why is it that only adult females learned to tail-walk, and adult males never did? “I have absolutely no idea,” Rendell says. “The only males seen to do it were calves swimming with their mothers. I can only speculate that copying someone is such a strong social signal for a male bottlenose to give that they’ll only do it in very strong circumstances.”

How to keep your animal engaged during training sessions

Stage 2 IMAGE – Step by step behaviour training-SOMERSAULT

Focus on your training session

Environments affect behaviour, predict your animal’s behaviour, keep your eyes scanning around while working with you and be aware that another animals’ behaviour affects your animal behaviour. If there is anybody or an even an object around, that your animal is not comfortable with, try to take them to another area or environment where they are more relaxed. As with children, once your animal has realized that you are always protecting them, then they will trust you.

Communication skills are paramount; during your sessions, your animal’s behaviour depends on the quality of the communication you have with your animal and with other trainers and how aware you are of your surroundings. Anticipation and planning ahead is very important when handling your animal. Dolphins love doing different things, they are very cheeky, they also get bored quickly with the same thing over and over, but when they are learning something new, they are usually concentrated, curious and excited for what may come next. Some behaviours take time and concentration. Take as an example, husbandry behaviours (medical behaviours) these are examples where a high level of concentration from your animal will be required and they also need to be very relaxed.

Before you start training any behaviour, you must communicate with other trainers and let them know how long you are going to take and where the training is going to take place. State the starting time and ending time, before you end, you need to make eye contact with other trainers and let the animals go at the same time, so your animal does not go and interrupt any other trainer’s session. This is the best way of getting the best discipline, instilling good habits in your animals that results in a good quality training session and a positive outcome for all.

Enjoy your quality time with your animal!!

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

Surfer goes to head-to-head with pod of dolphins as he takes on gigantic Australian waves… and loses

  • Trent Sherborne was catching waves at his local beach in Kalbarri, Western Australia
  • Photographer Matt Hutton was lining up his last shot on the shore when a dolphin suddenly leaped from the ocean
  • What he captured is an incredibly rare picture of man and mammal sharing the same wave.

When surfer Trent Sherbourne zipped up his wetsuit, grabbed his board and headed down to the secluded beach he was probably hoping to have the waves to himself.

So, imagine his surprise when he found himself sharing the surf with a pod of dolphins who jumped out of the water right in front of him.

But even more incredible is that the moment was captured back on land by a self-taught photographer who was lining up his last shot of the day while experimenting with a new lens.

This stunning picture was capture by Matt Hutton who was just lining up the last shot of the day

Dolphins are known to share waves with humans but it is extremely rare for them to breach the surface and even rarer for the moment to be captured on film

Matt Hutton, 31, had been taking pictures of Trent when the local surfer was completely upstaged by dolphin racing him down the wave, before losing out to the speedy sea-mammal.

Amateur snapper Matt was travelling from Perth to his home in Wickham, Western Australia, in order to add pictures to his portfolio when he decided to stop in the small town of Kalbarri.

After asking locals for information he was told of a few good spots to go and take pictures of surfers but was advised that dolphin sightings were rare.

Losing out: Trent’s surfing was completely eclipsed by the stunts of the camera-shy dolphins who shared the surf with him that day

What he captured is the incredibly rare moment a dolphin breached the surface while sharing a wave with a surfer. While the intelligent animals are known to swim with humans, surfing with them is rare and even then, they stay underwater most of the time.

Matt added: ‘It really is a very rare shot and I was so lucky to have been at the right place and right time and in regards to the dolphin and the surfer, Trent said he knew it was him in the photo as it’s not every day you get to eyeball a Dolphin, so it was pretty close!’

‘I have had so many people write kind emails, messages, comments etc and it has been a very humbling experience, it is simply the highlight of my small photography career.

‘A few people think its photoshopped but I can assure you they’re not!’

However, one surfer who fell foul of the usually friendly sea creatures was Troy Robinson, 43, whose arm was broken after clashing with a dolphin in July.

Robinson found himself surrounded by ten of the animals while paddling out to sea, and it quickly became apparent that there was not enough space for all of them on the same wave.

As he ducked and dived through the tangle he was suddenly hit, torpedo-like, by one of the animals which knocked him clean off his board and left him in immense pain.

The impact was so hard he had to have a plate inserted into his left forearm and it also punched a hole into his surfboard.

However, he later joked that it would be a good story to tell his grandchildren, adding that it was ‘better than it being a shark.’


How Can I Make a Difference in The World as a Dolphin Behaviourist?

Taking the opportunity in this information age, there is no better time to educate others about this exciting but sometines controversial topic.

Help educate those who do not have any idea of how we train dolphins and explain proper techniques that are enriching and caring.

There are some people out there, who think training a dolphin is something negative, here we try to help aviod common misunderstandings and shock those who thought they knew about this subject.

For instance, it may be surprising to some to know that the technique used to train dolphins is the same technique used  in school to teach children at school.

Positive Reinforcement/Operant Conditioning

Apart from my extensive years of experience being a spetialist in marine mammal training behaviours, I have adquired teahcing qualifications that have enabled me to  work with children, within national education schools in England, UK. I have used positive reinforcement to modify unwanted behaviour in countless children, many also having learning desabilities, with great success.

I expereinced that edutaional staff, who had excellent teaching records and an experienced career in teaching, had given up on these children ever being helped fully. They did not have the right knowledge or resources to correct certain kinds of behaviour. I took up the challenge to improve their behaviour and had fantastic results, removing unwanted behaviour completely. Because I focused on positive reinforcement, I  could target my actions specifically and positively modify the childs behaviour. This encouraged them to learn on a more positive way, especially those with learning desabilities children. I corrected behaviours using operant conditioning methods, always rewarding wanted behaviour positively and being careful never to punish, but divert, suggest ways forward and show the merit of good behaviour or effort.

A couple years ago I was invited to create the first FaceBook group about dolphin training, Dolphin Trainers of the Caribbean. I realised whilst doing educational programs for this group, that I would like to expand this help in the future. I wanted to educate those who lacked knowledge in the dolphin training world. I created my own group Via Dolphin. One of the main reasons and the greatest joy of this group, is seeing the posibility of making a difference to the lives and careers of trainers all over the world. I wanted to give the opportunity to anyone interested in learning how to train a dolphin. I would show them how this can be achieved in a happy and positive environment, which is then not only the best way to care for the  dolphins under human care, but gives joy and enrichment to both dolphins, trainers and lovers of dolphins alike.

So to recap on the reducation regarding any negative attitudes towards dolphin training, I hope to educate and inform those animal lovers, who think that training dolphins is not right. Dolphin under human care dolphins cannot be transferred into the wild environment, since most have never lived as wild dolphins and the would not survive or be happy to leave their only known environment, where they have food, health care and enrichment amongst familiar dolphins. To try to ensure their environment is the very best it can be and their lives are the most enriched they can be is my goal. Intelligent open-minded people will see that there is nothing negative about training an animal positively, whether it is a dolphin, a sea lion, monkey, hourse, dog, tiger or a bird.

I understand there are people that believe dolphins within human care, are treated very bad and that they are mistreated by the facilities. I aknowledge some problems may be out there, but to address this, my information, help and training is designed to educate and help improve all facilities and trainers environments. It must also be ackowledged that negative misinformation and manipulated propaganda, also exists to confuse and misguide, so our message is one of factual contant, proven techniques and explainations of positve reinforcement and positive enrichment approach at all times.

Many years ago, there was not enough information for trainers and their techniques left a lot to be desired. Today there is no such excuse, research studies scientificaly prove that positive training is the best and most effective technique for teaching and enrichment of all living life, animals as well as humans.

Animals and humans learn best whilst palying and having fun, they don’t even notice they are learning or training because it is enjoyable and is based on trust.

No-one should be deprived of the opportunity to learn and providing material for all animal lovers, to understand what a positive and enriching experience the proper  training techniques can provide, will hopefully help us all to live together in a much more positive way.