FAQ: Training and Husbandry 1/9/21
With our recent popularity growing on the social media platform TikTok, we thought we would take some time to answer two of our most frequently asked questions: how and why do you train your animals? Training takes up an extremely large part of our day with each animal receiving 4-6 one-on-one individual sessions everyday. These sessions vary from practicing for vet visits to building trusting relationships with our animal care team to keep each session different, fun, and exciting. When learning a new behavior, we use a couple of different training tools to guide our animals. The first is a target. The target is a buoy attached to a stick that functions as an extension of our arms. To target simply means to touch or follow and our animals are trained to target or touch their nose, flippers, or other body parts to the target bead and follow it wherever it goes. We guide our animals through the behavior using small steps called approximations until the behavior is complete. Once the animals are doing the behavior consistently, we fade the target away and communicate using signals from our hands and voices.
How do they know they're doing the behavior correctly? With our second training tool: a clicker! The clicker is referred to as a bridge since it bridges the time between when an animal has done the behavior correctly and when they receive reinforcement. The clicker lets our animals know that they have done a great job and that a reward is coming soon. We only use positive reinforcement when training our animals which means they get a reward every time they do a behavior correctly. Rewards include plenty of tasty treats, kisses or backrubs from a trusted trainer, toys they like to play with, and so much more! What happens if they do a behavior incorrectly? Nobody's perfect so when our animals don't get a behavior correct, it does make us chuckle and keeps us smiling. When this occurs, and believe us it does happen, we simply ask them to try again or ask them for a different behavior and reinforce that instead.
Training our animals is important to ensure their mental and physical stimulation. It's an amazing form of problem solving and excercise. It also allows us to provide exceptional welfare to our seals and sea lions. One of the most important reasons we train our animals is for something called "husbandry." Husbandry is cooperative medical work. Our animals voluntarily participate in their own healthcare by presenting their eyes, ears, nose, mouths, flippers, bellies, and even their cute little tails so our animal care team can examine them every single day. Training these medical behaviors makes any veterinary work that needs to be done completely restraint free and just as comfortable for our animals as it is for our animal care team. Some examples of husbandry behaviors our animals know are: getting their nails trimmed, their teeth brushed, showing us their belly so we can get an x-ray or ultrasound, and even voluntarily presenting a hind flipper for a blood draw! With the exceptional care we provide our animals, we are able to double or even triple their lifespans.
To see examples of our training in action click here.