Animal training  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Animal training refers to teaching animals specific responses to specific conditions or stimuli. Training may be for the purpose of companionship, detection, protection, entertainment or all of the above.

An animal trainer may use reinforcement or punishment to condition an animal's responses. Some animal trainers may have a knowledge of the principles of behavior analysis and operant conditioning, but there are many ways to train animals and no legal requirements or certifications are required.



The certification bodies that do exist (in some, not all, countries) do not share consistent goals or requirements so it can be difficult to tell what kind of training a trainer has had to do his or her job. The United States does not require animal trainers to have any kind of certification or psychological screening.

The type of training is often determined by the trainer's motivation, background, and psychological make-up. An individual training a seeing eye dog, for example, will have a different approach and end-goal than an individual training a wild animal to do tricks in a circus.

Ideally, animal trainers will try to use positive reinforcement (follow a desired behavior with something worthwhile to the animal and the behavior will increase) and negative punishment (withdraw something the animal wants when he performs undersireable behaviors). Traditional trainers often rely on positive punishment (follow an undesirable behavior with a punishment to reduce the rate of the behavior) and negative reinforcement (withdraw an undesirable stimulus when the animal performs the desirable behavior).

Service animals

Service animals, such as assistance dogs, capuchin monkeys and horses, are trained to utilize their sensory and social skills to bond with a human and help that person to offset a disability in daily life. The use of service animals, especially dogs, is an ever-growing field, with a wide range of special adaptations.

In the United States, selected inmates in prisons are used to train service dogs. In addition to adding to the short-supply of service animals, such programs have produced benefits in improved socialization skills and behavior of inmates.

Film and television

Organizations such as the American Humane Association monitor the use of animals such as those used in the entertainment industry, but they do not monitor their training. The Patsy Award (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) was originated by the Hollywood office in 1939. They decided to honor animal performers after a horse was killed in an on-set accident during the filming of the Tyrone Power film Jesse James.

The award now covers both film and television and is separated into four categories: canine, equine, wild and special. The special category encompasses everything from goats to cats to pigs. One famous animal trainer, Frank Inn, received over 40 Patsy awards.

Patience and repetition are critical components of successful animal training. Inn's most famous animal was Higgins, who came from the Burbank, California Animal Shelter. Inn began training animals while incapacitated due to an automobile accident. Higgins starred in the Petticoat Junction sitcom in the 1960s and the first two Benji films in 1974 and 1977.

Lifetime bonds are often made between trainers and animals. The ashes of Higgins were buried with trainer Inn when he died in 2002.

Zoological parks

Animals in public display are sometimes trained for educational, entertainment, management, and husbandry behaviors. Educational behaviors may include species-typical behaviors under stimulus control such as vocalizations. Entertainment may include display behaviors to show the animal, or simply arbitrary behaviors. Management includes movement, such as following the trainer, entering crates, or moving from pen to pen, or tank-to-tank through gates. Husbandry behaviors facilitate veterinary care, and can include desensitization to various physical examinations or procedures (such as cleaning, nail clipping, or simply stepping onto a scale voluntarily), or the collection of samples (e.g. biopsy, urine). Such voluntary training is important for minimizing the frequency with which zoo collection animals must be anesthetized or physically restrained.

Marine mammals

Many marine mammals are trained for entertainment such as bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, belugas, sea lions, and others. In a public display situation, the audience's attention is focused on the animal, rather than the trainer; therefore the discriminative stimulus is generally gestural (a hand sign) and sparse in nature. Unobtrusive dog whistles are used as bridges, and positive reinforcers are either primary (food) or tactile (rub downs), and not vocal. However, pinnipeds and mustelids (sea lions, seals, walruses, and otters) can hear in our frequency, so most of the time they will receive vocal reinforcers during shows and performances. The shows are turned into more of a play production because of this, instead of just a run through of behaviors like cetaceans generally do in their shows. Guests can often hear these vocal reinforcers when attending a Sea World show. During the Clyde and Seamore show, the trainers may say something like: "Good grief, Clyde!" or "Good job, Seamore". The trainers substitute the word "good" in the place of food or rubdowns when teaching a specific behavior to the animals so that the animals no longer need constant feeding as praise for achieving the appropriate behavior.

Companion animals


Basic obedience training tasks for dogs include walking on a leash, attention, housebreaking, nonaggression, and socialization with humans or other pets. Dogs are also trained for many other activities, such as dog sports, service dogs, and other working dogs.

Positive reinforcement for dogs can include primary reinforcers such as food, or social reinforcers such as vocal ("good boy") or tactile (stroking) ones. Positive punishment, if used at all, can be physical, such as pulling on a leash or spanking, or may be vocal ("bad dog"). Bridges to positive reinforcement include vocal cues, whistling, and dog whistles, as well as clickers used in clicker training, a method popularized by Karen Pryor. Negative reinforcement may also be used including withholding of food or physical punishment.


Typical training tasks for companion birds include perching, non-aggression, halting feather-picking, controlling excessive vocalizations, socialization with household members and other pets, and socialization with strangers. The large parrot species frequently have lifespans that exceed that of their human owners, and they are closely bonded to their owners. In general, parrot companions usually have clipped wings, which facilitates socialization and controlling aggression and vocalizations. In China the practice of training Cormorants to catch fish has gone on for over 1,200 years.


Training chickens has become a way for trainers of other animals (primarily dogs) to perfect their training technique. Bob Bailey, formerly of Animal Behavior Enterprises and the IQ Zoo, teaches chicken training seminars where trainers teach poultry to discriminate between shapes, to navigate an obstacle course and to chain behaviors together. Chicken training is done using operant conditioning, using a clicker and chicken feed for reinforcement. The training of chickens has become a popular event for dog trainers. Trained chickens may be confined to a fiberglas box where they play Tic-Tac-Toe against humans for a fee.


Fish can also be trained. For example, a goldfish may swim toward its owner and follow him as he walks through the room, but will not follow anyone else. The fish may swim up and down, signaling the owner to turn on its aquarium light when it is off, and it will skim the surface until its owner feeds it. There has also been training of pet goldfish to perform more complicated tricks, such as doing the limbo and pushing a miniature soccer ball into a net.[1]

Wild animals

Wild animals may also be trained, such as bears or leopards. The Ursari Romani people were specialized in bear training, although they sometimes also used Old World monkeys. Later on, the German merchant Carl Hagenbeck, also one of the initiator of "human zoos", also used brown bears in his shows.


Dressage is a form of competitive animal training, specifically for horses. However, all equestrian disciplines require the horse to have training in their sport. Additionally, all horses used in competittion must go through basic training when they are young, during which time they learn to accept the saddle, bridle, and rider's aids. Template:Sectstub


Animal training is generally performed in adherence to the theory of operant conditioning, although modern training methods frequently utilize tools not included in the original Skinnerian conception.

Two primary types of training philosophies are those that emphasize positive reinforcement, and those that use more positive punishment. Certain subfields of animal training tend to also have certain philosophies and styles, for example fields such as companion bird training, hunting bird training, companion dog training, show dog training, dressage horse training, mahout elephant training, circus elephant training, zoo elephant training, zoo exotic animal training, marine mammal training. The degree of trainer protection from the animal may also vary. The variety of tasks trained may also vary, and can range from entertainment, husbandry (veterinary) behaviors, physical labor or athleticism, habituation to averse stimuli, interaction (or non-interaction) with other humans, or even research (sensory, physiological, cognitive).

Training also may take into consideration the natural social tendencies of the animal species (or even breed), such as predilections for attention span, food-motivation, dominance hierarchies, aggression, or bonding to individuals (conspecifics as well as humans). Consideration must also be given to practical aspects on the human side such as the ratio of the number of trainers to each animal: does one animal have a dozen different trainers, and does one trainer attend simultaneously to many animals in a training session?

Other important issues related to the methods of animal training are: operant conditioning, stimulus control, SD (discriminative stimulus), desensitization, chaining, bridge, and the s-delta.

List of notable animal trainers

Known for their influence on the circus:

Known for scientific research:

Known for work in television and film:


See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Animal training" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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