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Training Elephants

I and some of my collegaues train a variety of species. I’ve worked with dogs, parrots, llamas, horses, goats, sheep, cows, rabbits, lizards, fish, one groundhog, and one pig. Some of my colleagues work with zoo animals and marine mammals. None of us have ever had to revert to force or hitting. Ever.

Here are two videos on training elephants with VERY different viewpoints.

Recent news explains how the star of Water for Elephants was shocked, hit, yelled at, poked with a bullhook, and more to get her to perform. Court testimony of these trainers confirms their training methods.

Billie's chain is gone.

Billie's chain comes off.

The Elephant Sanctuary in TN uses kindness and patience to get the behaviors they want.

Regardless of the species, there is no need for bad behavior by a trainer.

The Unknown No

The Unknown No

We recently had family visiting that consisted of parents and children. I noticed something interesting happening during the visit.

The parents attempt to control the children with threats and punishment. Even though they would deny it, that’s what I hear and see. Questions like, “Would you like to go to your room?” or taking away privileges until the child can “change his attitude” leave the children with an unclear course of action to avoid parental wrath. It also involves a lot of (often loud) conversation in the “need” for justification to punish or avoid punishment from both sides.

I didn’t realize how often the whole family used the word “no” with each other until they started trying to correct our dogs. It was actually kind of funny. A dog sniffed the air near a piece of food, one of the people said, “NO!” and the dog ignored them. I said, “leave it” and the dog walked away. A dog started to walk into the bedroom and, again, I heard “NO!” The dog looked at them to see what they wanted but didn’t leave the room. I called the dog and she came to me, happily.

It hadn’t occurred to me, until then, that I just don’t use “no” with my dogs. I tell them what I want them to do and reward them for doing it. If it’s something I haven’t asked before, of course, I teach them. I just don’t tell them “no.”


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