An upgrade in history…

Operant and classical conditioning is not new as we know. The foot steps have been made a long time ago by for example Sir I.Pavlov and Sir B.F. Skinner. Skinner discovered how you can connect behaviours to causes and how you can actually train an animal with reinforcement as response from the trainer towards the animal, what is nowadays called operant conditioning. Even before B.F.Skinner in the 1800s Sir I. Pavlov discovered how animal can predict that a food source is comming by using a sound before hand, what we call classical conditioning. In the 80s K.Pryor started to introduce operant and classical conditioning in Zoological facilitys with great succes. I mean till today we still do what she introduced back in the 80s. These scientists beside a couple others changed the world of animal training drastically. Source:

ZN blog june 2016

I started my Career in 2005 where I got introduced to this way of training animals. Im facinated by the way animal training through positive reinforcement effects the animals behaviour. My career mainly consists of marine mammals there for there was one organisation that had a big effect on my practical training skills, theoretical knowledge and the way im training today, the organisation is called IMATA ”International Marine Animal Training Association”. My first conference started in 2008 and since then I attended 6 of them. The network I created for myself had a big impact on me and even today I still fall back on my fellow training friends to see how they think about certain training topics, this is a quick history about myself. Making a network for yourself with what you know is very important for future animal training I find. We all do not know it all and beside that we all have different kinds of experiences due to the different animals and characters we work with.

In the early 60s T. Pryor (K. Pryors husband) started a park in hawaii named Sea Life Park. A couple months after the opening of the park T. Pryor hired her wife and K. Pryor became the first trainer in the park. She discovered many training strategies along the way with a huge amount of different species. She trained dolphins for open ocean sessions and various shows. She also discovered a variety of training techniques such as Succesive Approximations that have been used untill now. The amazing way she was working was all the time through animals who kept on surprising her where she had to find various solutions for the situations she was in at that point with the animals. Thats how she learned herself to become a great example for many trainers including myself. Her capability of asking herself the ”why” questions and discovering the thought process of how her actions follow up on the animals reactions gives me a way of thinking that keeps me outside the box with my mindset about animal training. Book: K.Pryor – Lads before the wind

Further down the road I’ve been wondering about many different ways of training. I came across the book Animal Training Through Positive Reinforcement by K. Ramirez what helped me with further research on how we can make animals learn and help them to go through situations. The book gives you a great view about various ways of training behaviours and why its important. For me a great source to find how we can understand our animals better in learning. Book: Animal Training Trough Positive Reinforcement – K. Ramirez

Lately as I mentionned in a previous blogs im finding motivation what is described in a book called Drive: the surpsising truth about what motivates us by Daniel H. Pink, a very interesting topic to think about. We all understand the concept Sir B.F. Skinner who came up with operant conditioning, as well the training that has been lifted up to another level by K. Pryor and I bet for many of you would add K. Ramirez in this list for the work he did in this field. There are plenty more who could be in there but where I want to go to is more the matter of adding another upgrade as far that is possible. To go back to the motivation part, The book Drive from Daniel H. Pink talked about motivation 2.0 what means that we people don’t just do things because we get reinforced by a paycheck. 2.0 goes further then this. These days a lot of people try to find their passions so they can say they are not working because they love to do what they do. There for a high self reinforcing matter comes in there. The satisfaction to finish a project or something is sometimes higher in value for a person then the reinforcement given by a paycheck. If we pay enough attention this works as well in the animal kingdom.

Now im working with a big variaty of species other than just marine mammals. Understanding of a motivation 2.0 comes more and more to my mind. I mean motivating an animal who eats periodically is easier to get motivated then animals who eat all the time. For these animals this part is so essential in their natural living that we need to find other ways to give them choices thats in higher value of eating all day long. We can do this by finding something as food reinforcer thats better then what they eat all day long or we can find a observative behaviour what the animals do in their free time that we can use to work our way to motivation 2.0. Can we upgrade a way of training that has been invented since B.F. Skinner stepped through the door in the late 30s? In my believe K. Pryor did this already back in the time where she was at Sea Life Park Hawaii. Are we ready to do the same thing again now we know more about behavioural modification through operant conditioning? I believe we can, there for we need to know where animal training comes from and how this evolved till today. An upgrade in animal training needs trainers who dare to think far outside the box and challenge strategies that have been used for a long time succesfully. Who is with me?

ZN blog 1 june 2016

IMATA Conference Las Vegas 2013

In 2008 I met a trainer from SeaWorld, back then he was assistent supervisor, I got the privelege to join him at what he did back than. The way he was thinking and facing behavioural challenges in the animals and finding the solutions made me think, how do you come with these ideas? Back at his home after being a day with him he explained me how you can teach animals in a faster pace by backwards training. This was new for me and very interesting to see how this works. Without him saying it I felt that thinking outside the box is a big key in animal training. The day after we went back and straight away I looked completely different towards behaviours preformed from the animals who were asked by the trainers, what came back then into my mind gave me a base what I use today. At the end of the road the goal might be the same, but the way to go there can be very different and thats where it is up to us what fits best with each individual or even each specie. The pioneers that I look up to in my career really showed me whats possible within this field.

You can see a lot of cultures in animal training, a lot depends on the history of various methods. For example, how elephants have been trained or are trained or how birds of prey are being trained and so on. The hardest part is that these cultures exsist for a very long time. Some of them even over hundreds of years. This makes it a lot harder to break into this way and challenge a new thought process for this culture. Can we use backwards training with birds of prey as well for example, to be honest I will be the first one who will say yes to you although I do not have any birds of prey background, I truly believe it works the same. This has been done already but this is just another example of trying out techniques within cultures that always have been like ”this is how you do it” but is it? Is this the way to do it, and if so why? Isn’t there always room for improvements? New thoughts maybe? Or new methods otherwise? Or is it just comfortable to stay on a history that worked for so long? At the same time I’m wondering what will happen when we challenge this culture? What happens when we improve training methods and most importantly what if we can change and improve the training techniques we use today to another level.. What if that works out? Ladys and Gentleman thats where my motivation 2.0 kicks in!

Peter Giljam

“Thinking Outside the Zoo”



Peter is a passionate Animal Consultant that beside teaching you about Operant Conditioning makes sure you will go home motivated and inspired. Make sure you read his Bio!


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