Are you going to win or are you going to lose?

Observation is a powerful method useful before and in all training sessions. It can make you win the session or lose the session. I remember working with Killer whales one of the senior trainers in Spain telling me Peter pay attention to the animals the whole day, look how they swim, where they swim and with whom they swim with. You will learn a whole lot more what will effect your training sessions. Since then I have this thought in my head about observation and if done right how much effect this has for your training.

Since October 2014 I’m working in the Zoo setting again. I took this observation method with me but can you imagine with the amount of animals in the Zoo (ca 600 individuals) I can’t do this to every specie? With a background of marine mammals, I am learning a lot about the different actions and behaviours that the animals give me or each other just by looking at them. There are so many more behaviours the animals show us what we do not know about. Lately I start to ask myself more and more why animals do what they do even in the time where no session is planned or being done.


Photo credit: William Walldén

To make our self better trainers I think we should observe our animals more. I mean we as trainers have a drive or motivation what potentially could go against the sessions we want to do. Looking at myself I get very motivated by doing training sessions. I feel it’s a drive for me that I want to see the animal progress in what we try to reach together but sometimes by proper observation before we shouldn’t even do the designated and planned training sessions to begin with. Success will not be reached the way we planned it to be. Through observation we can quickly discover if there are problems in the group or as individuals such as, sexual distractions, hierarchy, or other factures that could simply effect the training sessions we want to do.


Photo credit: William Walldén

By discovering what’s going on before we start the training session we can plan our session the way we think the animals will be successful with at that particular moment. If we see various group problems, we have to address this issue in training sessions to make us reach different goals to have more success in future sessions. The same accounts for the fact that if there are individual animals and they do not want to come to a certain position we can by looking at them first potentially see why this problem occurred in the first place. Take action after with addressing the problem so we are pro active for next time.

To be honest I think many of us forget the power of observation as a tool for further training sessions and managing our animals. Within training sessions, a lot of behaviours are occurring, the only thing we have to do is pick up on these behaviours and pay attention to what happens to our actions we provide towards the animals we are working with. Its not always about primary reinforcement and the behaviour will occur again what’s a very simple thought. Of course this works for many of us. What I do believe is timing, whatever the animals show us what they want as reinforcement. We just have to pick up on what the animal wants in that specific moment of what we think works in that moment. Without proper observation we are not able to excel as trainers to places we never been before. Lately I am very much into working together with the choices the animal makes it self. With the right reinforcement (what could be anything the animal enjoys at that moment) at the right times we can convince the animal to make choices towards our set goals we plan before the session starts. What all depends on the observation we do in the session. There is a method or training strategy that recalls “The principle that high-probability behavior reinforces low- probability behavior.“ also known as Premack Principle. (IMATA Glossery) This technique can go from a highly reinforced behavior as reinforcement for a lower reinforcing behavior or a behavior you see your animal wants to and using this as reinforcement. For example an animal is being trained inside and splits to the door to go outside (animal now is incorrect) the animal comes back to the trainer and receives an LRS (Least Reinforcing Scenario). After reaching a proper criteria what the trainer wants the trainer reinforces the animal to go outside because the animal showed that it wants to go outside by splitting there at first. This is the reason observation is an important and powerful tool to train the animal in the current session and before and after the session. With this observation the trust is being build up and therefor we shape the choice of the animal towards us.

Value out what we want as trainers and the choices the animal makes is not an easy task. When you start the have the fast pace of observing and implementing at the spot, training goes a lot faster and progression is made easily.

Think about the Power of Observation!

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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