Choice and Control as part of foundation behaviours.

Walking through the backstage areas Im thinking about how infrastructures can affect the training of the animals. It has a lot of effect if we think about it. At Kolmårdens djurpark we are busy providing quite some training classes for our keepers on a weekly base. One of is called “Foundation behaviours”…. What does it depend on what foundation behaviour you pick for your animals and the department? We might not think about this but there are most likely some differences. I mean we are training many animals and for each specie there are different goals and scenarios.


For our carnivores and great apes we are training recalls so tight that we can actually use these in safety scenarios for the visitors and our self if needed. We do not train this for our dwarf goats at the petting zoo. For the dwarf goats we need proper socialisation to have visitors around them. We have our birds on our arms because it makes it easier to move them around and keep a check on them, we do not do this with our moose because it will end up giving us hernias.

Each department has their infrastructures where the behaviours depend on. We just have to dare and figure out how to do this. The stables they are housed in at cold periods need to have the proper welfare standard what isn’t always compatible with the training that we have in the zoo. Although there is always a solution! We just have to think outside the box.


Choice and Control…

Choice and control is one of these strategies to train the animals in big groups without having access to a potential separation area. I do think that all animals need to be able to get used to the trainer and see us as reinforcing before starting the actual choice and control. Every animal deserves a fair chance in my eyes and there should not be 1 animal who knows it all while others are afraid of us.

I try to look up many different papers about choice and control but unfortunately hard to find. The beautiful part of choice and control is that you can train 1 animal at the time with the others present. It sounds easy and a lot of times you might think we do this by just training 1 animal but then my question is, do you ever give the others the chance to be trained? I mean if we say “well yeah but they never come to me anyway” well then there is a point of discussion. If we go that road then we do not give all animals the chances to get this way of enrichment. This sounds so much easier then it is in reality. There need to be a certain foundation present before we can actually train them to come in control out of their own choices. If the animal makes the choice not to be trained 9 out of 10 times there might be something going wrong in the motivation you provide towards your animal to be honest.


In one of the training courses that I have we talk a scenario where the keepers have to figure out how to start training with animals who see us as negative objects. This gives an idea how and what needs to be established first to move on to higher grounds within training. One of the big differences is that we forget the small important details. If the animals do not come to us to begin with we can not train them for choice and control now they will never choose the control.

We have 8 giraffes at the moment and all of them are able to be in some kind of control what is huge for the zoo and the keepers due to experience levels from the animals and the keepers. Not to mention that this is established in the high season.

I am wondering what it takes for an animal without us interfering to much to choose us over anything else. What minimum change would it take us for the animal to make us the choice in their daily life? Relationships need to be established in a particular way for the animal to understand what it could get out of us I would say. An animal doesn’t just make us their choice if its not paired with something the animal values out what they can only get with us. It goes a little bit further then this. I do believe that food is not an option, the food option is an easy one in my believe. What is the change that when I do not bring any food with me that the animal will come to me and even when it makes this choice how quickly does the animal leave me when he or she discovers I didn’t bring any food?


Training is not that easy. When training the Turkmenian kulans they start to value out what we have with us compared to what they have themselves what is great to see. Even when we show up they gravitate towards us. What is going on in their minds to be with us although we didn’t have anything for them. Is it the “maybe they have something” or “we are just curious if they have something?” Questions are not answered! The only thing we can do is observe well enough and make variety a key in animal training so we train the mind set for curiosity and not food based mind sets.

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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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