Can you imagine you are having an amazing day doing what you love, interacting with friends, campfire, drinks and beautiful memories you share? The Idea of feeling super content because you are with valuable friends that one moment to the other moment when somebody says we all go home… where you feel a little bit of disappointment although you understand people have to go home. There is a little sadness in you because people you love didn’t stay the whole evening. Just because you have such a great relationship and click with them and you just feel 500% comfortable being around such friends.

Now to the animals…

We have a great interaction with playtime, high success rate in your training, and cuddles what the animal seems to enjoy. Without asking the animal the animal keeps on following you and just seems to have the urge to be with you because you have such a great relationship and you are such a variety in the animal’s life. Till the moment, you say to the animal ok its done and you leave. How will the animal act after you left? We will never know for sure but is there a sadness for the animal if their favorite (if we can even say this from the animals point of view) person says I am leaving and leaves? Do they have that same content feeling at first and than this disappointing feeling after? We never know but this is my thought.


The end of session signal; An end-of-session signal is intended to mean any deliberate, predictable cue that informs the animal that the training session is over. Ken Ramirez – Karen Pryor Clicker Training (See full article here)


To be honest I am not a big fan of the signal because it takes away a variety for the animal not knowing when the session ends. On top of that we might be adding a cue to a Time Out because we take everything away. This could potentially cause some aggression. I like the surprise factor. When the animal never knows what will happen next their motivation stays high and raises. So, in my eyes the animal should never know what they will get as reinforcement or the amount, what we are going to do in the session, when we start the session and when we end the session. You might want to say right away but Peter I’m sure you are using end of session signals! You know what you are right I do and sometimes we can’t go around it at all.

This is why…

Working for many years with sea lions I always had the privilege to be able to separate animals away. When we train the sea lions we had a start of session signal what most of the time meant go to a particular target position so I can safely open the gate and get you to come to me. With varying the moment, you are going to open the gate or if you start with a protective contact training session instead. The animal doesn’t really know when they will be asked to come out and there for they stay in their pen. When we train the animals outside, at one point in the session we have to go back to the pen to gate the animal and close the gate behind them. Here we have it “close the gate” if we always do the same and become predictable to closing a gate and walking away after reinforcement we actually just trained an end of session signal. Especially when the balance of reinforcement outside is higher than being in the pen the animal might find it aversive to be in the pen when they understand the session is ending. This is where gating problems could potentially come in and excel to aggression. This might be different when there is a reinforcement given after the end of session signal what could vary in many ways as well.


End of Session Signal With a Sea Lion – SLEWTHS California

Not to Imagine the observation of the animal discovering small behaviours from us that will lead to the ending of a session. I mean as a communication tool at our dolphinarium we say the word “Sista” to each other so we know everybody should give their last reinforcement. Do you think the animals don’t pick up on it? What about the posture I have when we are almost going to end?

The other day I popped by the ladies from the bird of prey area in our Zoo. As you might have read in the other blogs, our zoo has a birds of prey show and to be honest I really enjoy the show and the way they work the animals… This is not because its a girl team… The team established their training pretty strong and do not use Jesses anymore (Leather straps on the feet of the birds). Or at least this is the goal. They explained me a story of Buddah. Buddah is a Euresian Eagle Owl who’s been trained in the presentation for the first time this year. The last couple of weeks Buddah started to pick up on the fact when they walk me home the session ends, although that’s what we thought. The Trainers saw an increase in aggression towards them to a point where only particular people could work him. The team was wondering what could’ve happened… So, I asked what happens after every time he participates in the presentation? They said well he flies from station to station, while I said ok and then?  Well we walk him home they said. I asked always? They right away said yes and that might be the problem. I told them there you go you might just have answered your own question. In this case, we might have been training him an end of session signal by being predictable to a point where he knows the session will end soon, by being aggressive he is able to reinforce himself due to the fact that the session keeps going.

They thought about a solution and came up with keep on training him when you bring him back in his house and teach him to fly home instead of walking him home so we can vary more within his behavior. Guess what happened? With the balance of reinforcement strategy, they were able to reduce the problem.


End of Session Signal With a Pigeon – SLEWTHS California

Maybe I need to come back from my statement that I am not a big fan… or you know what I am still not but that doesn’t mean I would never use it. When working with potential blind animals it might be a fair choice to let them know “he the session ended” this so the animal is not waiting for us for the next 12 hours. For blind animals I believe that it is an important part in their training the same for the start of session signal. I think we should be very clear for animals who are blind compared to animals who can see. To be honest I prefer deaf animals over blind animals but that might be a whole other discussion.

Another moment it could be helpful is when you have a big mixed exhibit where gating options aren’t present. This might be the moment to say ok the session has ended so you can do your own thing and leave me alone again. This decision is considered due to safety reasons for the keepers. We see it with our Camels in our park. They are so engaged with the trainers that when they get on the field the animals are right with them. If they give a start of session signal or not. Can you imagine coming on a field where there are around 15 Camels, 16 Jaks and 12 Asian Wild Horses all together and 40% comes right at you when you enter the exhibit to clean? This is the moment it might be good to have a strong start of session signal and an end of session signal so you are able to train each individual safely especially when there is not any other gating option.

It’s a give and take, Yes sometimes I would choose for an end of session signal but I prefer not to. It all depends on the situation, the individual and the safety for the trainers.

Peter Giljam

Thinking Outside the Zoo


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