While being at home for a bit after each day of work I started to think about a more successful way of living. I mean how can I make myself feel better. It’s a question many of us ask about themselves but to get there you have to know yourself pretty well. The success rate of your life is an important matter just because it gives you the satisfaction and confidence you need in your daily life. Some people don’t need much and succeed easily while others look for ideals that are harder to reach. They get their motivation for successes somewhere else maybe because it’s harder to get there. I see myself like this type of person. Looking for the “what many of my close friends say” impossible, what I try to show them as a challenge. An internal motivator (intrinsic) comes at it from my perspective but I have to add to this that I have an idea to keep myself having success with small steps and learning quickly from the errors I made, although I think so. This gives me a rate of success. The higher the goal the smaller the steps.

While going from department to department at my current job. I can quickly see their progress with their goals they try to reach. This gives me an idea how people think in their training sessions. Many times, we ask to high levels of criteria that the animal is not able to reach, it seems like, especially with trainers who are very new in the field. This is completely ok because it’s a learning circle for them. But sooner than later we need to see the success rate for the animals in different ways. We can actually guess at the start of the session what the success rate will be by just observing the environment the animal is in and the state of mind the animal might have ie. Sexual, Dominant, Fear full etc. But this is not exactly what I want to talk about in this blogs topic even thought observation is a very important part of it.

After working for a couple of years with sea lions and other marine mammal species I made the change in my career to seek the job I always dreamed off. A killer whale trainer position in Spain. The change of specie made me a better trainer in the theory of animal training. We had to count the behaviours we ask to apply different reinforcement schedules. Just to think about their “success rate” and the relationship we have. We never tried to go too far and always thought about the bank account so to say “The rate of your relationship”. To come back to the point of the success rate, when I ask a behaviour and the animal gives me an incorrect response for whatever reason I have a couple options to consider, 1. Least Reinforcing Scenario (LRS) + Ask again 2. Ask something else right away 3. LRS + Something else + Ask incorrect behaviour again etc. Beside the options I can take (what could differ from each trainer) the motivation level of the animal goes slightly downwards because the animal was incorrect on the asked behaviour. This is the moment where I have to make the right choice because if the signal gives an incorrect response, the motivation level of the animal will go down once again. At this point I have to ask a behaviour that I am sure of the animal will succeed in because the rate of success goes up and so does the motivation of the animal participating in the training session.

Us trainers tend to ask a signal many times especially when the animal doesn’t give us the behaviour from the start we asked for. What basically happens is Signal – Incorrect response, Signal – Incorrect response and so on till the animal is doing the right thing. This is a bit confusing for the animal cause why would the animal keep on going while it made 5 errors previously. It might even be that you as a trainer thought the animal to respond after the 5th time. The motivation of a training goes downwards right away when the animal has incorrect responses one after the other.

Let me explain this a bit better with the following example. I had the privilege to work with a deaf killer whale in Spain. She is still one of my favourite stories because I really learned a lot from her in my training strategies. When we trained her we saw a significant difference when we had used 2 different responses. When she gave us an incorrect response to a signal, followed by a 3 second pause (LRS) and gave her the same signal again she would be less successful with the behaviour she was incorrect with then when I asked her a couple very simple high rate of success behaviours to try the incorrect behaviour again. This made her motivation actually go down more often then going up. It seemed like being incorrect wasn’t all that fun. Of course, we can discuss if the LRS was trained well etc. The difference with the choice of asking another behaviour in between where she had a higher rate of success and then followed by the behaviour she was incorrect with gave us 9 out of 10 times a successful behaviour afterwards. What basically means when an animal is incorrect your line of success goes down, with asking a behaviour she will likely be successful with the motivation line goes upwards and if I repeat this in theory the behaviour she was incorrect with would have higher criteria and more success than when I would ask this again after a couple incorrect repetitions of that behaviour. If this makes sense to you…

Where it all comes down to, how can I make my animal successful a more easier and quicker way if it shows you it has a difficult time with giving you the behaviour you asked for. Breaking down the behaviour in smaller steps will help you gradually. Another small example I have for you, I enjoy going to the ape house in our Zoo due to the progression that is being made out there. 1 day we tried to train more individuals and with some separation techniques we were able to. One of the trainers asked an animal to follow her 2 meters to the left but the animal seemed not to understand what she wanted. What we know at this point is that 2 meters might be too far away. She asked in total 5 – 6 times what didn’t work at all. Following for such a distance is too hard and that’s oke so we put the criteria down to move your body an inch to me. This lifts up her success rate and therefor she will be more motivated for moving with us next time. If we take those actions earlier in the training we can reach further in the behaviour are training than when we push it and lose more then we have. Why would you go 5 steps back if you only have to do 1 or nothing?

I believe many times it’s works a lot better to respond with an LRS followed by another behaviour followed by the previously incorrect behaviour. The rate of success goes up and so does the motivation you gave the animal to participate in the training session.

What would you do when you fail 8 out of 10 times? Or when you succeed 8 out of 10 times?

That’s what I mean!

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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