Im always trying to look at responses when people get the chance to do what they like to do or even when they have the control over choices. My mom always said you should do something you love and this is the way she has raised us. All of my siblings do something they like to do. The choices that we could make for our future made us more successful. I was reading a book what is called “Animal Minds” where they are talking about riding a horse, every time this person riding the horse walked back home she would come to crossing that would lead her home. At this moment, the horseback rider the horse which way do you want to go. The rider and the horse knew that both roads would lead back to their home. The funny part was that sometimes the horse chose left and sometimes the horse chose right.

As trainers, we seem to be very locked into what we want from the animal instead of thinking about what the animal would like. Of course, we can never have the answer on those questions of what they think and why but by observations we can see quick enough what they would like themselves. What the animal would like most of the time comes down to having some control over the session what I think is very understandable.

Look at Saonoi for example. She is an Asian Elephants who lives at Kolmarden Zoo in a herd of 5. Every morning the animals get washed and checked out completely. Saonoi’s success is pretty high except the behaviour that doesn’t have a high success rate, washing. When Saonoi is completely dry, she doesn’t want to be washed, although when she is a little bit wet the problem won’t be there. We can say here that it’s the first spray she doesn’t really enjoy. The trainers found a great solution for her. See the video.

At one of the other stables we talked about their Tapirs. One of the Tapirs is climbing the indoor fences for some particular reason we don’t know about. The discussion we had is why would the animal do this? Does the animal want a particular control over its own environment? We discussed some solutions such as capture the behaviour of climbing and then not ask it anymore what potentially could extinct the behaviour 90%. We also talked about capture him doing something else instead of climbing. What is a solution if the trainers are present all the time but the last idea we discussed brought a bit more attention to the trainers. We talked about giving the Tapir control over its own environment by letting us know when he wants the gate to be opened. There for we need to know if the reason for him climbing is what we think it is. This idea is still on the work table.

At the Ape house they decided on a different solution for their challenge. As they are progressing in their training through their whole department they came to a challenge regarding separating the big male gorilla from the group. He is the group leader of a total of 4 gorillas. Enzo is his name. The trainer decided to give Enzo a bit more control. So he started to teach him to open and close his own gate. The result is that now we can separate him from the group in a variation of ways. This helps the motivation and the relationship Enzo develops with his trainers. See the video.

With those ideas, we give the animals more choice and control in the sessions and their environments. This reflects to better relationships with your animals and a better welfare overall. Animal Training is just a small part of the welfare of the animals in our care. Animal Training helps the overall welfare in many different ways. Choice and Control is one of them.


Be creative in your training and observe what the animal wants. Many times they come with a solution while you are still at the problem.


“Thinking Outside the Zoo”

Peter Giljam


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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