Five indispensable concepts for your animal training success in 2018

By Ryan Cartlidge – Animal Training Academy

As the business owner of an online space where many different animal training professionals come together, here are five important concepts that really stood out to me in 2017. I present these here as conversation starters and look forward to everyone’s thoughts and feelings on them …

1) Define yourself as a trainer.

Sometimes people come to me and think I’m someone that I’m not. People have used words like, guru for example, possibly because I make content and I put it online? I’m not sure… However, I’m very quick to say, “Hey, whoa, I’m here in this space as a learner just like you.” And actually, in all reality when I’m looking at that person telling me this, I see them as the hero. They’re the person training their animals and implementing all of the stuff that I’m making content about. I’m more like this annoying sidekick that helps them out. I’m like Robin, and they’re like Batman. And as with any hero in any movie, these heroes have enemies. And sometimes when we are discussing what we do I think the enemy (but not always) can be confusion. Consequently, I feel that one goal in 2018 and beyond, is to try to eliminate that enemy, as best we can.

For example … I was listening to a conversation about two trainers using a whistle, and the subsequent action from the trainers, after they blew their whistle. One trainer was using the whistle to say, “Yes, that’s what I want you to do. Keep going.” The other trainer was using the whistle to say “Yes, that’s what I want you to do, please stop what you’re doing and get ready to receive subsequent reinforcement.” However both trainers were using the same word “bridge.” And, I think the enemy was present in this conversation. Confusion was there and the conversation was somewhat in-effective because of this.

One way that we can help defeat this enemy is to say something along the lines of “Okay, I’m going to be talking about bridges here, and just before we start, when I say ‘bridge’, what I mean is this…”

I.e. Define yourself as a trainer.

If we have different definitions of a particular word then that doesn’t mean either of us are bad people or bad trainers, but in order to talk effectively about what we do, first we need to know what the other person actually means.

2) Remember the abundance of one a kinds.

In one form or another you have likely heard this expression before, although potentially worded as something like “each animal is an individual.”

I’ve included it here (although worded in a different way) because it’s worth repeating. It’s the idea that we work with each animal without any preconceived ideas about what that animal should be and/or should do. This holds true even if you’ve trained a thousand animals of the same species to do the same behavior. The individual animal in front of you right now might need something completely different and subsequently its own unique training plan.

Therefore, going into a training session with a new animal, I consider there’s value in shelfing our preconceived ideas, observing the learner in front of us now, collecting our data [what behaviors are they doing that we can observably define and measure, how often does that behavior occur and under what environmental contexts I.e. antecedents and consequences] and having that at the forefront of our behavior change decisions moving forward.

Remember the abundance of one of a kinds and you’re training will benefit significantly.

3) Find your tribe.

I call it your tribe, but you might call it something else? Your community? Village? Your people? Whatever you call it the idea is to surround yourself with the right people [and don’t compromise your values].

Unfortunately, however, some of us aren’t always surrounded by the right people and this can be quite stressful. especially if there’s pressure to do things that conflict with our values. Consequently as you move forward in 2018, endeavour to find that group of people that you resonate with and that support your mission.

Lucky for you these “tribes” of supportive, highly skilled and willing to share people exist, you just have to find them. Additionally we are no longer bound by our location as the internet has opened up a world of possibilities where we can get the support we need online.

This is one of the reasons I set up my business Animal Training Academy where I’ve worked extremely hard within my membership area to create an online space that provides one such tribe for trainers from around the world.

In 2018 we of course need to be doing what we know is best for our animals welfare. Now more than ever we have to showcase to the world the amazing things we can do with positive reinforcement animal training and it’s all SO much easier when you can…

Find your tribe

4) Same-same but different (be creative).

This is something I know that Peter Giljam here at Zoospenseful is super passionate about. Personally, I would go so far as to say that, creativity (which I 100% believe you can learn) can be as important as your timing when training your animals. Consequently there’s value in learning how to flex this muscle…

To build your creative muscles let’s start with the questions you are asking yourself when things don’t go to plan. I say this because one of my favourite little sayings is “quality questions equal quality training.” Just a simple question such as “how can I do things differently?” can start to pave the way towards more creative solutions. To build on this can you change, what, when, where, who or how… your training is done??

Learning how to brainstorm well is another highly important tool that then can supercharge your creativity. Part of brainstorming successfully I believe is acknowledging that criticism can very quickly kill creativity! You can always evaluate the feasibility of your ideas later, once your’ve finished the brainstorming process , because in my experience sometimes it’s the crazy ideas that work out to be the ones that actually work the best!

And obviously it’s not just thinking the crazy ideas, but actually doing them; with the disclaimer that whatever we decide to do we are always focusing on positive reinforcement, good environmental arrangement and training plans that prioritise choice and control for our learners. In other words we want to be …

Same-same but different.

5) Choice is choice, bro

In New Zealand, we’re strange lol. We say “choice” to mean, cool or awesome. For example let’s say you’re co-worker just trained a super neat behavior with one of your animals, rather than saying “cool,” you might say, “choice, bro.”

And in our animal training and behavior management I think that… Choice is “choice, bro”.

Consequently, to the best of our ability we should always aim to give our animals the option to choose whether or not to participate in what we want them to do. We also want to be thinking about offering them new ways to communicate their choices with us. For example I read a paper recently where a horse was given a cue that meant “Do you want to wear a jacket today?” and the horse could say, “yes” or “no” via trained behaviors. The results showed a significant increase in likelihood that the horse would choose yes if the weather was cold and wet. “CLICK HERE to see this paper”

Additionally, It’s super important that we work hard to give choice to all the animals we work with.

For example last year I released a piece of content about punishment and the potential negative fallout of using it as a behavior change strategy. I also discussed why I advocate using positive reinforcement. As a result of this piece of content I received some feedback that suggested I could potentially get people killed. The suggestion was that if punishment was needed with a dangerous animal, not using it could jeopardize safety. I admit I don’t know the exact specifics of that persons situation so I couldn’t really comment, and obviously would never advocate anything that put a human or an animals safety at risk.

After reading this feedback though I found myself thinking that perhaps if this person found a good supportive tribe to brainstorm and be creativity with there might have existed the possibility of a different solution? I also thought that regardless of the outcome in their unique situation that didn’t mean that for the next similar situation they found themselves in they shouldn’t deprive that animal in front of them the choice to participate using positive reinforcement.

So, I just want remind everyone, to the importance and value of providing choice for every species and every individual to the absolute best of your (and your tribes) potential! One way to do this is to always ask the question “how can I give this animal more choice and more control” because …

Choice is choice BRO!

To find out more about Animal Training Academy and access a ton of free animal training resources head over to:

Animal Training Academy



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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