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Success Starts With Observation; Antecedent Arrangement

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How many of us look around the exhibit, to all the animals and the people etc before starting a training session? Throughout my experience I have seen many start of sessions that already went into incorrect animals from the start. Antecedent arrangement is more important than you think. Sometimes its better to skip a session then to force it.

Starting a session is as important as the timing of ending a session in my belief. Both can have such a huge impact in our successive approximations and our relationship with starting and ending the session well. The start of the session depends on the first meeting the keepers have in the morning. At such a meeting we talk about what we would like to do in the day and see if we find a moment to reach some training goals. This is the moment when we already think about antecedent arrangement. Maybe a morning feed is good but not if you want to train them 5 minutes after the feeding for example. The vet that came by for some animals and 2 minutes later you start your session might not be the best start. If the vet is seen as something negative.

Starting a session is one thing, training a behavior another. We talk a lot about training a lion or Takin (Himalayan mountain goat) to do a lean in behavior at Kolmarden Zoo. How can we reach this behavioral goal? We talked about how targets can be used to train the animal to bring its hips to the 2nd target. Targeting and timing has to be strong from the trainer. What if we add a barrier in the exhibit where the animal has to pass as close as they can with their side facing you? You will have your line up behavior right away. This is antecedent arrangement in the exhibit.

At this point in Kolmårdens Zoo we are busy with training our fur seals quite some medical behaviors. When the big male is getting in heat he is not a big help and can have a lot of effect in the training session of some of the ladies. We know this beforehand and therefor take him to another exhibit or have a session with him at the same time what gives us more success with the females. It is very important to know what’s happening in the environment of the animals we work with to become more successful in our training.

Antecedent Arrangement: A way to describe how the environment that the animal is in has been set up, deliberately or not. The antecedent arrangements determine which behavior the animal is most likely to perform.

We’ve been talking a lot about observation, here is a blog I wrote a while ago about the importance of observation, and I think its one of the key aspects in animal training. Observe when you come into work, when you want to train, when you pass by the animals, when we train all has effect on your sessions. When we observe we start to know what the animal enjoys and can use this for them as reinforcement. But also we can get the animal being better at what he does because of the antecedent arrangements. Every department I pass by antecedent arrangement is a high topic.

A human thought comes in quickly when we want to train. I say it right here, ”when we WANT to train”. There are times when the animal just doesn’t want to. Why should we try if we already know it’s not going to happen? A lot of times it’s a time management issue, well if we don’t do it now we don’t have time to try again, but hey you know what? Many times you progress faster when you just don’t even try.

Therefor we have to observe our animals well enough to see what is a good moment to start a session.

We should think more about our environment when we want to start training. By accident we trained our older fur seal that lie down means search for gelatin. We had forgotten a couple times to clean the floor after the others and she discovered this pretty quickly. Now lie down means vacuum the floor. We should’ve been better with our arrangements to get her criteria where it should be.

We all make mistakes but with thinking about consequences that potentially could happen we can prevent a whole lot of problems on the way by proper arrangement of the environment to get our animals more successful on a higher pace!

Peter Giljam

“Thinking Outside the Zoo”

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