In the last 2 years I have changed my thoughts on many different topics. Reading books about psychology made me reflect a lot of different characteristics we humans have into animals. Anthropomorphism might come to mind with you reading this story but that’s not really what this is all about.

The other day doing my usual things I started to think about responsibility. You know how each and every one of us is responsible for their own thoughts, sayings and actions. We have the power to change our thinking and what we say. Nobody else has your responsibility. What comes to mind for me thinking about this is; do animals take responsibility from their own actions? In a good and a bad way?

Responsibility; To accept consequences of every choice you make.

We are very into animal training and what we think is best for the animal’s outcome. The first detail we have to think about is the animal’s natural history. What do they do by nature? When a dolphin is mad they jaw pop. A bison rolling around in the sand seem to have a positive arousal. An antelope prefers to flee and their ears move like music coming from every corner of their environment. There are so many different behavior’s the animals show us.

The other day I bought a book called “Curiosity”. I was extremely excited receiving the book and started to read right away. One of the first storied they mentioned was about a gorilla. Me as an animal lover got into it right away and what interest me even more is what happened in the story. The story was about a researcher and a gorilla. They had a touch screen for the animal to tell us what it wanted through connecting photos to objects and so on. The gorilla knew hundreds of different objects. Within the group of gorillas there was one female, a 1 year old female that was extremely close to the gorilla participating in the study. The 1 year old had never been trained for this research project but showed a tremendous amount of interest in the ipad that was set up. It started to press the buttons to see the reaction from the gorilla who new the touch screen. The 1 year old got responses such as chase me out of her by using the ipad. Incredible that she learned this by observation and the curiosity of doing. But just as us would the gorilla also think about why it is a gorilla same as why we ask ourselves why am I me?

Responsibility comes with many different scenarios. For example you are responsible for you own thoughts but also for you new born baby. There are many ways to be responsible. From the standpoint of bad behavior or what we concider bad behavior is the animal conscious of its behavior being bad because we concider this so? If so the animal should take full responsibility but can you measure this?

The other day working with some of our animals one of the trainers asked the animal to go into a blood sample position the 2 year old for some reason responded to the signal but didn’t proceed in the behavior. After 2-3 tries the trainer said oke Time Out! We walked away and my head started to work on a higher pace to just think about the consequence that had been given and if the animal would actually understand why it got a Time Out. Did the animal take responsibility for its mistake or are we just labeling this response from the animal as they should know and there for a Time Out? We came back after 4-5 minutes and tried again. In theory if the Time Out was given properly and the animal would understand it correctly and took the responsibility she would be fine this time you would say, well the animal showed us differently. We discovered that the trainers shoes were different. We tried again without the shoes this time it went a lot better but still not good enough. Another Time Out was given by the trainer and I was wondering hmm.. ok it’s a trainers choice but over time the animal hasn’t seem to learn anything really. What we are doing is give a Time Out for the animals feeling of not understanding or being afraid what might actually be unfair to give the animal this response. Did the animal take the responsibility? We never know. Should we have taken different consequences? Definitely a YES!

Lets talk a bit more about the consequence, Time Out. The Time Out is considered a Negative Punisher. What means we take away everything what the animal finds positive. In the case of the blood sample it’s the trainer with the reinforcement. For a Time Out like any other punisher and reinforcer to be effective you have to time it at the exact moment you need to use it for the previous behavior to decrease in happening. My personal believe is that before using a Time Out there are many other ways to go first before even concidering taking one.

My job allows me to see many training sessions with many different animals. Very joy full what the trainers come up with as training goals or solutions for their animals to reach their training goal. Some trainers go very far in the choice and control subject what I really try to encourage trainers to do. Observing the trainers makes me see challenges as well and one of them is unnecessary Time Out’s or even accidental Time Outs given by the trainer. Many Time Outs are given due to the trainers frustration and not because the animal did something what was considered bad to the trainer. The accidental Time Outs is another one that we have to be very careful off. Trainers need to know the effect of their appearance to the animal and what kind of message it brings along. It happens all to often that trainers give accidental or unnecessary Time Outs. We can’t forget a Time Out is a Punisher.

What about the animals perspective of this whole Time Out Story? Some animals perceive the Time Out as a relief believe it or not. “Finally I can go away from this environment what I feel is scary”. This usage of this technique might as well reinforce the animal very much without you knowing it.

For me the main questions is, does the animal take responsibility for their actions in our training sessions?


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!


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.