At Zoospensefull we talk very much about the variation we can give to the animals. Variation is not as hard as we think it is. If we just look at their food intake for example and start to think from there. We can use various types of food and we can give it in different ways.

How far variation can go depends on the specie you work with but not only on the specie also on the individual, how its been trained and what his or her history. This makes variation all of a sudden a lot harder you would say but hold your grounds its easier than we think.

When we start to train a “new” specimen we look into what they eat at first. Afterwards we start to try and see what else we can use. This way we can implement some kind of variation in their primary reinforcement. When this list is set we start to see how we can give the reinforcement. It’s not more difficult than just mix up 1 type of food with another. With 3 different types of food they enjoy your variation can be endless.

For quite some time we have looked into various species and just observed what they do when a particular food is given. We want to share with you our findings to give you success from the start!


Giraffe eating willow as food source

I love talking about those guys. We have tried so many different things and it has been such a fun start of our training. We discovered many new foods the animals enjoy. Mind you the zoo I work at is in the forest what gives us a lot of opportunity to try different plants. So here it is:

  • Willow
  • Pellets
  • Grass
  • Blueberry plants
  • Salad leaves (Roman salad, iceberg salad etc)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower leaves
  • Asparagus
  • Celery
  • HS-35 (Alpha-A)
  • Carrot
  • Paprika
  • Apple
  • Bread
  • Banana
  • Avocado

Pellets is always a hot choice for hoof stock. It has the right nutrition if you use the correct one. The different kind of leaf plants is a funny one because we tried so many different plants and we come down to willow as the one that functions best. Blue berry plants work as well and so does dandelion leaves. We try to get control over our feeding, this way we have a stronger effect on their behaviour due to a better consequence given. The green color is what fits in their nutrition plan, the orange color is if you don’t have anything you can, the red is a no go.

White Rhino

The food white rhinos prefer is fresh grass

This was a funny interaction I have seen with them. The reinforcement isn’t easy with these animals and we fall back to easy pellets once again. But we have tried stuff and here is the list that worked!

  • Ensilage
  • Fresh grass
  • Lucerne pellets
  • Hay
  • El-e-vit

Funny story was that once we tried to get the rhinos following us from area to area what we did with success. Of course, we wanted to reinforce them for this so there for we threw 1 to 2 apples at them. Many animals would eat it but a rhino smells it and ignores it completely. Same happened with carrots. They do not seem to like so many reinforcers other than the list mentioned. We did try and give this in many different ways such as adding water and mixing it up. They are picky eaters.

Fallow Deer

Challenging their fresh grass with another food source isn’t always easy

Training fallow deer’s is a different story. For us the main reason is the fact that they have a huge exhibit with green fresh grass everywhere. Finding a reinforcer that can compete against this isn’t tall to easy. We tried many different food sources and discovered the following:

  • Standard pellets WORKS
  • Broccoli DOESNT WORK
  • Cauliflower DOESN’T WORK
  • Carrots WORKS
  • Potatoes DOESN’T WORK
  • Beet pulp DOESN’T WORK
  • Luzerne pellets DOESN’T WORK
  • Willow leaves (They prefer other things but will take it if you don’t have something else)
  • White cabbage DOESN’T WORK
  • Pear WORKS
  • Apples WORKS
  • Leaf eater WORKS

Not to talk about what we mixed together and what not. Many things are depending on individuals as well. Some do eat certain things better and some individuals just not at all.

Alpine Ibex

Ibex are picky eaters

Recently we started to train these animals for a research project. Its a fairly new specie for us to discover this way. Also with them we are trying many different reinforcers and some with success and some not at all. We discovered directly that they are very picky with food. If this is a goat type of thing I really don’t know. Here is the list:

  • Standard pellets
  • HS-35 or Alpha-A
  • Green grass
  • Hay
  • Luzerne pellets
  • Deworming pellets (Seasonal)

While mixing other things into their pellets such as apple, cauliflower and carrots they will separate these items and leave them behind for other animals in the exhibit. Recently we also discovered that deworming pellets work but well you know about that. You don’t want to use that all year long neither.

European Bison

Primary reinforcement for a bison can be many things

Yes we have tried to train bisons and with success. The ones we trained is a group of 5, 1 big male, 2 younger animals and 1 big female with her calf. You know what, bisons are a lot easier when talking about food intake. They eat most of what we present to them.

  • Pellets
  • Potatoes
  • Sugar beet
  • Carrots
  • Willow
  • Green fresh grass
  • Apples

But there are things they don’t want:

  • White cabbage
  • Salade

Overall they are doing well with this list of reinforcers. The willow has worked very well and so do the pellets.

Beside food there are many more reinforcers we can give them, those reinforcers can vary from petting them to play to running as long as we know that they are conditioned to be reinforcers otherwise you might place a reinforcement in the wrong consequence and your behaviour might break down. We just try to be in their nutritional areas. The reason we start with food is that its an easy choice. What we have to think of is that we don’t label the food as their favourite because what will happen now is that the animals only want to train if you have that particular food source with you. We should be able to train without anything with us. Which means that we always have to make sure that all reinforcers given to the animals are connected to us. This will make us a lot more reliable reinforcement to the animals and there for we should use variation.

When the animal doesn’t know what the consequence will be but does know the consequence will be good the motivation level of the animal will be maintained on a high level and there for it will be more likely the animal is to remember it well and repeat the behaviour.



Categories: Trainer Talk


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!

1 Comment

4 techinque’s you need to know to train hoofstock & ungulates  - Zoospensefull · October 28, 2022 at 16:52

[…] 4 techniques you will reach the successes you need with training hoofstock. Have you seen this article? Which explains some reinforcers wit 5 different hoofstock […]

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.