Through my time training animals, I’ve always found it very interesting to see how our energy can effect our animals. Using our energy with a variety of animals and observing their responses is an interesting way to keep the animals engaged without any other reinforcement strategies. Challenging oneself to go further than just simple food reinforcements, gives me the drive and mindset to see how far one can go by using Energy, Excitement, and Enthusiasm.
At the start of my career, someone gave me some valuable advice, they said ‘Use your energy to make the animal either excited or calm’. This technique isn’t something that can be done with all the animals in your care and you really have to pick and choose as every animal is different. But if you can read them well, you can apply the 3 E’s.
To begin, you need to think about energy levels. In nature animals lives aren’t stagnant, sometimes animals are relaxing, lazing about in the sun or sometimes they are alert or on edge, hunting or being hunted. When applying the 3 E’s, like in nature, you can manipulate your energy, from high peaks to low valleys and levels in between to keep it interesting for the animals you work with. Most of what you do in these sessions strengthen or maintains a relationship you need to work with the animals but you can also use them to build a relationship.
It takes practice to play with the energy levels you put forward. Everyone has this ability, it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with yourself at first and being able to read your animals.
Imagine you went into a training session and didn’t have an animals primary reinforcement. How could you communicate to that animal they’ve done a great job? How could you capture that animals attention? How can you encourage that animal to interact? The goal is to make yourself entertaining, fun, interesting to be around, to where food reinforcement becomes secondary or irrelevant can be a very rewarding challenge. I have had sessions where animals preform behaviours with a mouthful of reinforcement and are just looking at what comes next.
This can be a great technique but there are some obstacles along the way. Learning your own patterns of walking, speaking, or swimming and the control you have over your body is an important factor. Breaking a pattern for the animal and doing the unexpected is what creates energy and the excitement. Along with with your enthusiasm, these three work very well.
If go a step further, we need to be conscious of the energy level we put forward. If we always give the animal the same type of energy level, the animal may start to think that this is the norm. They then become desensitised and think that this nonstop dance party or ridiculously high voice isn’t anything new, and their energy levels will reflect this. That’s where if we aren’t careful, we will create other challenges we have to work with.
Using changing energy levels for reinforcement is a tricky business, because now you need to know your animal even better and start thinking outside the box. I honestly believe that it’s possible to succeed using the 3 E’s, we just have to observe on a different level and think about our animals needs and interests a little differently. I enjoy pretending that I’m going to do something, while the animal looks to me as if to say, “What are we going to do next?” This behaviour also gives me the choice to reinforce their stable behaviour of staying with me, focused and engaged. When I explode with energy, their criteria increases; just by pretending to do something they will not expect. To be successful we have to be sure that we change the behaviours and our behaviour all the time; we need to know our own body patterns, reinforcement patterns, and behaviour patterns so our variability stays high. Read about the Premark principle HERE.
When I first started working in Sweden, I had the privilege of working with a deaf, male dolphin. He was a very calm and laid back animal. I tried this energy, excitement, and enthusiasm strategy with him and he started to vocalize, making sounds no one had heard before, I guessed out of excitement. The trainers looked at me and said, “Wow, in all the years I’ve worked with this animal, I never heard him sing like this before.” After a couple of weeks, I just had to show up and he would start singing. I learned here that using your energy in the correct moments, can go very far in behaviour and relationship.
We can’t forget that there is a fair balance in all of this. We can use our energy to reach higher criteria in behaviour but we want our animal to be focused when doing so. The part where the enthusiasm comes in will be especially when we give the animal the reinforcing consequence. This means that we can give them a full dance if they see this as reinforcing. Afterwards, we need to calm ourselves down again to get the animal to focus for the next behaviour we are going to ask. This all means that the animal has to learn and understand your body language, the same as you needing to know the animals.
If you can read the animal well, try these techniques, put the buckets, treat pouches down and see if you can be enough to capture their attention, if you can you will be amazing at building relationships.