After listening to all the fantastic presentations at the Cooperative Care Conference 2021 a lot of new ideas came through which I thought I should focus on in my training. CER is one of them. CER stands for Conditioned Emotional Response.

There are 2 important parts when we train our animals for cooperative care. Number 1 is give the animal control over their own body. This makes the animal more confident and your relationship will go up. Number 2 is duration. If we train proper duration we need a tight plan. Not only that, we need to understand what we really want to achieve. Saying we need the animal in a position for an x amount of time isn’t enough. We need to think further. Mark Simmons said in his presentation “The animal should be happily bored”. 

This sounds kind off strange but if we go deeper into this thought you will understand what he is trying to say with his statement. The goal is to teach the animal to be in a mindset where they accept everything that is happening to their body. The animals emotional state is quite important here. You want your animal to be calm, very calm. We want the animal to relax completely. We want the animal to stay such a position for at least 25 minutes if we talk about a proper ultrasound procedure. 

This is where the CER comes in place. We teach the animal to have a calm emotion during the cooperative care procedure. Which in turn means that the training system you are applying to the animals is very important. The animal needs to understand that they have to do something, to get something. This sounds very easy but it is not. We need to teach our learners how a behaviour goal is build up through approximations. That building a behaviour can be done through different strategies. (we are talking about strategies where we have a positive effect on the well-being of the animals) We can use a variety of different techniques to train behaviours. At first we as trainers have to start and get used to write out a training plan at first. We are not only teaching the animal but we are training ourselves to be ready for the next approximation. Training an animal is not magic. It takes consistency and proper planned work from the trainer to be successful. 

Ultrasound at ZSL London Zoo with a Komodo Dragon

We have explained in previous webinars, workshops, courses and articles that training a cooperative care behaviour is not about how fast you can reach a goal. It is all about the strength of the behaviour. Including the CER of the animal. We need to build confidence from the animal to be part in their own care. A proper feeling and emotion comes with a successful cooperative care behaviour. We don’t want aversive’s to be in place such as holding the animal tightly (if the animal is not trained) because there will be a negative CER in place. We don’t want to use abuse to get to the goal at the vet because you will get a negative CER. At the other hand we also don’t want an animal that is extremely excited in the procedure we ask the animal to preform. This can as well a potential problem. 

What do we really want? 

We want the animal to understand the ABC structure. A signal is given then the behaviour is followed which has it’s own criteria, when the criteria is reached reinforcement will be present. The criteria is important in this case. Criteria is a guideline to a behaviour. How does the behaviour look like? We should ask ourselves as trainers to set the right criteria. 

Lie Down Behaviour with Tonsak at Kolmarden Wildlife Park. Signal is given, behaviour follows, responds to marker and is reinforced. A great ABC structure right here.

Part of criteria is the CER. Imagine asking an animal to open their mouth with an emotion of fear and frustration which hasn’t come out just yet. You as a trainer are in a really poor place with an animal that opens their mouth. All because a bite is actually very close to happening. 

We want the animal to preform the behaviour with a calm and very relaxed body posture to extend duration. Slow breathing, Relaxing muscles and a trusting look in their face. If you have all of that we can reach the goal a lost faster. Imagine the animal in an ultrasound position 25 minutes super excited all the way through. I don’t think you reach the 25 minutes. If the animal is in another headspace, we are able to reach that goal. 

CER is super important for cooperative care behaviours. The duration of the behaviour will be a lot better for the trainer and easier for the animal if we focus on the Conditioned Emotional Response. As trainers we need to understand the training system we apply. At the same time we need to make sure that the animal is understanding this as well. Which actually in many cases should be questioned. Film yourself training and you will find out. Does your animal really understand what you are trying to achieve?

Animals need to be happily bored! 

Want to build cooperative care behaviours with your animals? Need help with the mouth open behaviour? Or want to learn more about animal training in your situation? Send us an email at

We are here to help!

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

Nicki Boyd · February 22, 2022 at 03:00

Can we still watch presentations? I missed a few due to work trying to go back and watch them now (Cooperative Care Conference)

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published.

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