Friday Fun: Amazing animal helpers

Here’s a cool video that’s been making the rounds on some of the training lists. It’s a 13 minute clip that was produced recently by an Australian television station. The clip focuses on the ways that people’s lives are being changed by animals. As the tag line says “From those paralysed by tragedy to those scarred by war, animals are transforming the lives of humans each and every day.”

As training techniques and technology advance, people are discovering more and more ways to train animals to help people. In the clip you’ll meet several service animals who have all been trained to assist their owners with day to day living tasks, including a dog, a miniature horse, and a monkey. The last part of the video features a program that uses horses to help war veterans.

Watch it here: Lives changed by animal helpers

Throughout the video, you’ll see video footage of Mona and her clicker trained miniature guide horse, Cali. Mona and Cali are quite the team and can navigate all sorts of obstacles and situations together, including a busy airport, which is included in the video. Although dogs have been used as guide animals for the blind for decades, the concept of using miniature horses for guide animals is fairly new. I think this is probably in part because of the rise of clicker training and positive training techniques. I’m not sure that a guide horse could be trained to be a successful service animal using typical negative reinforcement based horse training techniques, which generally rely on pressure, discomfort, and fear to motivate the animal.

I’d be interested to hear what you think about the monkeys in the video and the war veteran horse program toward the end of the clip. I know some people feel that there are both ethical and safety issues related to keeping monkeys as pets or a service animals. The war veteran horse program also raises some potential ethical issues, I think.

The program featured in the video uses the Join-Up method, which was invented and popularized by trainer Monty Roberts. During this training technique the horse is chased around a pen until it “chooses” to “join-up” with the trainer and stay with the trainer. However, many horse people argue that this training method is potentially very stressful for the horse as it activates the horse’s flight and fear responses. In addition, very little choice is actually involved when the horse “chooses” to be with the trainer. The horse is choosing between running laps around a pen and staying beside a person.

I hesitate to be critical, because it is clear from the video that these animals are making huge differences in the lives of their people. However, I did want to point out some of these things because some people who watch this video will know very little about animal training methods.

I wanted to share this video mainly because of the footage of Mona and Cali. So, if you watch it, make sure you watch those parts! The video captures the amazing bond between Mona and her guide horse and does a great job showing the feats that can be achieved when horses are trained with positive methods.

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