I volunteer with ORCA at the Heard Museum about once a week. (ORCA is a lab in UNT’s behavior analysis department that focuses on animal training.) One project for this semester is crate training the museum’s two blue and gold macaws. During the fall and spring, Texas can have crazy temperature fluctuations. Some days it might be lovely weather for the birds to be outside and a day later it might dip back to frigid temperatures.
Training the birds to voluntarily walk into a crate is a humane way to transport them. This will be a quite valuable skill for the birds, as it will make it easy for the staff to transfer them from their outside habitat to their inside cage. We worked a bit with the female this morning. Although we’ve just recently started this, she is already making good progress at approaching the opening to the crate.
Good animal training is all about communication–making it easier for animals and people to get along. We want ways to be able to interact with our animals safely and humanely. Training helps animals learn how to be successful in an environment run by humans.
Animal training is a learned skill. This is contrary to the popular view, which views many animal trainers as having a gift or natural talent. Of course, many trainers are truly talented. However, good training skills are developed and refined through practice (and lots of it!), hard-work, and education. Much can be learned from watching and interacting with other trainers.
This weekend, I’ll be hanging out with and learning from some awesome trainers. OCRA is hosting it’s second annual Art and Science of Animal Training conference. The speakers include Bob Bailey, Alexandra Kurland, Ken Ramirez, Robert Epstein, Kay Laurence, Steve Martin, Steve White, Jen White, Cassie Malina, and Jesús Rosales-Ruiz. (Check out my notes from the 2009 conference!) I am super excited, it should be a weekend packed with tons of great discussions and learning. If you’re interested, you can read more about the conference on the ORCA website. It’s going to be an action-packed weekend, but I’ll be sure to share some of my notes and what I learn in the upcoming weeks.