How to Train Your Goldfish

Col. Konrad Most, one of the pioneers of modern animal training, began training service dogs while serving in the Royal Prussian Police in 1906. His book on the subject, Training Dogs, described many of the basic elements of operant conditioning—including reinforcement, extinction, and shaping—that American behaviorist B.F. Skinner would later popularize. If Most were alive today, he’d probably get a kick out of the Canis Film Festival, which features videos of owners using operant conditioning to train their pups, and appreciate that the same principles he used to train his dogs are now applied to many other species, including chickens, llamas, and even fish.

The Commercialization of Animal Training

In 1943, Marian and Keller Breland, who had worked under Skinner, founded Animal Behavior Enterprises in Minnesota.

(As one of the commenters on Matt Soniak’s recent article about the CIA’s plan to use cats as spies said, an entire article could be devoted to Marian Breland’s life.)

At ABE, the Brelands trained all sorts of species for television and movie roles, circuses, theme parks, and zoos. The couple helped establish positive reinforcement, rather than punishment, as the preferred technique to train animals. ABE-trained chickens were advertising farm feeds by 1947, and the Brelands authored an instruction manual about behavioral analysis for other trainers. Keller Breland died in 1965, the same year that Bob Bailey, who was the first Director of Training in the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program, joined ABE. Marian married Bob and became Marian Breland Bailey in 1976. Twenty years later, the couple founded Bailey & Bailey Operant Conditioning Workshops.

Here are a few examples of animals that are trained using operant conditioning today.

Chickens

In 1975, Terry and Bill Ryan founded Legacy Canine Behavior & Training. During the 1980s, the couple began hosting canine training camps in their home state of Washington. Turnout was strong from the start, but the Ryans wanted to broaden the reach of their training. In an effort to make the camps more accessible to owners who were unable to travel with their dogs, they started teaching the basics of operant conditioning, including the importance of rewarding a behavior at the correct time, by using rats in Skinner boxes.

In the early 1990s, Terry Ryan teamed with Kang Shallenberger, a retired dolphin trainer of 25 years at Hawaii’s Sea Life Park, and began using chickens as training models. “With a dog, you want to take short cuts and skip steps,” Shallenberger told the Lewiston Morning Tribune in 1993. “But as soon as you skip a step with a chicken, you’re lost.” Chicken training, which the Brelands had demonstrated nearly 50 years earlier, became an increasingly popular way for dog owners to hone their training technique.

Today, chicken training camps and workshops are held throughout the world. The aforementioned Bob Bailey, who has appeared as a guest at Legacy camps in the past, hosted chicken training seminars until his retirement in 2008. Using simple clicker training, chickens can be taught to play Tic-Tac-Toe and navigate obstacle courses.

Fish For $29.99, the R2 Fish School will give you the tools to teach your fish to “shoot hoops, limbo dance, play fetch, kick a goal, and much more.” The training kit uses positive reinforcement to combat the notion that fish only have 3-second memories. According to the site, “fish have shown the ability to swim through mazes, identify different colors, recognize types of music and even tell time.” The most famous graduate of the R2 Fish School is Albert Einstein, a goldfish, who currently holds the Guinness World Record for the fish with the most tricks. Fish that successfully complete the training course receive a diploma.

Cats
Among the many training-related products sold on the Karen Pryor Clicker Training website is a cat training kit that will help you teach your cat to come when called, play without scratching, and perform cute tricks. Are you sold? Clicker training, which Pryor popularized during her many years as a dolphin trainer, can also be used to toilet train your cat. Pryor launched the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior in 2007.

Alpacas and Llamas
According to her website, Cathy Spalding has been “actively involved with llamas and alpacas” since 1985. During that time, she has organized a Llama and Alpaca Symposium in Kansas City and authored a behavioral textbook, Llama Talk, which details llama behavioral cues. The resource is used by a number of schools, including the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell. Spalding teaches behavior and training clinics and offers private sessions. If you’ve ever wanted to train your pet llama to jump through a hoop or ring a bell, this is the blog for you.

Pigs

Priscilla Valentine claims her Potbellied Pig Behavior and Training Manual is the first and only book completely devoted to the behavior and training of pigs, and we’re inclined to believe her. Valentine’s pigs have performed at state fairs and other events throughout the country, and garnered numerous awards, including the Potbellied Pig Trick Champion title. Priscilla, who trains her pigs with her husband Steve, says she became fascinated with the animals after she was given a rubber pig as a toy when she was 3.

The Valentines’ most famous pig, Nellie, became a national sensation in 1991 after starring in “Jurassic Pork,” which won the couple $10,000 on America’s Funniest Home Videos. The Valentines’ training manual features tips for addressing problematic behaviors such as rooting and nipping, and includes a 10-step program for reducing aggressiveness in house pigs.

For the First Time Ever, a Mammal Has Been Declared Extinct Due to Climate Change

The Whitsunday Islands in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
The Whitsunday Islands in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
iStock.com/4FR

An Australian rat-like rodent called the Bramble Cay melomys is the first known mammal wiped out by manmade climate change, The Hill reports. The now-extinct animal (Melomys rubicola) lived on the tiny, uninhabited island of Bramble Cay in the Great Barrier Reef. Despite exhaustive efforts to track down the melomys over seven years, no signs of the rodent could be found, and in 2016, Queensland’s state government declared the animal extinct.

These fears were confirmed when news broke this week that the national government had quietly changed the rodent’s classification from endangered to extinct. Meanwhile, the status of a fruit bat called the spectacled flying-fox was changed from vulnerable to endangered after a recent heatwave in north Queensland, which dealt another blow to a population that had already been cut in half over the last decade.

As for the Bramble Cay melomys, its demise can be attributed to rising sea levels, storm surges, and other weather events that have worsened due to climate change. According to The Revelator, the tides destroyed about 97 percent of the island’s vegetation, which was the rodent’s only food source.

Leeanne Enoch, Queensland's Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the latest animal extinction is evidence “we are living the real effects of climate change right now.”

In a 2018 study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund, researchers found that up to half of the 80,000 plant and animal species that reside in 35 of the world’s most diverse areas could become extinct by the turn of the century because of climate change.

For some species, it’s already too late. A Hawaiian bird called the poo-uli (or black-faced honeycreeper) was declared extinct last year, largely due to diseases carried by mosquitoes, which thrive in warmer climates. For other endangered species in the U.S.—like the black-footed ferret, red wolf, and rusty patched bumble bee—there might still be time to step in and protect them.

[h/t The Hill]

A Fort Hood Mule With 12 Years of Army Experience Is Looking for a Forever Home

iStock.com/PamWalker68
iStock.com/PamWalker68

Attention, animal lovers: A mule in Fort Hood, Texas with more than a decade of U.S. Army experience is up for adoption. Tina the Army mule has been a part of the Fort Hood military base's 1st Cavalry Division Horse Detachment for most of her life, and now KWTX reports that she needs a place to spend her retirement.

Foaled in 1999, the Fort Hood 1st Cavalry adopted Tina in 2006. Since then, she has assisted in parades, weapons demonstrations, cavalry charges, and color guards for the division. She has experience pulling an M1878 Escort wagon in a harness as well as standing by calmly for ceremonies.

She worked as a draft mule until 2018, and now that she's retiring, Fort Hood officials are looking to find her a forever home. Tina has no health problems or dietary restrictions and enjoys eating Coastal Bermuda hay and pasture grass. Her sister Dolly, who died of bone cancer in 2018, was the only mule she's ever been paired with. Though Tina can perform light solo work, her new owners should be cautious about pairing her with another mule.

If you're interested in making Tina a part of your family, Fort Hood would like to hear from you. You can contact the current owners by emailing your request along with any questions to 1CDHorseCavalryDetachment@gmail.com by March 7. Once your inquiry is received, you'll be sent an application packet with instructions on how to proceed.

[h/t KWTX]

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