Animal Training Manual IV
Animal Training Manual
by Dolphin Encounters
Edited by NAPPA
Dolphin Encounters generously provided NAPPA with their professional “Animal Training Manual” to be revised for the training of the Potbellied Pig. We have edited this manual to apply to the training of our pet pigs. NAPPA wishes to express our appreciation to Dolphin Encounters and their generous donation. Animal Training Manual
Edited by The North American Potbellied Pig Association
Rules for the Road
Now that you have the tools and you have learned some of the functions and relations of the tools of animal training to each other, it is time to cover some general rules for applying them on a daily basis.
Always work your pig at its highest level of performance at any given time.
For example, each behavior has a set of baseline criteria, minimum requirements in order to be considered correct. Never accept the behavior if the criteria fall below this level. However, if the animal is doing well, work the animal at criteria slightly higher than normal. In the long run, you will raise the criteria and improve the behavior.
Always be prepared to run your session with a positive attitude.
Why should the animal want to participate in a positive way if you’re not prepared to? Even if things don’t go your way as the session progresses — wrong behaviors, poor criteria, poor attention, etc. — focus your positive attitude for behaviors done well and assume a neutral position for anything less. You will then establish your attitude as another reinforcer and the animal will look forward to working with you. Your obvious frustration can be a powerful reinforcer — don’t let that happen.
Always know what you want.
Don’t guess what you want and accept whatever you get. Discuss beforehand what exactly is to be bridged and reinforced. If you don’t know how to fix a problem, clearly take a timeout and move on to another behavior.
Always come back to problem behaviors with a plan as to how to get the criteria.
If trainers get in the habit of avoiding behaviors, the session will become a game where the animal sees how many behaviors it can make a trainer avoid. The problems will actually worsen if they are not addressed, spreading like a virus to other behaviors and then into interactions with other trainers.
As a general rule, novice trainers should attempt to ask for a behavior no more than three times. If the set up for the pig is correct and the signal is given correctly each time, then after three tries with proper timeouts, the trainer should move on and come back to the behavior later. Problem-solving skills are learned over time and new trainers should not expect to be able to get every behavior.
Also as a general rule, experienced trainers should attempt to address problems immediately or within that session. With experience, a trainer should be able to recognize the difference between a motivation problem and a communication problem. If it is the first, he/she should be able to break down the problem as to where the motivation is weak and pinpoint appropriate reinforcement there. If the problem is due to the latter, the trainer should be able to break down the behavior where more information is needed and provide it there such that the animal may succeed.
EXCEPTION 1: The exception to the above rules applies to aggression and sexual behaviors. Any animal showing aggression or sexual behaviors towards a person or trainer is to be removed from that environment. Whether the people are removed from the are or the pig is gated away from that area, the message must be clear. Aggression or sexual behaviors towards any person is not acceptable. These two motivation problems are very self-reinforcing for the animals and all opportunity to interact should terminate at that time. The behavior that preceded these events should be addressed later when the animal’s current state of motivation has declined.
EXCEPTION 2: There are times in an interactive program where a trainer simply cannot correct a behavior in the allotted time frame. For example, if all of Porkchop’s figure 8s were incorrect and timeouts were not effective, a trainer cannot just continue to repeat these behaviors until correct. This is when a training session should address that one behavior only. The animal must know that a behavior cannot just simply be done incorrectly every session until the trainer must move on to the next behavior.
The training session enables you to address the problem directly without any limitations of a series of behaviors and sets up the animal to be reinforced for the correct behavior. Remember this saying: you get what you train. If you spend the extra time in a program or in a training session getting exactly what you want for a behavior and reinforcing it, you will probably get that again in the future. If instead you except lower criteria or just move on without being direct, than you will have the same problems over and over.
EXCEPTION 3: Sometimes animals will discriminate between training sessions and programs to the point where they will perform the behavior well in training sessions but not in a program. If this is the case, a trainer may just choose to end the program and commit larger amounts of reinforcement to the behavior when done well in the program. However, point be known: most animals discriminate between training sessions and programs because the set ups are different. If a trainer can set up the same conditions or, better yet, make the conditions more challenging than those in the program, the animal is less likely to discriminate between sessions. In fact, if the behavior is challenged to higher criteria in training session, the trainer is more likely to get improved criteria in programs.
The point is clear though: a trainer must address problems at the soonest possible opportunity, otherwise the animals will learn avoidance for any behavior they so choose. A trainer should not get caught up in the pace of program such that he/she does not take the time to address problems. Make time to fix problems or they will snowball into an uncontrollable nightmare.
Never reinforce a bad bridge.
If the behavior was wrong, it was wrong. You only worsen a problem by rewarding the incorrect behavior. If you make the mistake of bridging and not rewarding often, the bridge will lose its value and the animal won’t listen to it anyway. Bridge or no bridge if a reward follows a behavior done wrong, you have just increased the likelihood of the pig doing it incorrectly again. In most cases, poor bridges come from you not knowing what you want and deciding that it was incorrect when the animal was on its way back for the reinforcer. You must know what you want, otherwise don’t bridge and definitely do not reinforce.
Always use targets to tell the animal exactly where it is suppose to be.
If the pig move away from you before the signal is given to go do a behavior, don’t accept it. If the animal comes to you as you attempt to reinforce it, don’t reinforce it. Take the time to target the pig in place and reinforce when they stay in place. Targets allow trainers to be specific. If the imaginary target is not enough and the animal has “forgotten” where it should be or how to do it correctly, then use a real one —- target the toy, hands or otherwise. You make your job harder and the pig’s if you leave them to guess what you want. You are a leader and must guide them to success by being clear. Use your tools wisely.
Always begin an interaction when the animal is paying attention to you.
Do not beg the pig to join you by snapping your fingers endlessly. Do not wave a hand target in its face if you know it has no intention of targeting immediately. Do not step forward until the animal is showing you it is ready. If possible, don’t even start the behavior until the animal is up and looking for your attention. Most of all do not accept the animal immediately after it has just returned from intentionally walking away from you. Each of these actions degrades your relationship with the animal!
In order to be a leader, you must make the pig believe the interaction is based on your schedule, not it’s schedule. Every time you look out of the corner of your eye and see the animal hopeful in anticipation for your attention, that is the time to give it. If you are a reinforcer, you must offer yourself when the animal is giving its attention. More and more, you will see the animal looking for you and giving you attention when least expected!
Always give the animals breaks before they need them.
If you don’t give an animal a break, it’s going to take one anyway, whether it walks off or just plain ignores you. If you find the animal deciding when to leave instead of you giving it an opportunity to leave, then you don’t have enough breaks built in to your session. You have lost the animal’s attention and it believes you aren’t going to give it breaks anyway… so now who is in control?
Just as important as starting with the animal’s sharp attention, it is essential to end on it as well. The perfect time for a short break is after the animal has done well for chains of behaviors or short periods of interaction. End with the reward you intended and remove your attention from the animal. Remove your hands, your eye contact, if needed, just walk away. Make it obvious to the animal you have released it.
A break can be ten seconds or two minutes but the gap in time should be apparent to you and the animal. If there are other animals or other trainers in the area, the break should be brief such that the animal does not use it as an opportunity to go harass the other animals or trainers for attention. If the animal is so keyed into getting attention, keep the breaks short in these cases or time them so they coincide with breaks taken by the other trainers and animals. Then, when you are ready to begin again, out of the corner of your eye look to see if the animal is looking for you and grab that opportunity to start the next period of training!
So what is the difference between a break, a timeout, and an animal just walking off on you? The first two are done under the trainer’s control. They are a means to improving your relationship with the animal. The last one, walking off intentionally, is when your relationship has broken down. If you are doing well with an animal, the first one (break) should occur far more often than the other two. Timeouts should be used to re-establish criteria when the animals are challenging the trainer and then breaks given after the problems are solved, ending on a positive note.
Always try to end a session on a positive.
If a pig learns that a session with its trainer always ends with failure and frustration, why should it look forward to its next session with that trainer? You as a trainer should appear to the animals as a leader, one who challenges them and one who entertains them. They should know that you also have discipline and will work them to and above criteria. In most cases you will try to end the session meeting those goals by setting up the animal to succeed, choosing steps that help you both to reach your goals through teamwork.
Sometimes, though, you have to make your point and walk away. The animal must know that it is teamwork to reach the goals and if they just don’t want to work on that level, you have the choice to leave to make your point. However, this is only effective if the animal is still present and if the choice to walk away is done rarely. If the animal has already left, it doesn’t care whether you leave or not. If you rarely walk away, the animal will actually be surprised and realize that there are consequences to such poor participation.
Always set yourself up to succeed.
If the animal is not ready for the next behavior, don’t give the signal. If everything is no not in position for the behavior, don’t give the signal. If you don’t know exactly what you want, don’t even ask the animal to do the behavior. Setting yourself up to succeed means establishing all the precursory conditions such that when you do initiate a behavior, you have the best possible opportunity to succeed. In fact, it is not just you succeeding. It is the animal, the other people involved, and even the presentation of the whole program.
Just as important as reinforcing the outcome of a behavior, the precursor conditions for doing a behavior must be reinforced as well. Take the time to reward proper attention, body position and placement. By taking the time to reinforce the animal for being ready, you will set it up to be ready for anything. You will also avoid anticipation, that irritating habit of the pig trying to be one step ahead of the trainer. Always, always, always set yourself up to succeed!!!
Always reinforce with magnitude when the behavior is done correctly the first time.
How many times should a signal be given before the pig does the behavior? ONCE!!! If you intend to have the signal mean “do this behavior now!” then give it once and give it in that way. Do not give the signal three times in a row and accept the behavior then. If a signal is ignored, give a distinct timeout. If you must give it again and the behavior is done correctly, then reinforce but reinforce only with magnitude if it is done correctly on the first signal given.
How many times should the behavior be done before it meets criteria? ONCE!!! If you intend the behavior to be good from the first repetition to the last, then train it that way. Don’t accept the first attempt if it does not meet criteria. If you bridge the next, reinforce but reinforce only with magnitude if it is done correctly on the first trial.
Classic example: a trainer is having difficulty getting a pig to come. Finally, after a number of frustrating attempts, the pig comes. The trainer, caught up in the frustration of getting the behavior, reinforces a pitiful amount of food and attention, and then leaves the pig. The next session the results are the same, frustrating and slow. If the trainer has not invested his/her effort in the animal once the behavior has been done correctly, why would the animal want to come any better than before? If the trainer has not emphasized the difference between “okay coming” and “excellent coming,” how is the pig to know?
To make the distinction, first the trainer must not show frustration when the behavior is incorrect. Concentrate all attention, food or other rewards when the animal comes correctly. Second, the trainer should (in most cases) ask the animal to do the behavior again and use magnitude for an improved response time and criteria. Third, in following sessions the trainer should make it clear that this tremendous magnitude will only be available on the first try. You must be clear and consistent. You must create a positive history of that behavior for the animal to do it well!
Always remember that a behavior is only as reinforcing as its history of reinforcement.
If you haven’t rewarded a behavior well in the past, why would the animal want to do it well? If you haven’t rewarded the animal in a particular area well, why would the animal want to go there? Just because pigs live with you doesn’t mean they will want to go anywhere you give them an opportunity to go. In other words, what you get is what you have trained.
Every behavior, every location, every object, is only as reinforcing as you have made it with your collection of rewards. For example, you like to use soccer balls for reinforcers but your animal has very little reinforcement history with soccer balls, or in fact, any type of balls at all. To make the balls reinforcing, you must pair them with primary rewards such that you create a history of enjoyment for the animal associated with the balls.
In another example, you observe your pigs playing under a shade tree in their own time, but when you attempt to work them under the tree they refuse. Just because they like the area in their free time doesn’t mean they associate that with the opportunity to work with you there. They may by chance, but it is not likely. You must create a history of rewards associated with that area by working behaviors there. Over time, it will become another positive area that adds to the variety of your relationship.
Always balance consistency and variety in your relationship with an animal.
Relationships need both. For consistency, you need to tell the how and where you expect a behavior to be done. You also need to create a history of rewards that the animal likes. For variety, you need to vary when you ask for a behavior and when you will reinforce it. You also need to vary which rewards are used and how much of each is given. By being predictable in the first set of conditions, the animal will look forward to working with you. By being unpredictable in the second set of conditions, you will create interest in you because just about any behavior is possible and any number of cool rewards may be given!
Your attitude must be consistent. If you had a rough night or you are distracted by personal problems, don’t bring them into your session. All the animal cares about is how you interact with it. To gain its respect and attention you must focus your positive attention on it with consistency every session.
Your discipline must be consistent. You cannot praise the animal for doing a behavior correctly and also cuddle it when it has done poorly. You must create black and white responses for correct versus incorrect behavior. “Babying” an animal only lowers the criteria and creates frustration that can lead to aggression when the animal doesn’t get attention for every behavior, incorrect or not! By being consistent with your discipline, you will actually prevent frustration and therefore decrease the likelihood of aggression, both towards other people and other animals.
Your criteria must be consistent. You cannot take substandard criteria once and expect it to never happen again. Once you have rewarded less, you have rewarded the animal for challenging your criteria and the animal will challenge you more often. Turn the situation around, challenge the pigs when they are doing well and raise the criteria slowly over time. Communicate improvements in criteria with other people so everyone is consistent with that behavior with that animal.
Vary your chains. Don’t ask for the same behaviors in a row all the time. It makes you boring! The animal will start doing behaviors incorrectly or doing the wrong behaviors as a way of telling you that you are boring! Remember that you are a leader so you must be one step ahead of the animal in keeping your training interesting.
Vary the sequence of behaviors in your program. Mix the required behaviors around. If you find every session going “sit-up, kiss, dance, feed, hurdle, figure 8,” then you are too predictable. Add some variety before the animal takes out its frustration on another person or animal. If every time within your sessions at the encounter you are going down the line of people “pet, dance-kiss, pet, hug-feed,” then you better change soon before your animal swims off or, worse yet, bites someone’s foot to get your attention. The number of repetitions of a behavior is performed becomes unimportant to the animal if you ask for them in interesting combinations. Create that environment!
Vary your rewards. Do you always feed after the same behaviors? Do you always deliver large amounts of food in handfuls? Do you always use rubdowns with only certain behaviors? Are rubdowns always the same length in time? Do you only use toys in play sessions? Watch out… you are about to become boring! Rewards are meant to grab the animal’s attention and point out, “Hey, I really liked what you just did!” If the rewards become mundane, they lose their value. Trainers get into phases where certain rewards are used more often than others. Don’t let the novelty of your rewards wear out. Switch them daily or weekly to keep them interesting.
All the tools discussed and the general rules outlined are guides for consistency. There are many different schools of training and styles of training to choose from, however only one is possible within a facility to create a positive working environment, for pigs and trainers. The ones outlined here are intended to promote consistency between you as the trainer and your pig as well as consistency within the other people who are training in your home.
As you gain experience and learn the subtleties of these tools, you will know what is important and what to reinforce. You will set goals and achieve them one at a time and progress to the next. No matter what your level of experience, you must always remain open to learning. You must always look at your training and find weak spots to improve, areas where your criteria has dropped or places where you have become way too predictable. When you do all of these things, you will become a leader for the animal. You will be an inspiration for other people to learn and to appreciate the potbellied pigs with which you work.
©Dolphins Encounter as Edited by the North American Potbellied Pig Association.
NAPPA will be offering the complete training manual over a period of months. So check your News next month for information about “Bridge”.