Animal Training Manual I

Animal Training Manual Part 1
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

“The following manual was written to provide you with the tools for training, those fundamental rules that create our relationship with the animals. These tools or ideas are based on studies of psychology and many generations of experienced trainers applying those ideas. To use them, you must first understand the function of each tool and how it relates to the others.

Just as when you build a house, there are many ways to do it and get to the desired outcome. It will be up to you to use these tools to build behaviors and relationships with your potbellied pig. You will need to watch, listen, and prove yourself to your pig.

How well you apply these ideas to your pet pig will determine the strength of their behaviors and the value of your skills as a trainer.

An Introduction To Training

In the world of animal training, anything you do, any action, is called a behavior and the particular way a behavior is to be performed is known as the criteria. If we were to sit back and wait for the animals to offer behaviors (actions) and reward them, we might wait quite a long time. We would probably get a number of unwanted behaviors (actions) as well, such as ignoring the trainer, running off, sexual or aggressive behaviors. Also, capturing a behavior (action) like this does not allow a trainer to “fix” a behavior (action) if any of the criteria (performance) is lost. In other words, whatever you get is what you get. In this type of training, the animal is the leader and decides what the criteria shall be.

Instead, if we chose to shape a behavior (action), we could ask your pig for a very specific learned behavior at any time. We would first plan the goal behavior and then break it down to small steps, with each step small enough for the your pigs to succeed yet challenging them to make progress towards the final goal. If the criteria (performance) of the behavior (action) were to break down, the trainer need only back up in the training steps to remind your pig of the specific criteria (performance) in question. In this type of training, the trainer is a leader and guides your pig to the criteria (performance).

You will guide your pigs by asking for specific behaviors (actions) that the pigs have learned. We don’t wait for the pigs to offer behaviors. Instead, we pick behaviors (actions) that make their interactions fun and interesting. We set the animals up to succeed by knowing the criteria (performance) of the behavior (action) and the history of that behavior with your own pig. In order to set yourself up to succeed, you need to put the pig in the proper position before asking for a behavior. Though most behaviors are finished rather rapidly, you will continue to shape your pig’s behaviors in every session, every single day.

You and your pig have a list of behaviors (actions), known as a repertoire, a list of behaviors he/she/it has learned and knows the details that define that behavior. Just as it is for your pig, your repertoire will be performance-based. Once you have mastered a skill or behavior, you will move on to the next one. Long before you begin working with your pig, you must first learn the fundamentals of training. You must master the language of animal training (animal psychology) in order to communicate well with your pig.

You will then prove what you know with hands-on experience with the most fundamental behaviors (actions) of animal care — husbandry behaviors. These are medical behaviors which help your to ensure the health of your pig each day by allowing you to physically and voluntarily examine your pig and, in some cases, obtain medical samples. When you have mastered these behaviors, and you prove on a daily basis that you can maintain high quality behaviors, identify problems, and reshape behaviors, then you will begin to train new behaviors.

Outwardly, this training program will develop your skills as a trainer. On a more subtle level, it will develop the confidence you will need as a pet pig parent and begin the relationship you will have with your pig. It is our goal to set you up to succeed. It is up to you to meet that challenge.

The Fundamentals

You need four fundamental tools to teach a behavior (action) to your pig: a signal, a target, a bridge and a reward. These tools enable you to describe to your pig which behavior is desired, when to do it, where and how to do it, and when it is correct. Just as much as words are language for people, these tools allow you to communicate with your pig in a clear and precise way.


The first of these tools — the signal — is called a discriminative stimulus or SD. Specific to each behavior, signals enable you to ask your pig to perform a particular behavior (action) that the pig has already learned. As you teach a new behavior to your pig, you also teach the signal with the behavior (action) by giving the signal each time before practicing the new behavior. Over time, not only does your pig learn the new behavior, but it also associates the signal with that particular behavior (action). Thus, you need only to give the proper signal to elicit the behavior rather than repeat all the steps used in training that behavior.

Signals are intended to be specific; therefore you must make every effort to maintain the consistency of each signal. You should not change signals. Not only must you be consistent in giving a signal but there also must be consistency if there is someone else involved in the training process with you. Subtle differences in the way trainers move their hands are expected but the specifics of the motion for a signal must be concise.

For example, most people speak English in the United States. Generally, the way words are pronounced and combined are consistent because of the rules outlined in the English language. However, if the dialect is too different between two different neighborhoods or cities, people cannot understand each other. Communication has broken down because the signals have varied. Trainers rely on hand signals to communicate with the animals and each person must adhere to a standard signal for each behavior (action) in order for the pig to understand each of us. The motion of your hand should be the same in size, speed and shape as defined by you when you learn each signal.

Any motion can be a hand signal, but each must be unique to each behavior (action). In order to make the hand motions specific, we have designated the following directions: horizontal, vertical, and at a 45 degree angle both up and down, left and right.

The more attention you pay to these basic angles, the more attentive your pig will be to each signal. Being specific with hand motions also gives you the flexibility to use one signal for different behaviors, distinguishing between the behaviors (actions) by the direction the signal is given.

Signals may be subtle or exaggerated body motions. Some prefer hand signals that are nearly undetectable from the normal movements of the trainer. Others prefer signals given within the following frame: width of the shoulders, across the hips and up to eye level. This general guideline not only gives the trainers a frame of reference for their signals, but also tells the animals where to look for signals. Excess motions only complicate a signal.

In many cases, signals are related to the nature of the behavior (action) to which they are associated, making them easy to remember. For example, the kiss signal is a point to the cheek of the trainer followed by a point to the person who is supposed to kiss. This signal refers to the actual spot where the kiss is to occur and pairs it with the information of whom is supposed to be kissed.

In other behaviors, such as a “come here”, the signal is not related to the development of the behavior (action) at all. These signals are creations by you for the behaviors. You can understand how important it is to make the signal unique to each behavior and not confuse those signals!

Response to signals is dependent on the relationship of you to your pig and the history of the behavior (action). Just because your pig knows a signal does not mean it will perform the desired behavior anywhere it is asked or for anyone who asks for it. For example, let’s look at two teachers in a classroom and the outcome of their actions as “trainers.”

Ms. Brown has had a class of students for the year and knows them well. She knows when to challenge them and how to reward them for proper behaviors. She also knows exactly what she wants to achieve with them and guides them to those goals as she teaches her classes every day. The children respond to her directions because of their relationship and the positive outcome of their learning.

Mr. Clark comes in as a substitute teacher. What do most students do when a substitute teacher first assumes control of a class? They first observe the teacher for his behaviors and instructions (i.e. signals). If Mr. Clark has spent time learning about this particular age group of kids (history), knows the curriculum where they left off (behaviors), and knows how to assert himself as a leader for these students, they will probably follow his instructions. But if he falters and is unsure what to expect (criteria), then the students will challenge his instructions and offer less and less.

Thus, it is not just the signal that makes a trainer. It is the entire relationship and repertoire of behaviors (actions) that are shared experiences between you and your pig. As a trainer, you must practice a signal until you feel confident. As a leader, you must know the criteria (performance) your pig must meet to properly perform that behavior (action) and show your confidence to your pig and yourself to meet the criteria (performance) when you give the signal.”

©Dolphins Encounter as Edited by the North American Potbellied Pig Association.