Animal Training Manual III

Animal Training Manual Part 3
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


Just as much as trainers shape desired behaviors, they also extinguish unwanted behaviors. Opposite to rewards, punishers decrease the frequency of a behavior that they follow. At any given moment, there are any number of stimuli that an animal is neutral towards or just plain does not like. Any of those would be considered a punisher.

However, punishers also provide the animal with a stimulus, such as yelling at an animal or spraying the pig with a squirt gun. The trainer may consider these things punishers, but the animal may be entertained by the trainer’s attention and is reinforced by getting the trainer all riled up!

Trainer’s Possible Responses For Any Behavior

Punisher Neutral Response Reinforcer

Incorrect Behavior Incorrect Behavior Correct Behavior

Stimulus No Stimulus Stimulus

Because a brief neutral response provides the least amount of attention, interaction, or reaction to an animal’s incorrect behavior, it has been proven to be a very effective means of extinguishing unwanted behavior. The Least Reinforcing Stimulus or LRS is typically a 3-5 second neutral response in which a trainer may maintain eye contact but not provide any other form of reinforcement. Especially in the use of interactive training, the LRS is a quick and consistent means of establishing that a behavior is incorrect and communicating that to the animal clearly. The trainer still maintains control of the animal while disciplining incorrect behavior. Look at the following two scenarios from the animal’s perspective:


Scenario #1

*Signal *Incorrect *Incorrect *Correct *Reward

Behavior Behavior Behavior

Scenario #2

*Signal *Incorrect *LRS *Signal *Correct *Reward

Behavior Behavior

In the first scenario, the trainer does not bother to take an LRS and has thus chained the incorrect behaviors with the correct one, reinforcing them all. In other words the trainer has just told the animal that it should do the behavior incorrectly at least twice before doing it right. In the second scenario, the trainer acknowledged that the behavior was wrong with an LRS and gave the animal time to think about what it had done. The trainer set himself up to succeed such that the reward reinforced only the correct behavior.

A timeout is generally considered a longer neutral response and also one in which the trainer may choose to remove himself or herself from the animal’s immediate environment, such as placing the pig in her room or entirely by walking away from the session. Lengthy timeouts have proven to be effective ONLY if used infrequently. When a timeout is used, it is up to the trainer’s discretion as to the length of neutral response to be taken in order to make the point intended.

Sometimes the situation in which the incorrect behavior arises will determine which neutral response is appropriate. For example, in a training session a trainer can take a timeout whenever needed, versus lengthy timeout would not be a good choice if the trainer were to leave the pig unattended when she is performing a very in appropriate behavior that could hurt someone. In addition, the animal may seek out another trainer to receive reinforcement from that person. Thus, if a trainer deems it necessary to completely remove himself or herself, the trainer must set-up the session such that the animal may not go to anyone else for attention or reinforcement.

The use of only reinforcers for correct behaviors and neutral responses for incorrect behaviors will create a black and white set of rules for the animal. If a behavior meets criteria it is correct. If not, a timeout is due. For trainers to be effective, a neutral response must immediately follow every incorrect behavior.

A timeout can be as little as three seconds or as long as needed, however to perform as an effective tool it must be long enough to allow the animal to recognize that the behavior just performed was wrong. The pig may not know how to do the requested behavior correctly, but it will know the behavior just performed was wrong and it should try something else. After the timeout, it is then up to the trainer to set up the animal to do the desired behavior correctly or show the animal how to do it correctly.

A timeout provides the animal with no stimulus and this is an important point. It is opposite in value to a reward. When an animal has performed the wrong behavior, the timeout clearly communicates to the animal that the trainer has no intention of rewarding it in any way. For example, if a child enjoys any kind of attention it can get from an adult, he/she will not care if it is praise or criticism. Thus, if the child misbehaves and the parent yells at the child, it is still a rewarding stimulus. From the parent’s perspective the yelling is intended as a form of punishment, but from the child’s perspective the attention is still a reward. Thus, a timeout is intentionally a neutral response with no stimulus to avoid any such confusion with rewards.

In addition, the term “punishment” has many negative connotations when used in the general public. People assume the term refers to actions such as yelling at an animal for doing something incorrectly, physically striking the animal by hand or object, or some other form of abuse. We as trainers never use these forms of punishment. They are counterproductive to the trust a trainer establishes with an animal and the positive relationship a trainer builds with an animal. Though the term punisher also decreases the likelihood of incorrect behaviors, we always use the terms neutral response or timeout when referring to how we discipline incorrect behavior in order to avoid negative interpretations.


All animals learn about the stimuli in their environment. Whether it is activity in the house, its living environment, sound, stimuli in the animal’s environment can effect their behaviors. The training technique of exposing an animal to a stimulus such that it reacts neutrally to that stimulus is called desensitization. By desensitizing an animal the things, places, sounds or events in its environment, a trainer increases the likelihood of the animal succeeding at any given behavior as well as increases the likelihood of the animal exhibiting its natural behaviors.

Case in point: a pig has never seen a harness and the trainer wants to train the animal to understand that the harness is an object the animal should treat neutrally. In other words, the animal should ignore the harness and not react to it in any way at all when in the vicinity of it or when touching it. Why? As a foreign object, the animal will probably avoid any contact with the harness. If the animal is afraid of the object, think of all the behaviors effected by the pig’s aversion to it! In order to set the animal up to succeed in any of those behaviors, the animal must be desensitized to harnesses in general.

Now, think how many objects, sounds, or places the animals under our care must learn about. Be specific! There are all the things people wear and do in the house, including TV, vacuum cleaners, radios, friends and neighbors. What about the size, shape, or gender of the people who come over to visit? And of course their mannerisms — the way each person acts or moves in the around the house — is also different. Each of these is a different stimulus that a trainer would want the animal to ignore for any differences.

What about the animal’s environment in general? Each home or building is different in size, with different noises and smells as well as the people who live and work in it. Compare a pig moving into a new building with a person starting a job at a new workplace. The person must get used to the way their office is laid out and he/she will perform all their duties. Initially, the person is unfamiliar with their new work area but, as he/she gets accustomed to the people and the office equipment, those tasks become familiar to that workspace and are more easily accomplished. In the same way, pig must be acclimated to its new environment in order to focus on the behaviors requested.

The most effective way of desensitizing an animal to a stimulus is to expose it to the stimulus at a distance or intensity in which the animal does not react in anyway. The animal should be rewarded while exposed to that particular stimulus, such as a harness; the behavior being reinforced is the neutral response. The trainer would then bring the harness closer or intensify the stimulus (such as with a sound or speed of a particular motion as putting the harness on the pig) and continue to reinforce the animal for its neutral response to that stimulus. Often times, trainers will work an animal such that it can see an object in question and eventually touch that object in any number of ways.

In the case of desensitizing places, a trainer may ask a pig to perform simple behaviors in different places within an area. The reinforcement for those behaviors will also make that particular area reinforcing. Any attempt by the animal to explore the area could also be captured by bridging and reinforcing at the moment it is observed.

Go back to the example of the new person. An animal may learn a kiss and hardly touches a person, but during a hug the animal comes in full contact with the new person. Though the animal may be familiar with the person from performing kisses, the pig may not be comfortable to the degree that the new person hug it. The trainer would take this into account when training the hug, reinforcing the animal when it shows an improved comfort level when coming in contact inadvertently with the new person during the behavior. Over time the animal will ignore the new person entirely and focus more on the hug itself.

In order to set the animal up to succeed, you must recognize when an animal is exposed to new stimuli and plan how to reinforce it to make those stimuli a neutral part of the animal’s environment. If you recognize something that the animal is uncomfortable with frequently, it is your responsibility to teach the animal about it. Watch the animals around very large people and small children. Each of these is a stimulus which trainers have taken the time to reinforce the animals around and will continue to do so. By reinforcing the animal to new stimuli, you will take a stimulus that has the potential to be a punisher and turn it into something the animal treats neutrally. By taking it one step further with frequent reinforcement, you can make that stimulus a positive part of the animal’s lifestyle.


When an animal is frustrated and needs an outlet for its frustration, it will usually express it through aggressive behaviors. For a pig, aggression includes behaviors such as biting, pushing, charging, or threatening another individual in a physical way, such as an open mouth or “head flip.” In animal training, aggression is defined as any physical threat towards another animal or any extension of another animal. Therefore, if an animal charges something, or intentionally knocks something from a trainer’s hand or “head flips” at a trainer, these are aggressive actions just as much as the animal directly biting the trainer’s hand.

Aggression is a means of controlling an animal’s environment and is generally used when the animal thinks that it does not have enough control of the environment around it. Think about that carefully. What is included in an animal’s environment? Guests. Trainers. Other animals. Objects. By offering the pig many positive alternatives to control their environment, the animals are rarely motivated to act aggressively. By creating a more reinforcing history for other behaviors, the pigs are more likely to exhibit those behaviors than aggressive ones.

Like any other type of behavior, motivation for aggressive behaviors must be built up over time, the animal learning that aggression is reinforcing. All animals — people included — practice small events of aggression before moving on to “full blown” aggression. For example, a murderer does not become a murderer without an aggressive history. Usually, this type of person has had a great deal of practice and reinforcement for behaviors such as stealing, physical abuse or other violent acts. If those initial aggressive events were prevented with more positive behaviors, it is unlikely that developed aggression like a murder would have ever occurred. Left unchecked, small aggressive behaviors shown by the animals will escalate to more serious acts of aggression if continually practiced.

At any given time, aggression is only motivating if it is more reinforcing in relation to the animal’s other motivations. In other words, an animal’s desire to be aggressive is always relative to its current desire for food, touch, toys or any other reward it wants. The main difference between aggressive behaviors and most other behaviors is that aggression is self-reinforced. Aggression is rewarded by a surge of adrenaline, a chemical causing what people refer to as a “rush.” Once an animal learns of the benefits of the control and adrenaline experienced through aggression, these powerful rewards will compete with what rewards a trainer has to offer.

Instead of competing with the motivation learned from aggressive behaviors, a trainer makes every attempt to avoid situations in which aggression would be promoted. Remember that the heart of aggression is heightened sense of frustration and lack of control from the animal’s perspective. Instead of making it too difficult for the animal to succeed, the trainer plans the steps needed to reach the desired goal behavior. The steps should still be challenging but also small enough that the animal has the likelihood of understanding what is requested and physically capable of completing that step correctly.

If an animal has already practiced aggressive behaviors — such as displacing another animal or pushing against a trainer — than the trainer must recognize the situations where these events are likely to occur in order to avoid setting up the animal to rehearse aggression again. In most cases, the most effective way of dealing with learned aggression is the use of incompatible behaviors. By asking an animal to perform a behavior which is specifically incompatible with the aggressive behavior(s) expected, then the animal has the choice to choose a positive alternative to aggression.

What every trainer must remember is that the behavior chosen must have a solid reinforcement history to compete with the animal’s motivation to perform an aggressive behavior. If you don’t normally reinforce well for the pig following your hand target and choose to offer a hand target in a situation where an animal is about to be aggressive towards another animal or person, the animal will probably not follow your hand target or pay attention to you. Why should it? First, you must invest your reinforcement in each behavior such that, when the time comes, you know the animal will choose to listen to you and follow your target. Second, you must reinforce well for the animal choosing the behavior asked over an aggressive one. Once the relationship between the animals has improved, you may choose to be more random as to when you reinforce behaviors, but always remember to create a solid history first.

For example a dominant animal learns that its dominance enables it to displace other animals, possibly stealing attention, food or toys. When Petunia displaces Piglet, she learns that not only can she control Piglet’s rewards, but also Piglet’s actions. In response, Piglet may shy away from normal behaviors or submissive positions in which Petunia may bite her. Because Petunia is self-reinforced by paying attention to Piglet, she is less likely to pay attention to her trainer. Thus, learned aggression can cause an entire cascade of negative outcomes for the animals and the trainers.

Each time trainers works two or more animals in one environment they must set up situations to include the following:

Plan and promote confidence in a lesser dominant animal.

(1) Individual behaviors should be chosen such that when the dominant animal is performing a behavior well, the submissive animal can perform its behaviors at a “safe distance” and finish either before or at the same time as the dominant animal. By using incompatible behaviors, Petunia will not have an opportunity to attack Piglet, Petunia will be reinforced for allowing Piglet to participate, and Piglet will gain confidence in her behaviors and trainer.

Plan and reinforce incompatible behaviors.

(2) Team behaviors should focus on getting the dominant animal to allow the lesser dominant animal to participate and (usually) should commit the dominant animal to participating first. By doing this, the trainer for Petunia can commit Petunia to a given behavior and know she is focused on the behavior before Piglet is asked to participate. Even if it is just a fraction of a second in difference between when the two signals are given, this technique establishes an incompatible behavior with an aggressive behavior.

Plan and promote teamwork.

(3) Reinforcement should be given simultaneously at first and work towards reinforcement at different times for each animal. Remember that reinforcers not only apply to the behavior just performed but also to any stimuli immediately occurring at the time of reinforcement. When two animals are fed simultaneously, the presence of the other animal is made more reinforcing. Always finish feeding the dominant animal last or simultaneously. Never before the lesser dominant animal.

When full-blown aggression occurs, the pig must know that behavior is clearly unacceptable and be removed from the session. No exceptions. In no uncertain terms shall the animal be allowed to continue to participate, either with people or other animals. To prevent further aggression, the animal should be recalled, come to your hand target, and reinforced for both. If a timeout is possible without allowing further aggression, then it should be brief. Then, either the animal should be gated away from that area or the people removed from the area. It is essential that all trainers are consistent with these standards to promote a safe environment if and when aggressive behaviors occur.

Often trainers argue that an animal should not be reinforced for recalling, coming to you or separating from the area following acts of aggression. Why? The act of aggression could be considered a chain behavior with the recall and coming to you. How long do you think it takes an animal to learn that it does not get reinforced after aggression? Even for coming to you or separating to another area? Not long!!! Then what in the world do you do to stop the aggression? It is a no-win situation that the trainer has created.

However, the purpose of the recall and coming to you are to act as incompatible behaviors to the aggressive act. Reinforcement for recall response and coming to you establish control and prevent further aggression until the other people or animals can be moved to safety. This is one of the primary reasons why trainers should highly reinforce coming to you and recall response on a regular basis. If aggression were to occur, the trainer should know that the animal will respond to a recall over anything else.

Separating is also an incompatible behavior. However, it does not have the level of control that coming to you does and therefore should come after the pig comes to you. By reinforcing separation, a trainer prevents the opportunity for the animal to practice further aggression. This should be reinforced! Separating also sets up the trainer to succeed by choosing how long the animal should be on a break.

Remember that aggressive behaviors can trigger an internal release of adrenaline. The break gives the trainer time for the adrenaline to decrease in the animal and thus lessen the animal’s motivation to be aggressive again. Finally, separating allows the trainer to control where and with whom the pig will interact in the next session, another opportunity to set up the trainer and animal to succeed.

In most cases, aggression can be prevented by good planning. It is up to you as the trainer to build a reinforcement history of more positive behaviors from which the animals are to choose. It is also up to you as the trainer to create reasonable challenges in which the animals can succeed or to re-evaluate the behavior in question such that the pig makes progress towards the desired goal. Establish trust, establish control, and the pig will work with you towards those goals.

©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”.