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Charlottesville's Professional Dog Grooming

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How creative is your pet?

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 by Jenna

“Reaching the Animal Mind” by Karen Pryor is an awesome training book is opening my eyes to just how creative animals can be. Karen has trained a variety of animals—dolphins, wolves, gorillas, etc She trained her fish to go through a hoop for food although one time she wasn’t ready with the treat to reward him. The fish dropped to the bottom of the tank, respiration doubled. She said she didn’t know a fish could get so upset! You can see it happen in this video.

A whistle marks a correct behavior for dolphins. After they hear the whistle, they get a treat. Typically, Karen uses this technique to convince an animal to repeat a behavior, or to move closer to the desired behavior so the treats are repeated. With Malia the dolphin, she decided to try a game now called Show Me Something New. So she would only whistle/treat a new behavior, thus encouraging Malia to be creative and explore new ways to earn her fish. The first few behaviors Malia came up with were normal things that dolphins do… waving fins, a tailslap, etc Eventually she ran out of those behaviors and began to branch out. She offered aerial flips and twirls, even a beautiful upside-down jump that Karen has never seen another dolphin do.

Then, there was Malia’s art project. The cement at the bottom of her tank was covered with a thin layer of silt. For her new behavior, she swam circles at the bottom of the pool and used the tip of her dorsal fin to make beautiful loops in the silt. Karen tried the Show Me Something New game with another dolphin. Hou did a few flips, spit, and nodded. He “was able to innovate, but Hou was not Malia. Malia, face it, was an artist.”

You can try the Something New game with your pet—not just dogs, if Karen can train a fish then cats can be trained too! A version of the game is called 101 Things to Do With a Box. Set a box on the floor and say ‘Yes!’ (or use a clicker, etc) and treat each time your pet does something new. Don’t cheat and give suggestions, just wait it out and see what happens.

If you’d like to know more about Karen’s style of training (clicker training, in the dog world), the best resource I’ve found is actually a free e-book called Mind to Mind: Training Levels. I do highly recommend “Reaching the Animal mind” for the psychology involved and hilarious anecdotes but “Mind to Mind” has more practical instructions.

Let us know what your pet comes up with!!

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