BARKS from the Guild March 2015

Page 32



Target Practice

Lara Joseph details the importance of targeting and stationing for day-to-day animal husbandry

raining animals to target makes husbandry a lot less stressful and much safer. It is also a useful tool to have at your disposal in an emergency situation. But first, let’s define some of the terms: Targeting is getting an animal (or human) to touch a predetermined body part to a particular object. Stationing is teaching the animal (or human) to continue targeting until cued to do otherwise. Targeting is such a common behavior that many people train it without realizing. When we attend an event and are asked to go to our seats, the instructor is targeting our behinds to a chair. When we stay in our seats until being told it is time for a break, we have stationed until being cued otherwise. There are so many instances where targeting and stationing are beneficial to our animals that we should be training these behaviors consciously. Doing so will make their lives less stressful by giving them an attractive choice of what to do and how to behave in countless situations. Working in a multi-animal and species facility, I find that training an animal to touch his beak, snout or nose to the end of a

Mickey is undergoing counter conditioning to accept the syringe


BARKS from the Guild/March 2015

target stick is an excellent way to keep control of a group when they are all outside together. Once trained to target, I can use the target stick to get the animals to walk, fly or swim to areas I need or want them to be. It is also an ideal way to implement force-free training to help them make the right choice and move to a station when cued before a potential accident can happen. The practice and training helps keep the animals poised to reliably make the safe choice when an emergency recall, target or station is cued. An emergency recall, target or station comes in very handy because we never plan an accident. I train the mammals to target and station to either the tops of buckets or to carpet squares. I need at least all feet on the target. The birds target and station to perches or banisters placed intentionally high up off of the ground where the mammals cannot jump or leap and people cannot reach. This arrangement is also very useful even when an emergency is not in place. Getting the animals to target and station helps me retain focus and control. For increased complexity in training, I will call one animal to me while the others remain stationed. This helps me train impulse control and focus in an environment full of distractions. Teaching an animal to target and station is also a good way to keep an eye on animals who are notorious for getting into things you do not want them to. It is also useful if you are working on potty training. I taught a green aracari (toucanette) to target her feet to the faucet and station there until cued to do otherwise. She was infamous for flying to the cages of other birds and biting through cage bars. I did not want to restrict her to life in a cage so this was one of many things we taught her to do in order for her to be out safely with other birds. When we sweep trash or daily debris into a pile, most of our animals find watching us do this a form of enrichment. It is always a bonus to find a new form of enrichment but when we need to clean, we need to clean. So instead of telling the animals what not to do, we cue them to target and station on carpet squares and reinforce that behavior. At the same time we keep journals noting what different animals regard as enrichment. Many husbandry behaviors require targeting and stationing. We have so many animals at the Animal Behavior Center, where I am based, it seems like we are constantly and consistently trainTargeting can help keep an animal safe in an emergency

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