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refusing the behavior, since most antibiotic regimens last at least 10 days, offer several syringes with just the reinforcer throughout the day. That way, you outweigh the unpleasant times with the tasty times.

BEHAVIOR The easiest way to condition a pet to take oral medication is to offer him a reinforcer in the syringe as well

Hand Injection

Hand injections are perhaps the most common behavior trained in zoos, but they are rarely taught to pets. Training this is all about going slow, practicing often, and making up for any mistakes if they occur. My rabbit, Hemingway, has a condition known as chronic rhinitis. This is a lifelong condition and, after six years, oral medication is no longer effective. For this reason, my veterinarian has prescribed subcutaneous penicillin injections every 72 hours. Subcutaneous injections are given under the skin. To do this, a “tent” is made with the skin. I first worked to desensitize Hemingway to me pinching and pulling up his skin. He is sensitive to being touched, so I first worked on reinforcing him for petting him in a pinching motion. I quickly escalated to pulling up his skin by a chunk of hair, and then pinching some skin between my fingers. I pulled his skin up higher and higher, until it was sufficiently away from the body. I then worked on duration, with him sitting quietly while I essentially pulled up the skin on his back. I kept all these sessions short and highly reinforcing. Next, I began to desensitize him to the injection itself. First, I just touched him with my finger. I then began to poke harder and become more invasive. I also made these touches gradually longer and longer, working on duration. Next, I touched him with a capped needle. Just like when poking with my finger, I first reinforced for just a touch, then for a harder poke. The more objects you can generalize with, the more solid the behavior becomes. Rather than perceiving the behavior as “sit for an injection,” the goal is for the animal to see the behavior as “sit while I am poked with assorted objects.” Occasionally, the touch hurts a bit, but that experience should be drowned out by all of the non-scary times. For a more realistic desensitization step, I created a blunted syringe. I took a sharp needle, clipped the pointed end off with wire cutters, and then sanded it down using a dremel. Like all the other steps, I started with a touch and worked to gradually increase the pressure. After all that, I worked on duration. Finally, I needed to inject the medication. I drew up the syringe and “fake injected” it. Like with oral medication training, I used a larger amount than actually needed. When the time came for an actual injection, Hemingway sat perfectly. Often, it is scarier for us to do the injection than for the animal to receive it. Reinforcing the behavior properly is important; this is no ordinary behavior, and it necessitates a special reinforcer. For this reason I like to offer reinforcers that are highly preferred, never offered any other time, and that take a while to consume. For Hemingway, it happens to be fruit-flavored baby food. There is always the possibility that your pet may become upset and afraid when injected. Because my ability to give the injection is not exactly the most skilled, Hemingway’s behavior has broken down many times. The best thing to do is practice many times without actually injecting. The reinforcer needs to be some

incredibly highly valued item. If you are having problems, it may be best to stop attempting the behavior voluntarily and give the injection so the animal gets the medication. In this case, you can save the behavior, simply give the injection, and then work on whatever step you have regressed to. The obligation you have as a trainer is to not ask your animal to participate in a situation where he feels unsafe.You do not want him to associate the session with getting restrained so you may have to medicate outside the session. Don’t worry, you will get the behavior back. Husbandry training can be incredibly beneficial for maintaining your pet’s health, and will help both of you feel less stressed if he ever becomes ill. Most pets will need to visit the vet, travel, or receive medication in their lifetime, so being prepared before situations arise sets them up for success. n Emily Cassell is a zookeeper and professional pet trainer located in Tampa, Florida. She began her career in 2010 with fish and guinea pigs before graduating to dogs, cats, and rabbits. She operated her own training business, Phins with Fur Animal Training, www.sites.google.com/site/phinswithfurtraining, and worked with Class Act for Dogs, www.classactfordogs.com, in Gainesville, Florida while pursuing a degree in Animal Science at the University of Florida, before returning to Tampa to work at Courteous Canine, Inc., www.courteouscanine.com. After completing internships with manatees, otters, and dolphins, she currently works as a full-time keeper and trainer with orangutans, tigers, gibbons, and various other species at Busch Gardens, www.buschgardens.com, in Tampa, Florida. She also operates Small Animal Resources, www.facebook.com /smallanimalresources, a Facebook page offering free help for those needing assistance with small mammal care as well as behavior consultation for small pets.

BARKS from the Guild/March 2017

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BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...

BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...