Animal Training

What is operant conditioning?

Operant conditioning is a type of animal learning where the probability of a behavior recurring is increased or decreased by the consequences that follows. This primarily includes the use of positive reinforcement, such as a favorite food item.

Why do we train our animals?

  • Reduces the stress of veterinary procedures
  • Enables better, safer animal care
  • Provides mental stimulation
  • Encourages positive keeper-animal relationships
  • Promotes educational opportunities

How do we train our animals?

Our keepers train the animals with positive reinforcement techniques. Prior to starting a new training program, keepers research the animals’ natural and individual history. During this time, the keepers’ will develop a relationship with the animal they are going to train. We call this stage “trust building.” Once a good rapport has been established, staff work together to formulate a training plan. This outlines the details on the animal, resources, behavioral goals and the steps used to shape the desired behaviors.

In our training programs, keepers’ utilize a bridge, such as a whistle or clicker, to tell the animal what they did is right. The bridge, once a meaningless sound, acquires its reinforcing properties through the association with a favored reward. It “bridges” the time between when the correct behavior was performed and when the reward can be delivered

One of the most basic behaviors we train our animals, is called “target.” Animals are trained to touch a body part (nose, hand, side, etc.) to an object such as a buoy on a stick, plastic can lid or pvc. The purpose of this behavior is to direct body movement. Once the target behavior has been trained, many other behaviors can follow such as crating, scale training and even positioning for injections or blood draws.

Where are training sessions held?

Our keepers train the animals both on exhibit and off. Signs may be posted to let you know that there is a training session in progress. We encourage our visitors to observe our training sessions. For the safety of our keepers and our animals, we do ask that all questions be held until the session is over.

2600 East Sunnyside Avenue | Salt Lake City, Utah 84108 | (801) 584-1700