Training Animals Opens Up Their Worlds

an Irish Wolfhound with two Newfoundland dogs

Maggie is progressing so well it’s amazing.  She fits into the normal flow of the house, as large dogs who like to nap are something we are familiar with, and she fits the bill.  Watching Hank and Hudson react to a puppy larger than they are is a rare treat, and seeing them initiate play with her and help her to get comfortable is a joy.  It is truly a blessing to have dogs who are so well tempered and good natured to help us with our work.

After her trip with Maggie to the pet store, Brett mentioned how rewarding it is to expose a new puppy to the outside world and to watch them become comfortable and confident in these novel settings.  This got me thinking about all of the animals we have seen go through this transformation through the years.

Sea lions who learned to ride on golf carts and walk around the park, even visiting some neighbors.

a trainer and her sea lion visiting some penguins

Elephants who started afraid of everything, but with patience and lots of time were able to walk around the park and visit with employees and other animals.

a trainer and killer whale watch an elephant with her trainers

A blind wolf who learned to trust his trainers enough that he would go anywhere with them. Countless client’s dogs who learned to enjoy life with their family.

The one thing all of these had in common was the training they received from myself, Brett and our coworkers allowed them to live their best lives possible.   Training is not about force, or removing an animal’s free will, it is about teaching them how to thrive in our human world.  It is about developing a mutual trust and respect between human and animal that allows a well-trained animal to have all the freedom possible.

The hot topic among people who take care of animals is always how to enrich their animal’s lives.  How can we add things to their environment to stimulate them?  Feeder puzzles, stuffed Kongs, exhibit changes, novel smells etc.  These enrichment activities are all wonderful and important, but isn’t the best enrichment for your animals, being so well trained they can experience life outside of their home?  A feeder puzzle is great in your dog’s crate, but a dog who has gone for a walk, experienced the outside world and returned to her crate tired is far better off.  Raised hay baskets for your elephants are a great source of enrichment and exercise, but an elephant who can also walk outside of their exhibit with her trainers, browse on trees and graze next to a lake are so much better off in my opinion.

elephants walking

I have worked with many animals and had many experiences, but the things I remember the most are the people I worked with and mentored, and the animals I watched grow comfortable and confident as they enjoyed their best possible lives.  This is why we love what we do and why we feel like in some small way we improve the lives of the animals we work with.