Q is for Quoll

QQ is also for query. As I was digging through my animal training notes and books, I couldn’t come up with a term that started with the letter Q. So, I decided to ask the internet a Question… What animal starts with the letter Q? A simple list came up of four animals, Quail, Quetzal, Quokka, Quoll. The first two are birds, the second two are marsupials. I have never actually heard of a Quoll before, so lets learn about it together?

“There are six different species of quoll, found across Papua New guinea and Australia. The Bronze quoll and the New Guinean quoll are natively found on the tropical island of Papua New Guinea. The Western quoll, the Northern quoll and the Tiger quoll are all natively found on the Australian mainland. Although the Eastern quoll was originally found on the Australian mainland, they are more commonly found on the island Tasmania.”

The Quoll is a medium sized, nocturnal, marsupial. Being nocturnal means it is most active during the night. Unlike a lot of nocturnal animals, however, the quoll enjoys soaking up the sunshine during the day, instead of hiding underground. Being a marsupial means that it gives birth to live babies, that then finish the gestation period in a pouch.

The quoll is omnivorous, meaning it eats both meat and vegetation, but its diet consists mostly of meat. It is considered the largest of the predatory marsupials and thus, humans are its main predator, though large snakes and crocodiles pose a threat as well. Reading wikipedia has alerted me to the cane toad being a threat to the Northern Quoll. They were not part of the natural wildlife and are poisonous if consumed by the Northern Quoll. The Quoll is often referred to as a native cat, due to its cat like features. It is however, not at all related to a feline, other than being a mammal.

Tiger Quoll

Tiger Quoll

*information gathered from this site.*

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge

P is for Primary Reinforcement

PI’ve talked far too much about positive reinforcement training, that I felt I didn’t need to make a post dedicated just to that (since all my posts pretty much are). Instead, I’ll talk about a primary reinforcer. The reinforcer is the reward during a training session.

“A primary reinforcement is anything the organism finds inherently rewarding – usually stimuli that satisfy biological drives such as hunger or thirst.”

A primary reinforcer is usually food. Animals inherently respond to food treats. It’s as simple as that. Just find something that the animal really enjoys eating as a treat. Some people who work with certain animals, like birds of prey for example, save their daily diet for training sessions. If your animal really enjoys their everyday meal, you can use that as training treats instead of additional food items. Some dogs really like their daily kibble. So instead of placing a dish down on the ground twice a day, you can use that daily kibble in training sessions. My dog doesn’t love her food that way, so with her, I use dried chicken cubes as treats. My dog LOVES chicken. A training treat should not be too big. It should be something the animal can eat in just a few seconds and be ready to move onto the next training cue. Unless you are “jackpotting” the animal, keep the treats small and quick to eat. You also don’t want them to add too much to your animal’s daily intake and cause them to gain too much weight.

© Semi Charmed Life

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge

O is for Operant Conditioning

OWhat is Operant Conditioning? Well, it’s pretty much everything I’ve been talking about so far in this A to Z Challenge. Positive Reinforcement training is the method in which I elicit Operant Conditioning. The fundamental principal of operant conditioning is that behavior is determined by its consequences. They key here, is that the response is a choice made by the animal. Asking your dog to sit and it does, is an example of operant conditioning. The dog chooses to sit when asked. Receiving praise and treats for sitting, influences your dog’s reaction to sit. Not receiving praise and treats for not sitting, will also influence your dog to choose to sit. Operant conditioning may be differentiated from classical conditioning in that responses in operant conditioning appear to be emitted rather than elicited by a specific stimulus, and they produce some effect that would otherwise not occur.

Classical conditioning is more of a reaction that happens to the animal that can’t be controlled. Pavlov’s dog is an example of classical conditioning. Salivating is a natural reflex. The thought of food naturally makes a dog salivate. It’s a response that can’t necessarily be helped. Classical conditioning results in a reflex, not a response. This type of of conditioning does not involve any voluntary choices made by the animal – just a reflex or reaction. The ringing of the bell was conditioned to become the eliciting stimulus and thus made the dog salivate whenever it heard it ring as it associated the bell with delivery of food.


© Semi Charmed Life

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge

N is for Neutral Stimulus or Cue

NA neutral stimulus or cue is anything that has absolutely no meaning to an animal until it has been conditioned to have meaning. A great example of this is the clicker used in clicker training, or a whistle used in positive reinforcement training. The clicker and whistle mean nothing to an animal when first introduced to it. They have no idea that the sound should be a positive thing. You have to first condition the animal to understand the clicker is a good thing. This is done by simply making the sound of the device and feeding the animal a treat, over and over again. When the animal begins to respond to the sound, then it has been conditioned to understand its meaning. Pavlov’s dog sound familiar to you now? The ringing of the bell means nothing to a dog, but after it being paired with delicious food, when the dog would hear the bell ring, it would start to salivate.

A neutral cue is like a command. Your dog has no idea what the word “sit” means, or if you use a hand gesture to mean “sit”, it has no idea what that means either when first presented. You have to teach your dog what that means, which is essentially what animal training is about. We spend an awful lot of time turning neutral stimuli and cues into things that have a lot of meaning to the animal. The results are extremely rewarding.

© Semi Charmed Life

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge

week 2 with Vidis Kochtüte

I enjoyed my last adventure with Vidis Kochtüte so much, I wanted to try another week. This time however, I don’t have to enjoy it all on my own. My husband is back home again.


Paprika Bulgur stew with feta

bulgar1This is a great example of another dish I’ve never thought to make. To be honest, I’ve never had bulgur. Neither one of us has cooked with it before. After having tried it, I can see it being the vegetarian substitute for ground beef. As I was eating my dish, I could see it between two hamburger buns with some sloppy joe seasoning. The feta cheese really pulled this dish together. I don’t know if I reduced the dish too much. It wasn’t much of a stew when I served it. Quite drier than what I would consider a stew, but then when I look at the photo on the recipe, it doesn’t look like it should be full of sauce. So, I think I made it perfectly.


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M is for Method of Approximations

MI touched briefly on this subject in yesterday’s post. A method of approximation (also known as incremental learning) is really important to understand if you are ever going to teach an animal any behaviors. The more complex the behavior, the more this applies. A method of approximation is simply breaking down a “behavior in training” into several steps. If you’ve ever watched an animal show where an animal does many things at once, this behavior was trained one step at a time. If you’ve ever watched a dog run through an agility course, this was trained one section at a time until the dog can perform it in one go.

Years ago, when I was working at a privately owned facility, I had an extremely intelligent miniature horse under my care. His name was Spartacus. He LOVED to work and train. I decided I wanted to train him how to take a piece of trash and walk it over to a small trash bin with a foot pedal. He would have to step on the foot pedal, flip the lid open, and then throw the piece of trash away into the bin in order for the behavior to be rewarded. If you break down the components of the behavior, it would be something like this. The piece of trash was represented by a piece of soft cloth. He first had to learn to take this piece of SpartTrashsoft cloth and hold it in his mouth until told he could release it. Then, while holding this piece of cloth, he’d have to walk to the trash bin. Once at the trash bin, he would have to step on the foot pedal. Trash bin lid would flip open. Spartacus, with cloth still in mouth, would lean his head down and let the cloth go so it could drop into the bin. He could then walk away. He got pretty lucky in that he didn’t have to keep his foot on the pedal in order for the lid to stay open. It was an old and battered bin, so once the lid flipped open, it stayed open. All these components were taught to him one step at a time.

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L is for Learned Helplessness

LLearned Helplessness is an important term to recognize when working with animals.

“It is a condition created by exposure to inescapable aversive events. This can retard or prevent learning in subsequent situations in which escape  or avoidance is possible.”


It is also

“The state of considering oneself helpless because of the failure of attempts to control a situation. Some animals will eventually quit trying. This is why it is important for a trainer to set the animal up to be successful – so that it will gain confidence and believe, through generalization, that since it could solve any situation presented to date, it could solve any situation that could ever be presented. Thus it will work hard to meet challenges rather than give up and passively accept consequences.”

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K is for Kingdom

KPart of working with animals, is learning about them. I went to one of the only programs in the world that specializes in the training and management of animals, the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program of Moorpark College. My first year there had my nose in the books and cleaning the zoo grounds. The very first animal I ever got to train was a rat, but I digress.

As part of my studies, I had to learn the scientific classifications of many animals. Sometimes, in order to be very clear when addressing animals, you need to use the scientific names. The world often has many different “general” names for the same animal, but the scientific name is always consistent. Animals are classified into 7 main different categories and I’m here to help you get them straight. Ready? Here goes!

Kings Play Chess On Fine Green Silk

“Huh?” you ask.

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J is for Jackpot

JIn the animal training world, a jackpot is exactly what it sounds like. When an animal has done exactly what it’s asked, and it’s taken quite the bit of effort to get there, the reward is a jackpot. Let’s say you’ve been working on a particular behavior for days, and one day the animal finally gets it and performs the behavior, you jackpot it in treats. You give it many pieces of treats instead of the standard reward. This helps plant the seed of positivity in the animal and hopefully makes it more likely to perform the behavior again.

A jackpot isn’t only used during the learning process. Sometimes, animals find performing certain behaviors difficult. Perhaps it’s a behavior they don’t particularly care to do, or one that is always a challenge for them to complete. Perhaps the behavior is standing still for a medical procedure. These are also moments that when they complete the behavior, they should receive a jackpot. The jackpot of treats helps make the behavior more positive and worth doing. If you don’t make the behavior worth doing, the animal will slowly try to get away with not doing it.

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I is for Incompatible Behavior

IYesterday, I wrote about husbandry behaviors and I actually touched briefly on incompatible behaviors. Sometimes the solution to getting rid of an undesired behavior is by training an incompatible behavior.

Let’s take yesterday’s example once more. When Lucas was little and I would open the stall door to feed him, he would rush out my right side, circle behind me, and rush back in my left side, just as I was placing his food dish down. As a baby, this was fine, but I recognized that as he got bigger… and he would get BIGGER, this behavior would not be safe. Who knows if it would actually escalate and Lucas would start charging me for the food? So, I trained an incompatible behavior. I trained Lucas to place his nose on a target on the wall and hold it there till released. What makes this an incompatible behavior? Well holding his nose to a target is incompatible with running out of the stall.

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