As I mentioned in my previous post, there are many aspects to training and working with animals. There are the really fun moments of training them to do amazing behaviors for shows. I find more amazing, the things I can train them to do that maybe the general public isn’t aware of. Husbandry behaviors are a good example of this. A husbandry behavior is anything that you can train an animal to do that will improve its daily life and interaction with people and other animals. A simple sit and stay is considered a husbandry behavior. Being able to tell a group of
animals in one enclosure to sit and stay in one spot while you remove one of them, or simply want to enter to place their meals inside, is beneficial. Having a horse lift its hoof to be cleaned, is considered a husbandry behavior. Asking a dolphin to slide out of the water and onto a scale, is a husbandry behavior. Anything that you’ve trained an animal to do that can improve its health, can be considered a husbandry behavior.
This is Lucas. He is a Hampshire pig that found his way to the private facility I was working for. He came to us as a baby and I worked on many behaviors with him, some were for fun and others were so I could work with a pig that would eventually grow to be 100s of pounds. When Lucas was small, I would come to his stall in the mornings to feed him. I would walk in with his dish and he would exit the stall to my right, walk around and come back into the stall on my left, as I was placing the food down on the ground. This was fine when he was small, but as he got bigger, he could easily knock me around. So, the solution was to teach him to touch a “target” in his stall with his nose, until I released him. This allowed me to walk safely into his stall and place the food down.
Every year our pigs would need vaccinations. This isn’t always a fun time for them. A pig snare is the most effective way of holding a pig still in order to give them the injection. The actual snare is simply a loop of material the goes in the pigs mouth and around the snout. For whatever reason, this calms a pig down to stand still. I’m sure the process of getting the snare on the pig is a bit stressful. I decided I wanted to avoid this with Lucas in the
future. So, I began training him to line his body up against a fence. This would allow for protective contact. I, or a vet, would be able to have contact with Lucas’ body, but there would be some fencing to protect us in case Lucas didn’t like what was happening. I began training him to place his nose on a target and keep it there till I released him. I would then touch his body so he got used to it. I was going to eventually work up to giving him quick, “fake” injections, prior to having the real thing done by the vet. My hopes were that he would eventually be desensitized to the sensation of receiving an injection.
Something happened to Lucas one day while I was not a work. One of our other pigs bit him badly on the ear. It created a wound that needed to be cleaned and treated daily. This was the perfect opportunity to try and use what we had been working on. It took a few sessions, but eventually I was able to ask Lucas to hold his target while I first cleaned the wound and then applied a protective cream over it. This became our daily routine until the wound was fully healed. Not many people would be Oo’d and Ah’d by this sort of thing, but personally, I was quite proud to have been able to train him to hold in place while I cleaned his wound. No doctors were needed. No infection developed. No antibiotics were needed to be injected. It was a good moment for the both of us.
I’m going to leave the photos as a thumbnail. Just click them to enlarge. Reason for this is that some people are sensitive to seeing wounds. I assure you his wound is not disgusting to look at, but some people can’t handle seeing even the slightest break in skin.
The above photo shows Lucas as he holds his nose to the target. In this case, the target is a tennis ball placed at the end of a broom stick. My clicker is in my right hand as I hold his ear and clean with my left hand.
Above: Giving that wound a proper cleaning while Lucas stays in place.
Above: Showing how nice and clean the wound is and how well it is healing.
Above: Applying a cream to help continue the healing process, but also keep the flies away.
During the full cleaning process, I would frequently release Lucas and feed him carrots. It’s about making sure the experience is rewarding for him, just as much as getting the task done is important. This is why working with animals takes a great amount of patience. You can’t always expect things to get done quickly. It’s so much more rewarding to do things like this, on the animal’s terms and pace.
© Semi Charmed Life
This post is part of the A to Z Challenge