Monday, January 26, 2009

Adventures in Animal Training!

Yeah, I admit it. I have a pretty decent job. In this economy when most are doing they best they can to make ends meet, actually getting paid and enjoying the heck out of your work is quite a blessing.

I just returned from a few days of zoo consulting work. Even though I worked a number of animal related jobs as a teen and through my college years, I started my real animal training career working as a zookeeper 19 years ago. It was there I was introduced to training animals with positive reinforcement and have stuck with it ever since. In those 19 years I have met a lot of animals....and certainly parrots are probably the ones I have met the most now that I also lecture extensively to the companion parrot community. But even with the parrots, every single time I meet an new animal it is an adventure.

My adventure this time included some time spent with elephants, gorillas, a red tailed hawk, a raven, a sulphur crested cockatoo, a dwarf caimen, African crested porcupines, a turkey vulture, pigs, giraffes, southern ground hornbills, rhinoceros hornbills and a cute penguin named Pigloo. (I apologize to anyone I may have left out!)

Although I occasionally get some time to interact with the animals myself. My job is really to coach those who already have a relationship with the training subjects. But did I get to pet Pigloo? and feed biscuits to a gorilla? and get sniffed by a giraffe? Happily.... the answer is yes!

Although I love the animal encounters, there are other parts that mean just as much to me. I so enjoy when I get feedback that the material/information I offer has been helpful. This was a super appreciative audience. Plus they sacrificed a lot of their free time to take advantage of the few days I was there. That is HUGE! And it was a big positive reinforcer for me that they were willing to spend so much time with me.

And of course, I always learn something new too. While I have been fortunate to work with the species mentioned prior to this trip, every animal is an individual and every situation presents it's own unique challenges. Therefore there is always a bit or brain power involved to get the job done. I love that!

There were a number of "feel good" training moments in this trip. The elephant session, turkey vulture, and pigs maybe stand out the most for being thrilling in the sense that we really saw the animals learning during their sessions.

So now it is onto other events. Next up, I will be teaching a parrot training seminar at Cornell University. (I think that makes 4 vet schools now for me?) A few years ago I was invited to speak at my alma mater UC Davis. The event was one I had attended 20 years earlier as a student. I even brought the seminar notebook I had received all those years ago to show everyone. You can even see where my Amazon parrot had made his mark on it. I had him in my life, even way back then.

I often get emails from people asking to be stuffed in my suitcase when I head out on the road. OK, but you must weigh less than 50 lbs or I get charged extra at check in. Seriously, I would love for everyone to share in the experience. It is for that reason I became a part of the Twitter community. If I can squeeze in a moment I try to offer a little "tweet" to fill followers in on the day to day activities of an animal training consultant. You can become a follower at this link here. It also automatically updates on my Facebook and if I can figure out how to do it...on my blog here. Wish me luck!

Barbara Heidenreich

Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc

1 comment:

Mary said...

I enjoyed reading this post. Last summer we went to the National Zoo in Washington DC and were lucky enough to watch them bathe one of the elephants -- all done with positive reinforcement. Quite remarkable!

It must be very interesting to work with such a wide variety of animals!