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There is no one right training system or simplified cookbook of techniques that will provide the best possible outcome given all the different factors of each species and the human objectives involved. Instead, knowing which techniques to use and when to use them is a matter of degrees and variables and greatly depends on the context of the situation. Training and teaching is always individual: a study of one (as Dr. Susan Friedman puts it). Ultimately, it is the goal of any managed care (captive) environment to provide optimal welfare and happiness for the animals while living within the constraints of the situation. This will mean choosing a holistic approach to care that balances the needs of the animal and the trainer. Technique choice, handling methods, environment, medical care and training objectives are all examples of choices that must be taken into account when determining the overall well-being of the animal. So how do we know if we are doing a good job? How do we measure if the balance has been well struck?
At ATR Int’l, we judge our techniques and choices on the measurable and definable net effect on our animals’ relationships with the trainers and the system. There are several behavioral indicators we look for in our animals that let us know our relationship bank account is high and the animals are happy and in good welfare.
- Is the animal engaged and interested in people and interactions?
- Does the animal’s behavior indicate that it wants to participate by approaching eagerly without any coercion?
- Does the animal choose to cooperate in free space with no control (such as leashes, halters, jesses, etc.)?
- Does the animal’s behavior and body language indicate that it is calm, comfortable, and relaxed during training and outside of a session?
So now a question for discussion: what specific characteristics or specific behaviors do YOU look for in your animals (please state the species) that you use that indicate your choices are/have been effective in managing this best outcomes balance?