Introduction to Animal Training Techniques

One of the major improvements in how we care for captive primates has been refining animal training methods used to manage and care for the primates. Positive reinforcement training techniques have been developed to promote animal welfare, to assist in animal husbandry and veterinary care, and in some cases, to improve the quality of research conducted with the primates. When positive reinforcement methods are used, animals are taught to voluntarily cooperate with procedures rather than relying on coercion to get their participation.

Captive primates have been trained to perform a wide variety of behaviors including: moving when asked into transfer boxes or from one enclosure to another; allowing careful examination of parts of their bodies such as opening their mouths or positioning hands, feet, chest, back, etc. for visual inspection; positioning ears for examination or for using a tympanic thermometer; tolerating the use of a stethoscope to listen to the heart or lungs; having their wounds closely examined and treated with topical medications; receiving injections for anesthesia, antibiotics, or vaccinations; and cooperating with veterinary procedures such as x-rays or blood pressure measurement. Many different biological samples can be collected from cooperating primates, and they can be used either for veterinary care of the primates, or for research studies. Samples that have been collected include: urine, feces, blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and nasal samples. Positive reinforcement training can also be used to reduce aggression and competition within groups of primates, and it can decrease fear or decrease abnormal behavior in some situations. Clearly, primates can be taught a huge range of very useful behaviors that can improve their lives.

There is a growing body of scientific literature that assesses various aspects of animal training including training technique, required training time to achieve certain behaviors, behavioral impacts of the training, and physiological consequences of the training. This literature offers objective information about the value and the limitations of training. These studies should be carefully reviewed by those who are trying to discern the value of positive reinforcement training for their own primate management programs. This list of science-based references and articles about a variety of animal training topics may help you begin that process .

There are a variety of workshops and certification courses that focus on animal training techniques. These workshops and courses are not endorsed by the American Society of Primatologists, but they may be useful to those trying to learn more about training .