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Trainer Talk: The Three E’s

Through my time training animals, I’ve always found it very interesting how our energy can reflect to our animals. Using our energy with a variety of animals and observing their responses is an interesting way to keep the animals occupied without any other reinforcement strategies.

Challenging yourself to see further than just simple reinforcements gives me the drive and mindset to see how far can you go by your own energy, excitement, and enthusiasm and how that can reflect to the animals you work with.

At the start of my career, our team supervisor gave me valuable advice I hadn’t thought of. Use your energy to make the animal either excited or very calm.  This is definitely not just something you can do with all the animals. You really have to pick and choose and sometimes even lay down some rules in there for the animals.

There is a big difference working with a harbor seal and a killer whale safety-wise. If you think about a practice where you can accelerate your energy from high peaks to low valleys and levels in between to be interesting for the animals you work with. That got me thinking because most of this reflects to a relationship you need with the animals but you can also use this to build a relationship.

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It takes practice to play with the energy level you put forward.  Everybody has this ability, it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with yourself at first.  Now, if we skip this whole primary reinforcement thing, what’s been working very well over the years is showing the animals excitement and enthusiasm that they did a great job.

This is a great way to go but there are some obstacles along the way. Learning your own patterns of walking, diving, and swimming and the control you have over your body is an important factor I found in this strategy. Breaking a pattern for the animal and doing the unexpected is what creates energy and the excitement. Along with with your enthusiasm, it works the very well.

Let’s go a step further. If we always have the same energy level at the end, we still don’t let the animal know when they did something amazingly good.  When we need a our animals in a stable control, it should not be necessary to do a full dance because they are used to that.

Changing levels for reinforcement is a tricky business because now you need to know your animal even better. Thinking outside the box; I do honestly believe that its possible! We just have to observe on a different level and look at our animals a little differently here and there. I enjoy pretending that I’m going to do something while the animal looks to me as if to say,  “What are we going to do?” But definitely, in a good way. This gives me the choice to reinforce their stable behaviour of staying with me. Also, when I explode with energy, their criteria increases; this just by pretending to do something they will not expect. Now, we have to be sure that we change the behaviors and our behavior all the time. Therefore, we need to know our own body patterns, reinforcement patterns, and behaviour patterns so our variability stays high.

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When I just started to work in Sweden, I had the privilege to work with a deaf male dolphin. He was a very calm and laid back animal. I tried this energy, excitement, and enthusiasm strategy with him and he started to vocalize sounds nobody heard of before, I guess out of excitement.  The trainers looked at me and said, “Wow, in the years I’ve worked with this animal, I never heard him sing like this before.”  After a couple of weeks, I just had to show up and he would start to sing. I learned here that using your energy in the correct moments, can go very far in behavior and relationship.

Try it out and think about it…when animals don’t know…




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