Guest Post: Positive Reinforcement Works. Just ask Olive.

Reprinted with permission from Cory Cordes. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright June 2017.

Positive reinforcement. It’s a cornerstone in the standard of care for teaching animals. It’s an efficient and low risk way to create reliable behaviours when it really counts. And for Olive, my beloved mini pig, it’s a lifeline.

The last time Olive was restrained at the vet to be sedated she started crashing, largely from the stress involved, and needed emergency hospitalization for a few days. Trying to restrain her again could prove to be very risky. So how do I give Olive safe access to high quality medical care that she needs?

By harnessing food as a powerful motivator to teach voluntarily participation in veterinary procedures.

Positive Reinforcement Works. Just ask Olive. | Cory Cordes

Here is Olive freezing to have x-rays taken. Yup for real – that’s a pig leaving food alone on cue. The vet staff were just as surprised! No stress was required to lift her onto the table, position her, or hold her still. (I wish I had a better video of this to share, but we were on the spot during another emergency vet visit.)

Currently my training priorities with Olive include teaching her to:

  • Volunteer to have her teeth brushed for good dental health.
  • Volunteer to have her hooves dremmeled to keep her trotters in tip-top shape.
  • Volunteer to hold still for an intramuscular injections so she can be sedated safely.

The takeaway here is that positive reinforcement based training is so much more than just using food in a wishy-washy way for sort-of/maybe outcomes. It’s so much more than trick training. We can apply it in real world situations where results and performance are important. Competent professional trainers around the world do, and so can you!

I get a piece of mind from knowing that we have this technology available to us, because stuff really works. Just ask Olive.

Cory Cordes is a credentialed professional animal trainer with a formal education in applied behavior analysis, animal training technology, species-specific ethology, fear and aggression, behavior change programming, client counselling, professional ethics, and critical thinking. She is passionate about utilizing practical evidence-based behaviour change solutions and provides training methods transparency. Cory lives in Guelph, Ontario, and her animal family includes two Mini Aussies, a Mini Pig, two horses, a large pony, two Amazon Parrots, a Cockatoo and an Oscar fish.

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