Training the Animals

Training Banner

The staff at Animal Behavior Enterprises referred to training the animals as the "most exciting, challenging & rewarding part" of their jobs. ABE staff trained over sixty different species and thousands of individual animals.  The animals were trained in steps.  Each step built upon the last until the animal consistently exhibited the desired behavior. The ABE training procedures were based on basic Skinnerian principles of operant conditioning.

Principles of Animal Training

Reinforcement. Animals receive food or praise when they perform a desired behavior. Keller feeding pig
Extinction. If the desired behavior is not rewarded, the animal will stop performing it. Keller with Otter
Discrimination. Animals learn that a particular behavior will be rewarded only under certain stimulus conditions and not others.

Dog training

Discriminative stimulus. Animals learn that behavior in response to a particular stimulus (a discriminative stimulus) will produce a reward. Hen with a clicker
Differentiation. Animals learn that there is a range of responses that result in reward, along with many responses that will not lead to reward. Pig bank
Intermittent reinforcement. Animals are not rewarded every single time they produce the behavior. Instead, they may be rewarded every third or fourth time, or perhaps randomly. This decreases the likelihood of extinction of a given response. Hen playing piano

Instinctive Drift

Patient like the Chipmunks by Bob and Marian Bailey, 1994.


Instinctive Drift

Despite their success, the Brelands discovered that animals sometimes failed to perform correctly and drifted or reverted to their instinctive behaviors. This phenomenon, called instinctive drift, interfered with training. The Brelands believed that understanding the animals' instincts was a necessary part of training.

Video: Patient like the Chipmunks by Bob and Marian Bailey, 1994.  Edited for this exhibit.