That’s a question I’ve been asking myself several times. What are the skills or abilities that make one a good animal trainer? Or actually I should say an exceptional animal trainer? Who has the ability to mold the animal nature into the direction we humans want it to be formed?
I’ve had several discussions on this topic with my colleagues. We have listed several skills that an exceptional animal trainer should possess; among them are patience, creativity, innovativity, joyfulness, being consistent, playful mind, visionary etc. All these describe the quality features of a good animal trainer. But as we know there are trainers and then there are those trainers who have something extra in their relationship with animals. What is it that makes the difference?
Good trainer has to know the animal and be aware of the circumstances the animals are exposed to; environmental wise and the reinforcements they are affected by. Surely we must know the ins and outs of animal behaviorism and the geometrics of animal behavior management, i.e. different forces that affect the animals in our care. How are we capable of changing the balance in reinforcements?
Basically, that’s all it is, the balance of reinforcement. How do get our dog or any other animal to behave the way we’d like it to behave. We just need to find a way to give a stronger feedback, reinforcement, than the feedback, enrichment or stimulus the animal´s environment is providing to it.
Needless to say, the training methods have to be based on positive reinforcement and operant conditioning. When we are talking about positive way of animal training we should remember that it doesn’t mean that everything is allowed for the animal in question. It is just the way we handle the animals, whether they are dogs, cats, horses, otters, dolphins or rhinos etc. The idea is to redirect the focus of the animal with positive and more powerful secondary or primary reinforcement into a trail of success.
But let’s get back to the original question. In my opinion what makes an exceptional animal trainer is the ability of closeness.
We all love and cherish our animals. Especial attention is given to domestic animals because we spend a great deal of time with them. The closeness I am thinking of is not the same as love. Of course we have to love our animals and get involved with them but love is a bit different matter than closeness. What I mean by closeness is: all the quality features listed above combined with sensitivity, intuition and capability to read the small signals animals in our care are giving to us. It’s neither supernatural nor superstitious but a way to read the animal´s motions and signals, to be sensitive to what they might do next and to be just a little bit ahead of them – as no animal trainer should be surprised in training situation by our four legged companions.
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