February 2015 Newsletter

February 2015

What's New

New Programs in Advanced Canine Training and Advanced Feline Training

The Animal Behavior Institute is excited to announce the launch of two new certificate programs,  Advanced Canine Training and Advanced Feline Training. These new programs include an advanced course in training, building upon the material covered in prior courses.  

The cornerstones of each new program are courses in Advanced Canine Training and Advanced Feline Training. These courses build upon the students’ fundamental skills, going far beyond basic training. You will learn how to incorporate the principles of behavioral science to identify training goals, develop treatment programs, and evaluate your progress.

Students that have completed the specialized certificates in Canine Training & Behavior or Feline Training & Behavior will need only two additional courses to complete the advanced certificate of their choice. This includes the Advanced Canine or Feline Training class and a behavioral elective of their choice. These advanced classes can also be taken as standalone courses, as long as all prerequisites have been met.

Students that have completed their certificate in Animal Assisted Therapy or Animal Training & Enrichment may also be able to complete these additional certificates in as little as 2-3 courses. Contact your academic advisor or Laura Hoyt at (866) 755-0448, ext. 5 or hoytl@animaledu.com for more information.

Finding True Love (or at least a mate)

When Cupid’s arrow strikes, his magic may cause more than love. Rather, it causes a love so strong it makes his target do crazy things. As they become infatuated with their partner they may sing songs, chase dreams, and act completely out of character. But could you imagine your significant other doing something as crazy as vomiting in your mouth as a sign of affection? Perhaps not, but this trick works well for White-Fronted Parrots!

Look out ladies – this article may give your man some creative ideas for next Valentine’s Day! Many animals find strange but effective ways of attracting a mate. Though it may seem odd that parrots vomit in each other’s mouths after “kissing”, this is hardly the oddest mating ritual in the animal kingdom. In fact, a small bird called the Manakin will perform a crazy dance resembling a moonwalk when they’re on the hunt for ladies. Apparently the chicks dig Michael Jackson!

Check out these Manakins moonwalking to attract mates.

The Frigatebird will inflate a red sac on their throat to attract females. This looks like a large red balloon on the bird’s neck. It takes them about twenty minutes to inflate it, but when they do, the female will choose the male with the largest balloon. Balloon size is so important that the male Frigatebird will cover the female’s eyes while they mate so that she won’t see another bird with a larger balloon. No matter what you tell your significant other this Valentine’s Day, take it from the Frigatebird - size matters.

One animal’s mating habits have become something of a tourist attraction in Manitoba, Canada. Every year, a female Red-Sided Garter Snake will emit a pheromone that attracts hundreds of males within the area. When the female releases this chemical, make snakes rush to her and create a giant mating ball, everyone piling on top of each other as they try to get with the female. If this wasn’t crazy enough, there are some male snakes that release the same pheromones that the females do – attracting other males in the process. They do this for warmth, protection and attention. The other males are probably pretty let down when they scramble all that way only to find that they can’t mate.

Some birds may be plain in appearance while building expensive “buildings”; the male Bowerbird makes a complex structure called a bower. Much like a man decorating the bedroom with candles and flower petals, the Bowerbird decorates his bower with a variety of gifts for the female. These may include flowers, feathers, stones and other objects the bird finds attractive. The male arranges hundreds of items in a specific order, often organizing them by color. They spend hours creating this bower and will be extremely upset if it gets disturbed by another bird or a pesky human scientist. The only time Bowerbirds break focus from making their bower is to steal items from another bird’s bower!

One of the sweetest and most romantic animals is the Emperor Penguin. They call for their mate with a unique sound that is an important part of their relationship. The penguin couple recognize the voice of their partners over thousands of other calls. Once the male and female find each other, they repeatedly bow to one another, singing and bugling with pleasure. For a breeding season, they only have one mate and remain loyal to their partner the entire time. If you want to resemble any animal this Valentine’s Day, take it from the Emperor Penguin.

Instead of a cliché dinner date and flowers, try one of these interesting animal mating techniques!




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The Amazing Crows of New Caledonia

3.4 million years ago, the first humans began to use tools to assist in accomplishing tasks. This was a huge step in human evolution that set us apart from other animals. Or was it? It has long been believed that tool use was exclusive to humans and a few primates. That is, until scientists from the department of psychology at the University of Auckland in New Zealand discovered that New Caledonian crows were making and using tools in the wild as well.

New Caledonian crows are the only type of bird known to make such complex tools. In fact, they make the most complex tools of any animal other than humans. They are set apart by the way they change their tools over time to improve them and make them more suited to the task. They have even made left-handed and right-handed tools.

These crows make tools by whittling branches into hooks so that they can use them to access hard-to-reach places and extract prey such as insects or other invertebrates. They can even make tools out of unfamiliar materials and use a number of tools in succession. Research has shown that their problem solving abilities rival those of primates.

These birds are not extremely social but instead stay in small, tight-knit families. These families consist of two parents and a few offspring. Based on this information, scientists have concluded that Caledonian crows do not learn tool skills from peers but from parents. In fact, parents have been observed taking their offspring to tool using sites and showing offspring how to make and use tools. Young crows may even learn from their parents’ mistakes, allowing the birds to improve their tools over time.

In one experiment, a bucket full of food was placed at the bottom of a well. The crow was presented with several options of tools, some straight wires and some hooked. Scientists expected the crow to choose the hooked wire so that they could use it to grab the bucket of food. However, one particular crow surprised them by choosing a straight wire, bending it into a hook and retrieving the food. She modified a tool for the specific task. In other experiments, she was shown to be able to bend, lengthen or shorten wires for various tasks with no period of trial-and-error component.

Another experiment presented the crows with a more complicated task problem solving task. They were presented with food that was out of reach, a long tool that could be used to get the food - but that was also out of reach as well - and a short tool that could be used to get the long tool. The crows were divided into two groups. The first group got to experiment with each individual component first. This way, when they took on the entire project, they would only have to put together tasks they had already learned how to do. All of the birds in the first group completed the task correctly on their first try.

See Betty completing the three complex tasks required to obtain food.

The second group did not have the chance to experiment with any of the components before the larger project was tackled, although they had been exposed to similar problem-solving situations. When faced with the whole thing, two birds completed it correctly on the first try and two other birds were successful on their third and fourth attempts. One of the birds that succeeded on the first try spent approximately 2 minutes observing the situation before taking any action. This kind of planning and analyzing is very impressive and surprised most experimenters at the time.

Watch the use of water displacement in New Caledonian crows.

In this video, crows use water displacement to get their food. They can problem-solve by understanding when some items will work better than others. These animals quickly learn which methods are most effective in retrieving the food. 

The trait of tool use seems to be at least partially heritable in New Caledonian crows. A crow will use tools even if they have never observed other crows using it. Interestingly, crows and other birds were once thought to be inferior “thinkers”, hence the term bird-brained. This was due in part to the absence of a neocortex in birds, the part of the brain responsible for higher cognition in humans and other mammals. This is puzzling as New Caledonian crows can complete some tasks more effectively than primates can. The answer lies in the nidopallium, a part of the bird brain that performs the same tasks as the mammalian neocortex. For more information see this article on bird and mammalian brains.

Though we don’t see crows breaking out their chainsaws or drills, they use tools in a very complex way; their problem solving skills are remarkable. Scientists are only at the beginning of being able to understand the brains of Caledonian crows and how this behavior may have evolved. Much more remains to be discovered about the cognitive skills of crows and other birds.


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Nursing Home Cats

Oscar started out life like many other cats do - in an animal shelter. However, when he was just a kitten his life took a turn for the better. He was fortunate enough to be adopted by a nursing home in Providence, Rhode Island called Steere House. Steere House treats patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses, most of these patients are in the end stage of life and are generally unaware of their surroundings. Oscar grew up on the third floor dementia unit there. As a pet friendly facility, Steere House provided a terrific opportunity for Oscar to interact with the patients and brighten their days.

After Oscar had been living in the nursing home for about six months, the staff observed that he had begun to make his own rounds. He would check in with all of “his” patients and occasionally lie down to sleep with them. This wasn’t the most interesting part, however. What shocked and fascinated doctors was that patients would die within several hours of Oscar curling up with them. This cat was predicting the death of patients with such accuracy that the doctors would call the family of a patient if they saw Oscar with them, giving the family a chance to say goodbye. Oscar accurately predicted about fifty deaths over the course of his career. 

Although they can’t all predict a patient’s demise, many cats are compassionate and perceptive animals that enjoy working in nursing homes. They bring comfort to patients and lead a comfortable life in turn. Many residents of nursing homes miss their animals, so pet friendly facilities allow them to live there without giving up that important aspect of their life. In fact, in addition to having pets on the staff at their facilities, some progressive nursing homes are allowing residents to bring their own pets to live with them.

You be wondering how the logistics are handled. For example, who takes care of these animals? What if nursing home residents have allergies or don’t like animals? These are valid concerns, but many nursing homes are adept at resolving or preventing them. Pet friendly facilities incorporate pet care into the staffs’ responsibilities. They will even take care of resident-owned pets, from feeding fish to changing cat litter to walking dogs. Excellent ventilation systems alleviate allergies or odors. If a resident doesn’t like cats or dogs, the animals are trained not to go into their room. However, most nursing home residents benefit immensely from the pets that keep them company.

By petting and playing with animals, seniors have an opportunity to get out of their chairs, have a positive experience, and stimulate their bodies and memories. This also makes a nursing home more homelike. Many seniors are reminded of animals from their past when they interact with animals in a nursing home. Family members comment that pets make them seem more responsive and consistently bring them happiness and joy.

The benefits can extend still further. Cats are increasingly being used as service animals. They seem to have an instinct to be there when we need comfort. Therapy cats can work in nursing homes to relieve stress very effectively. Petting a cat can relax muscles, slow heart rates, and increase pleasure. This has even been proven to decrease blood pressure and reduce risk of a heart attack. In fact, some claim that a cat’s purr can heal muscles and tendons. Cats also work with Alzheimer patients to stimulate forgotten memories and emotions. The feeling of a furry body on your lap, the sound of a purr and the wetness of a lick on the hand are unique stimulations that can be valuable to seniors.

Dr. Edward Creagan, oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, has stated “a pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits.” In fact, spending time with therapy cats releases a chemical in the brain called oxytocin, which creates feelings of happiness. For these reasons, cats can be an incredible addition to nursing homes that better the lives of all the residents. Even if they can’t all predict the future like Oscar, they always show love and compassion to those around them.

Read more about Oscar here



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Finding a Marine Mammals Internship

In last month’s newsletter we discussed  the benefits of an internship and by now you may be ready to take the next step. There are many different internships to choose from, so it is important to find one that suits your needs and interests. This month we’ll discuss some of the things to consider before applying for an internship and where to look for the best internship opportunities.

Finding an internship that is right for you

The logistics of an internship need to be considered first. Many internships require extensive hours (over 40 hours per week for a minimum of twelve weeks). These are often unpaid positions, so you should make sure you are financially capable of taking one on – particularly because you may not have time to hold another job. It is common for the intern to be responsible for lodging, food, transportation and personal expenses. You must also consider the location and duration of the internship and decide whether these will work for you. Clearly you need to realistically assess your position before starting your search.

Once you have determined your constraints, decide what duties, skills and projects you want to work on during your time at the institution. For example, internships can provide you with a broader understanding of marine animal behavior, observation skills, a foundation in marine mammal research and assessment methodologies, knowledge of supportive research & software, and public speaking skills. Some internships may offer you a degree of choice regarding which skills you focus on during the internship. In some cases, learning can incorporate participation in lectures and exams. Others take a more hands-on approach, you may be assisting with data collection, data entry, the collection of video and acoustic recordings, data analysis, and animal observations and monitoring. Many internships may have you conducting independent research projects, conducting statistical analyses, producing literature reviews of relevant topics, and participating in daily facility operation.

Searching for Openings

The International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) is an excellent place to start searching for internships opportunities. This organization attracts marine animal trainers and researchers; they posts job and internship opportunities and hold annual conferences. Membership is open to anyone; their website and publications are great sources of information.  Furthermore, they can provide terrific networking opportunities for those looking to enter the field. You can also search the web for marine mammal organizations; many have intern programs. However, one of the best places to find positions is the job fair at the yearly IMATA conference. Many facilities set up booths where you can drop off resumes and start conversations with potential employers. Getting your face seen, meeting people and learning about the places you might like to work are all important steps towards landing an internship.

Internship Opportunities

We’ve assembled a list of internship opportunities on our website in the Career section under Marine Mammal Internships. While it doesn’t contain every internship available by any means, it is an extensive list that includes contact information and program summaries – not a bad place to start.

For more information, see our final article in this series, Succeeding in Your Internship, in our upcoming March newsletter.

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