March 2015 Newsletter

March 2015

What's New

New Publication from Pete Davey

The Animal Behavior Institute is pleased to announce that Professor Pete Davey has recently combined his two popular books, Whales with Fur and A Dolphin in Front of You, into a single volume. The new compilation is entitled (appropriately enough) "From Whales with Fur to a Dolphin Front of You: a primer on animal training and landing a job as a dolphin trainer".  Professor Davey has worked with a wide array of marine mammals as a curator and director of training at several major aquariums. He is currently on the faculty at the Animal Behavior Institute.

This new book is available exclusively in electronic format from (click to view). Note that the text is sold by Amazon but the book is accessible from virtually any electronic device, from PCs & laptops to mobile device such as Kindles, tablets and smartphones. The books are sure to be a valuable addition to your training library.

Octopus Coconuts & Dolphin Sponges - Tool Use in Animals

(Last month we took a look at tool use in the amazing New Caledonian crows. This month we’ll take a broader look at tool use across the animal kingdom.)

Between, books, movies, TV shows and advertisements, animals are personified all the time. They are given human characteristics such as talking, walking upright, living in houses and even going to school or work. We know that these personifications are farfetched and yet they beg the question: how stark are the differences between humans and other animals? Do we have more in common than we are willing to admit?

You might be surprised to learn that one behavior we share with many animals is the use of tools. If you needed to accomplish a task, such as putting a nail in the wall, you’d obviously use a hammer. You wouldn’t have to figure out which tool to use nor would you make it yourself. Yet many animals do exactly that. Without the advantage of existing tools invented by someone else, they can assess the situation and invent that tool out of whatever materials are available. Imagine if you invented the drill every time you had to have one!

Many animals have been known to make and use tools, some have been taught by humans while others do it on their own. Although great apes, such as chimpanzees, are best known for tool use, and intelligence in general, other animals engage in this activity as well. In fact, crows, elephants, dolphins, sea otters, octopi, macaques, and rodents all use tools. Chimpanzees have been known to create spears to hunt other primates, and have even developed specialized tool kits for foraging army ants. In fact, chimps have been using stone tools for at least 4,300 years. Today, they will often make spears to hunt bushbabies for meat. They make these spears by breaking branches off of trees, removing twigs, leaves and bark, and sharpening them using their teeth. After use, chimpanzees will sniff or lick the spear to see whether they shed blood.

When hunting ants for food, chimpanzees use several techniques. One approach is to use an object such as a plant stem like a piece of silverware. Chimps insert the stem into a nest, wait for ants to bite it or crawl onto it, and then eat them right off their “fork”. Another option is to use a larger tool, such as a piece of wood, to break open nests and eat the ants inside. A variety of methods are used by chimpanzees to hunt for food. They form communities and appear to pass on these ideas & methods from generation to generation.

Elephants are also among the more intelligent members of the animal kingdom. They have been known to outsmart electric fences by dropping large rocks on them to short them out. They can also prevent other animals from drinking from water holes by plugging them with chewed up bark. Asian elephants will break down branches to ideal lengths for attacking insects and swatting at flies. They have also been observed using sticks to scratch their backs where they cannot reach. These animals are experts in terms of using materials from their environment to accomplish a goal.

Dolphins spend more time hunting with tools than any other nonhuman animal. They carry marine sponges in their beaks to stir ocean-bottom sand and uncover prey. Dolphins will actually rip these sponges from the sea floor and put it on their beak like a person puts a glove on their hand. This technique makes it easier for dolphins to catch bottom-dwelling fish. The sponge also protects the dolphin’s face and beak when searching through the rough ocean floor. Many female dolphins use this technique because of the pressure they face when raising a calf. It allows them to eat fish that other dolphins may not take, reducing competition for food. Mother dolphins appear to pass this knowledge on to their daughters.

While most animals use tools to get food, gorillas use tools to make other aspects of their life easier as well. For example, gorillas will use large branches as walking sticks and for testing depth of water. They will also create bridges across swamps or other bodies of water using branches from trees or shrubs.

Some of the most humanistic tool users are Macaques, specifically those living in Lopburi, Thailand near a Buddhist shrine. These animals will often pull hair off of human tourists and use it to floss their teeth. Who knew animals were that concerned about dental hygiene! Mothers will even slow down and exaggerate their motions, in a demonstration of the technique, when they notice younger Macaques watching them.

Orangutans make whistles to warn others about predators. Octopi use coconut shells as armor (as seen on video). Even rodents can be taught to use rakes to get food. Over time, we have discovered that more species have the brainpower and specific skills needed to create tools for specific tasks. Furthermore, many animals seem to pass the knowledge down from generation to generation. Prior studies have shown that animals can learn new tasks or use new tools after watching humans do so. Perhaps it won’t be long before we’re learning the same from them!

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Equine Assisted Therapy

There is an unusual class of therapist with a special expertise, providing troubled youth with confidence, communication, trust, perspective, impulse control, social skills and more. These individuals are often ideal for someone that is otherwise resistant to therapy. They have the power to affect positive change for the rest of someone’s life. Surprisingly enough, that therapist is a horse.

Not your traditional chair and sofa therapy session, the use of horses for therapy, or Equine Assisted Therapy, involves children interacting with horses in ways that teach them valuable lessons and correct many of their special challenges. Equine assisted therapists work with the horse and the patient creating sessions that work on specific goals. This can be very effective for children with depression, attention-deficit, conduct disorders, dissociative disorders, anxiety, dementia, autism, and other, related challenges.

By getting the horse to learn from and react to a child, that child can learn how to interact more effectively with others and gain confidence in him or herself. For example, in Equine Assisted Therapy children will have to learn how to lead a horse. They will initially try to pull the rope from in front of the horse. Of course, this is not the most effective approach. It is much better to lead a horse from by its side. This teaches the patient the value of cooperation and respect towards others.

In another strategy the horse stands in the middle of an arena and the child has to get the horse out of the arena without physically touching it. Many patients initially clap, whistle or yell for the horse. However, this rarely works. The lesson learned is that whistling or yelling is not a good strategy for eliciting behavior in others. The patient will learn that this doesn’t work very well with other people either! Furthermore, she will realize that other people shouldn’t treat them this way either. Cooperation trumps coercion!

Children also learn about horse care, grooming procedures, saddlery and basic equitation in Equine Assisted Therapy. Working with horses comforts children, especially as they build relationships with them. This relationship helps with social skills such as trust and communication. The responsibility of taking care of a horse inspires confidence and encourages children to develop better relationships with the people in their lives.

If you are interested in becoming an equine assisted therapist, read on! Job duties for an equine assisted therapist are similar to those for other therapists. A Master's Degree in counseling and licensure will generally be required if you plan to practice as a therapist. Therapists establish the framework for therapy and decide what practices they should use on each patient depending on certain standards and requirements. They are responsible for the diagnosis and ongoing assessment as well.

In addition to therapy, positions also exist in Equine-Facilitated Learning and Therapeutic Riding. Therapeutic Riding includes riding as well as equine assisted activities, such as grooming and bathing. Therapeutic Riding is used for physical, cognitive and emotional development in people with disabilities. The rhythmic movement of the horse helps promote balance, strength and coordination. Unlike Equine Assisted Therapy, instructors in Therapeutic Riding may not require the same level of formal education to work in the field. This video on volunteering in therapeutic riding, produced by Horseback Riding for the Handicapped of New Jersey, provides an excellent overview.

Equine Assisted Therapy is a relatively new field. Positions in Equine Assisted Therapy may be available in horse stables, training areas and universities where access to horses and stables are readily available. However,  the best opportunities may be with dedicated facilities, such as Special Equestrians. Internships can be found in many of these institutions; many provide volunteer opportunities as well, allowing you to gain experience while getting a taste of the field. Experience with animals and some background in psychology or behavioral science can give you a leg up in your application. Membership of or certification from a professional organization such as EAGALA or PATH International, will also make you more competitive. For a better sense of the positions available, and to look for specific job listings, check out the opportunities listed at the PATH Job Center. The National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy also provides information for those seeking to work in the field, including career advice and job postings.

There are a variety of different Equine Therapy programs. For example, Falcon Ridge Ranch is a girls-only facility that encourages young women to care and work with their horses. They emphasize compassion, empathy, self-discipline and understanding. Because horses communicate primarily with body language, the girls must learn to interpret it. This helps them learn to watch for similar behavior in humans. Falcon Ridge teaches girls to trust the horse and also earn the horse’s trust. The therapy emphasizes comparisons between the girl and the horse, which helps girls break personal barriers and form connections.

Project R.I.D.E., offers programs that include both children and adults with special needs. Where other methods of therapy fail, equine assisted therapy can make a world of difference. Project R.I.D.E. is a non-profit institution that uses only volunteers. It offers therapy both on and off the horse. They have a highly structured program that is designed to improve physical, social and emotional skills in patients. They use horseback riding to rhythmically move the bodies of the physically disabled; the strong emotional bonds between horse and rider help those with emotional or social disabilities.

If you have a child who just doesn’t seem to be responding to anything, but needs help with their confidence or social skills, don’t take them to a doctor’s office. Take them to a barn. Horses are the one type of therapist that can succeed where all others fail. The bonds and communication of this animal can be therapeutic to anyone. Does your child have a long face? Try Equine Assisted Therapy!


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The Story of Bibi - Goats as Horse Companions

Virginie Bourdes made an interesting discovery on her farm in South France one day when she saw her baby dwarf goat, Bibi, standing on his hind legs to reach the face of one of her horses. He seemed to be trying to impress his equine neighbor by rubbing his nose and dancing around on his hind legs. The adorable nose rubs were clearly a sign of friendship and affection between the two animals. Though they are different species, horses and goats are often together on farms and are able to form powerful bonds capable of improving each of their lives. Take a look at this this special video to see what we mean.

Jack and Charlie are another excellent example of the impact these animals can have on each other. Charlie was a horse living on a farm, he eventually went blind. Rather than putting him down, however, the owners observed that their goat, Jack, had befriended Charlie and had taken to leading him around. On his own this goat simply decided to assist his friend, without any training or intervention by their owners. This continued for sixteen years, the remainder of Charlie’s life. This beautiful relationship demonstrates the powerful interspecies connection that can develop between these animals. In fact, many farmers have taken notice of bonds such as these, and as a result, goats have been used as companions to aggressive horses that are housed in isolation. Goats can calm them down and reduce problem behaviors.  

Horses are extremely social animals and thrive on companionship. Even if they do not have problems, many horses are given “pets” or companion animals to keep them company, particularly if there are no other horses available. These animals provide the social interaction that horses need without the added task and expense of caring for an additional horse. Horses know that goats are not just other horses and don’t interact with them in the way that they would another horse; yet they can still bond and develop a relationship.

The first step to providing your horse with a companion goat is introducing the two animals. It should be done in stages, as with any animal introduction. At first, experts recommend keeping the two animals in adjacent grazing pastures so that they can see each other and interact without any threat of injury. This should continue for about a week. If all seems well at the end of the week, have one person lead the goat on a rope and another person lead the horse and let the two animals sniff each other and begin to interact further. If there are signs of aggression from either animal, separate them and maintain control of the situation. However, if there is no aggression, the two animals will begin to develop a relationship and can be given more freedom together.

Having a companion can get a horse to calm down by satisfying its socialization needs and providing it with a source of happiness and pleasure. It is important to provide horses with companionship. Goats can provide an advantage over equine companions – horses don’t feel territorial with goats, they can eat together, sleep together and provide comfort to one another. In fact, the phrase “got my goat” comes from racehorses that have goats as companions. If their friend were gone the horse could become distressed and even panic.

Though they are a different species and must overcome many differences, the horse and goat can be valuable companions. A goat can make a huge difference in the life of a horse by keeping it company, calming it down and providing a feeling of comfort and security. Like the goat that guided Charlie for sixteen years, these animals can express amazing kindness that fills a true void for many horses.


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Succeeding in a Marine Mammals Internship

(Note: In our February newsletter we covered ways to find a desirable internship. This month we'll complete the last of this three part series by discussing how to succeed with your position.)

Making a good impression on your potential employer is obviously critical throughout the application process. This is particularly important with marine mammal internships, as hundreds of people may desperately want a position that is available to only one individual. Read on for details and tips on making yourself stand out in the professional world. 

Getting an Internship
To be eligible for a marine mammal internship, you’ll want to make sure you have the proper qualifications. Skim through the postings at the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (free) or the International Marine Mammal Trainers’ Association (membership required) to get a sense of what is important to potential employers. Most marine mammal internships require college course work relevant to the internship. Biology, Marine Science, Psychology and Animal Science are all excellent classes to prepare you for working with marine mammals You should also have experience speaking in front of groups so that you can give presentations and do shows with the company. Institutions often require interns to do many different tasks; you’ll want to be as versatile as possible. For training internships, strong swimming skills are necessary. You should expect to be working outdoors in all kinds of weather and be physically capable of lifting up to fifty pounds.

Once you’ve narrowed down to your choices to the internships of most interest, start by visiting their websites and reviewing application requirements (look for opportunities at our website). It is absolutely essential to adhere to deadlines. Failing to do this appears sloppy and irresponsible and can completely torpedo your chances of getting an internship. Think of the application process like dating. If you’re not on your best behavior during courtship, what sort of partner will you be in marriage?

The following are generally required when applying to internships: a completed application, found on the internship’s website, a cover letter (this should briefly describe your past experience as it relates to the internship), a resume, a transcript from your college, and at least one or two letters of reference. In all of these components you should emphasize your qualifications and relevant experience. While most positions require a college degree, there are exceptions if you’re willing to search.

There is a bit of a debate regarding your use of the telephone during the application process.Most experts recommend that you should call to follow up a few days after submitting your application. At this point, you can ask for an interview or ask your potential employer what the next step in the application process is. Associating your voice or face with a specific resume can make an impression on employers. If a few weeks go by and you have not heard back, call again. It is important to always be professional and present yourself in the best light possible.

Resume Tips
A resume can often be your first impression to an employer. It can be tempting to make it as long as possible, showing every job you’ve ever had. However, a longer resume doesn’t necessarily make you seem more impressive. It can be boring to read, especially when an employer is going through hundreds of other resumes. Also, much of your previous work may not be relevant to the job. Keeping it brief and to the point can bring the focus to a few strong experiences that will stick out in the reader’s mind. There are many, many sites offering suggestions for resume construction but the key idea is to get the most important points to the top.

Think about the evidence that you include as well. Anyone can claim to be hardworking, vigilant, problem-solving, cooperative, etc. Back up your claims with evidence. Are you going to tell your potential employer that you’re a gifted public speaker? Name specific events that allowed you to show it off. This can also be a great way to use nontraditional experience to your advantage. Do you have 10 years of bartending experience? Use it to describe your customer focus, multitasking, or ability to work in a high pressure, fast paced environment!

Interview Tips
Every employer interviews differently, so be prepared. Don’t have one specific idea in mind and then be thrown off when things goes differently. Not everyone will sit you down and ask all the standard interview questions. In fact, many will put you in with the staff doing work as part of the interview process, to see how you fit in. Most will include a more traditional interview that can last from one to three hours, give or take. Employers may do a panel interview, a series consecutive interviews, or use other methods.

Employers don’t expect you to know everything since they know you are a student. They are instead looking for enthusiasm and passion for the job. Being yourself will prepare you for any type of interview and show employers what they are looking for: you. They want to get to know you, not a façade you put on because you think it will be what they want. If you act like yourself and show that you have a desire to be in the field, they will appreciate it.

Succeeding in your Internship
Once you get an internship and show up for the first day, you may be tempted to dive right in and start showing off. However, you aren’t an animal trainer yet, so don’t try to prove it. Just be yourself. Your attitude, work ethic, and desire are important traits to display to your employer. Remember that this could potentially lead to a full time job with the institution and if it doesn’t it can provide you with a valuable reference. Make sure you introduce yourself to other employees and demonstrate your positive attitude. Taking the initiative to get to know others will show that you have good communication skills and a friendly attitude. This can help to turn your internship into a full time job and provide you with additional references for the future.

Goal setting can also be a useful tool to make the most of your internship. You can do this with your supervisor to make sure you are accomplishing what they want and what you want. It will also help ensure that you gain the skills you will need when you move on to a full time job. You can capitalize on your opportunity by asking questions whenever you don’t understand something. Your employer will not expect you to know everything about the job and employers often think that students who ask questions are motivated and really want to learn. This will not only make a good impression, but also help you get the most out of your time as an intern. You can also ask your supervisor for feedback. Many institutions may have a formal evaluation process for staff but not for interns. Ask whether you can go through this formal process or use an alternative that would allow you to bring a written evaluation with you when you leave.  

Although you will get some great experience, remember that as an intern you will be required to do some menial tasks. It is important to expect this and to do even the smallest task to the best of your ability. This will show that you pay attention to detail, follow instructions, and care about quality. Performing well on small boring tasks - that no one else wants to do - will show your employer that they can trust you with more interesting and challenging work. 

If your internship is successful, it may be a first step towards an even more successful career. The value of a hands-on experience in the field is immeasurable. If you haven’t seen it already, check out our last article in February for a list of select marine mammal internships and related opportunities!


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