Ken Ramirez

After thinking about what he said, I'm not sure it was a compliment. He basically said that if you want someone skilled, if you want someone experienced, contact so and so, if you want someone educated, contact so and so, and if you want someone slick, contact Ken Ramirez.. well I'm not sure how slick I am going to be because this is some new stuff.

I want to talk about working with groups of animals. Often in the pet community weh ave the luxury or the opportunity to work with an animal in an independent area one-on-one. Often in a zoo you have to work with 6 or 12 animals at a time. Bob was saying earlier that he was working with 6 animals at one time. That's a skill that we have to develop with our trainers and we see that in the pet community as well.

First I want to focus on different training approaches for working with multiple animals. There are techniques to maintain behavior with multiple emails. And I want to talk about how I introduce new animals to a group. So I'm going to spend, normally when I talk about working with groups of animals at lectures and classes I teach I will spend up to 2 hours focusing on how to work with large groups of animals. I will reduce that into 20 minutes today. The other time will be some examples on some new projects in 2013, and we're in our 13 month right now of working on this particular project because this is a group of people that would be able to provide some feedback on. So ideal in the theoretical sense was working in a theoretical sense one on one. I think that's an ideal training situation.

You're able to devote your full attention or energies to that animal. When we work with a group of animals, even without a lot of people to work with, there are ways to do it. We may have a group of animals together, as long as there are 2 trainers, there is a way to do spatial separation. Keep the large group occupied, while one trainer takes the other one out of the group, the other trainer keeps the main group occupied, and then I work one-on-one with that individual animal. It's just a little bit of spatial separation that gives me the ability to work one on one.

Sometimes if you are lucky you have physical separation. Maybe you have five or six dogs in your home, maybe you take one dog and go into a different room and work with them one-on-one so that the other animals aren't in the way. Also in a zoo the animals can be together, and asking an animal to separate and move into another group and then we can do physical separation.

The reality is that sometimes separation is not always possible. Sometimes individual training isn't always the answer. Sometimes you are working with a herd or flock animal. I worked with a flamingo once. I found it challenging when we separated them from the flock. Individual training was actually counter-productive.

Separating the motehr and its off-spring is not going to help you train. It is going to make the animals concerned and worried. So even though the one on one training is a theoretical ideal, it isn't always the best option. You have to understand the species you're working with.

Sometimes one-on-one isn't possible. You have to wkr with a group. If you're going to work with a group of animals, you have to understand the social hierarchy of the animals you're working with. No matter what kind of reinforcer is in your bag of treats, there's very little that we can offer that is more powerful than the social interactions they get from each other. Those social interactions can be more reinforcing or punishing depending on the type of interaction. We're better off not to compete with that, work around it, work with it, adapt to that changing social situation.

Also you have adillema; if you have animals that will separat,e often I see young trainers confused or kettling or separating are two very separate things. People often thinks that if your animal knows go into a gate or kettle, that they also know how to separate from a group. That's not always true. Just because an animal on its own will go into a kettle does not mean it will not go out on its own from a group. We don't approach training kettling and separating as two separate behaviors; but they often are.

Often when we are working with a group, and if it likes being a part of that social structure, getting them separate isn't going to be easy. If there's a lot of competition and fighting going on, separation might be easy. Understanding the social group that you're working with is really really important.

I want to spend the time today about what to do if separation is not a possible. Where you are forced to work with groups. I want to work with a few strategies about how to deal with that. One of the most important things that I do when I work with large groups of animal; I have a stationing strategy. A stationing strategy helps you get order out of chaos. It helps to teach animals where to expect them to be for a training session.

I have found four or five different stationing strategy. One is location-specific training, where you have a specific training location that every animal goes to. Dogs on mat picture. I remember years ago I was a young marine mammal trainer and I was visiting a facility, shadowing their trainers, I was shadowing their sea lion and seal trainers, and one of their trainers said they were going to a sea lion session. I was excited to see the entire group; it was 24 sea lions and seals that lived together. He had 2 large buckets of fish, and we get to the enclosure, and I thought it would be fun. So I was standing outside the enclosure, and he says Ken come on aren't you going along. Aren't we waiting for the other trainers? No? Oh of course, you're going to train all 24 animals by yourself. And yes, he was going to do that.

He toots his whistle, there was mass chaos as the animals start appearing, 4 harbor seals over here, a sea lion over there, they all go to their places. All perfectly go to their places. Now, at no time do I think that we actually have all 24 animals in place at the same time. He had 20 or 21 in place. He ignored the ones that weren't in their proper place. What was more impressive was not their ability to go to their locations; his amazing aim at throwing the fish. He would call out an animal's name, he would throw the fish at bob, and then he would threw fishes at each names. He was calling out names and getting cues, my jaw was touching the floor. How was he doing this? The aim was amazing. The ability to recognize each animal; the reality was that the thing that allowed him to do that was that they trained the animals to go to the right spots. It allowed them to work with the animals much better. Once you get this, your ability to do more things increases.

Another technique I use a lot is position-specific station. You only see 4 walruses on your screen; they line up in that order always in that time. So if I'm working with those 4 walruses today, and I'm standing in their corner in their habitat, they would line up 1-2-3-4 in that sequence relative to another. If I go over here and I try to work with them behind me in that order, they will always be in the same position relative to each other. But they learn a stationing order and they can be moved around.

Another thing that we do a lot is that we use name targets. Every animal has a target that they recognize as uniquely theirs. A square, triangle, a plus sign, a half moon, we have 20 something different shapes. When we're about to do a session, I hold one shape to my hand, and if I have 3 shapes, I might have 3 shapes, and that's how the animals know which trainers they are working with. We can move them with any habitat. It doesn't matter what trainer they are working with. They are looking for their name habitat.

Another option is choice. Today we are in a lecture hall at UNT, but you have a choice. You don't even have to sit in a chair, you can stand in the back, on the floor, in a chair, you can go where you want. There's nothing wrong with going wherever they want. There's also nothing wrong with combining them. I'll give you an example with our penguins. Right now we have right now 33 penguins in our population. We have 2 species. We have 2 trainers. And what we do is we have 2 different locations in our exhibit; we have rock poppers and magic lantic penguins. All the rock poppers go to none location, and all the other penguins go to another location. Each species has a location or a rock that they go to. But if I'm feeding this group of penguins, the individual rock hoppers can be in any order that they want, I just accept the fact that if they are in a semi-circle around me, I will work with them, I don't have to require them to be in a particular position.

And then there's this.. the shuffle. You let them come wherever they want, but when they get there, you move them around as necessary. For those of you who are visual learners; I will show you these stationing strategies in video. The first example is location-specific stationing. In his particular situation, you will see that there are platforms that they put into the enclosure. Every individual monkey knows which platform is theirs; they don't care which trainer they are working with. Each trainer works with about 2 monkeys each, but if they want, they could ... one trainer could work with all that way. By giving them a location to go to, it was much easier for each animal to know where it was expected to be during a session. They wouldn't have to compete with another monkey about where to go; they learn that that is their specific location and that's where they are going to get fed, that's where they are going to get trained.

The name targets that we use. That's the next example. Here's the blue square that belongs to our male beluga whale. Here's another female, and they swim by until the male .. the male always waits until the females go by. That's how he knows where to go. That's how we show them where we want them to be. The dolphins, same thing. A yellow star, a dolphin in tnhe far back goes to her shade, she gets reinforced and that's how she knows where she is supposed to be for that session.

Here's another example from the San Diego wild animal park. The giraffes come to the back of the pickup truck. This particular giraffe needs to go the front of the truck. So he moves the giraffe to the front of the truck. Choice and shuffle. Having some different tools to allow you to manipulate and move the animals and have them with an expectation of where you want them to be in a session. It helps you to gain control in a session. This gets order out of chaos.

In groups of animals, you should think about the concept of fairness. I've often had people tell me that animals don't know what fairness is. Maybe they don't know the concept of fairness that you and I have, maybe that's true. Fairness- Frans da Waal 2012. He's done this project where he gives reinforcers to these two monkeys. The reinforcer is a cucumber, but he's going to switch and use grapes for one of the monkeys. But he's not going to switch to grapes to the other monkey- which was perfectly acceptable until the other monkey started to get grapes. The task is that the monkey is supposed to give a pebble or a rock back to the trainer. The first monkey got a cucumber, the second monkey gets a grape. The monkey gives the stone back, giets a cucumber and then goes hey. This was a monkey that was perfectly happy with a cucumber previously. Watch what happens the next time. And now you're going to see even more displacement behavior.

When someone tells me that animals don't get the concept of fairness.. I beg to differ. I think they do. They may not understand it the way we think of it, but they certainly recognize when another animal gets something that they're not getting. When you work with groups of animals, you have to recognize how they perceive the situation. One of the things that's interesting is that.. and I see young trainers make this mistake. When you're working with a group of animals as a group, eery animal is doing something all the time. But I will see someone ask an animal on the left to nail down, and they will click their clicker on the left, .. why didn't you give the other two animals a reinforcer? But they did do something. They paid attention. They didn't try to steal food. What they did was more difficult and they should be reinforced also. The example I'd give is that, imagine I tell the dog in the middle that I will show dog #2 a tennis ball, and they're like, throw the tennis ball and he races to go get it. Dog #1 and #3 sit there and watch. I would say that #1 and #3 are doing the more difficult behavior. They deserve to be reinforced for just sitting there. They are actually doing something very important- they are staying at station and are allowing the other dog to get the toy. That is an aspect that I try to get trainers to understand.

Who do you feed first? I don't think there's a strategy that is always going to work. You have to adapt it so that each animal be aptient; and you must be quick with delivery so that they all believe they are getting attention. With some animals, we touch them on a head, then give them a cue. You have to find a way to how to indicate to which animal to do what, do you want all of them to do the behavior, all of them or some of them or just 2 or 3 or what? In the end, my goal working with a group is to avoid competition. They want to compete for your attention, enrichment, etc.

The first time you start working with a group of animals, I encourage you to do simple behaviors they already know, because right now you are teaching them to work together. It's not the time to teach new behavior. Use really simple and reliable behaviors to just learn there to sit there and get reinforced. Once they learn to work together you can do more complex behaviors.

Often those of you who use markers, like clickers or whistles or the word good, there's a lot of questions about what to do when you work with groups of animals. I could probably spend 45 minutes on this. In our program, we, after an animal has learned a marker signal, we start to train additional markers. We try to have an audible, tactile and visual marker with every single animal. That gives us some options, some tactile marker that only one of them can feel. You can do a number of things that doesn't mark behavior for the entire group.

But sometimes you do want to mark behavior for the entire group. There's a number of ways to handle that. I'm not going to talk about it today. I want to encourage you to recognize that multiple markers are valuable; but as they are first learning, just use one. Some animals know as many as six or seven markers that allows us to use them in different scenarios. In group situations it helps to avoid confusing the other animals. There are lots of tools that we can use.

What I want to spend most of my time talking about is new animal introductions. We have to do this all the time in the zoological. They come in on breeding loans or from other zoos. We have to put these animals together. These are wild animals with strong instinctive behaviors, they can be aggressive, there can be challenges. Many zoos and aquariums have great success introducing new animals to one another. Here's a video. I am going to be narrating again.

What you're going to see is that we start by working with the animals before we mix them. We make sure there is some basic cooperative behavior. Once the animals learn some basic cooperative behavior, we... (phone call)

Our criteria is that the animal remains calm throughout the session. Our goal is a calm cooperative response. Most animals must be receptive. Find behaviors that require the animals to interact in some ways. We usually accomplish this with basic ... they often use the same target, and then they are reinforced together. This is an effective method for acclimating new animals together.

The biggest challenge that we have with the naimals in zoos is natural aggression. We work with animals that often have aggressive history or have a genetic predisposition to fighting like during breeding season. It's natural for them to fight with each other. I have used this in many many programs. I have used it with dolphins, whales, elephants, seals, sea lions, zebras, five or six... the point being, it really can work.

(phone again)

Blind sea lion. He has got used to touching through the fence, hearing the other animal. So here we are further into the session. THis is the first time they have been in the same place. The blind sea lion may not be aware that there is another sea lion. Tyler is the older one. I am working him on either side. What you're not seeing is the 12 other sea lions behind the camera... to separate the two should it not go well. We are always ready to intervene if it does not go well. But they are working with the two trainers they work best with. This went really really well, and we get the little guide used to walking over the flipper, we bring him so that he "accidentally touches" the larger sea lion just so that he's comfortable being around the sea lion just so that they can know ewach toher; we want to get to the point where they can live together as a group of colony of sea lions. The little guy is going to show some aggression as I show tyler really close. And we immediately redirect their behavior with a target, we reinforce them, after that interaction, the larger sea lion was the more afraid one, we worked through that. So we did these sessions for several weeks. The session went well. I want to show you some other work. After doing this process, these two animals now live together and sleep together. We worked hard to introduce these rescued animals that were not able to live in the wild. In this next picture... a third animal introduced into the group. We do this very strategically. What's interesting about the two young animals, when they first saw each other, the aggressive displays and the desire to attack each other was very strong. After this procedure, they sleep side by side. It's not as serious though because they learn how to cooperate through the training process.

In January of 2013 it has been 14 months now, we started a project, over the years now that I started the program. We brought the dog program back to the aquarium in 2013. So we started to work with aggressive court case dogs. I have been teaching a variety of classes for many years. I teach a lot about this technique of introducing animals together. The head of our court case dog program in Chicago was taking my case. She was always asking would this work with seriously aggressive dogs, and my answer was sure. She asked how often I tried this and I said never; but I was convinced it would work because it had been done with so many different animals. I had done it with dogs, but not aggressive history dogs. So she would give me these dogs if I would document it and take data, and I am not finished with the data collection, I will probably be presenting in August this year, and we're introducing more dogs to them. So we wanted to train cooperation with these reactive dogs.

It's a 20 step program. We begin by having individual behaviors like loose leash walking, go to your kinnell, we have cooperative training across barriers, then we begin strategy social introductions. Then we repeat it with new animals and in new contexts. So I want to share this with you.

Before I share this with you, I am sharing this with you because often the people who come to this are advanced trainers. You should not go and try to use this. I am not sharing this with you as a protocol that.. I am not suggesting that anyone should use. As intelligent skilled trainers, you might get something from it and might have some good feedback for me. What I am going to show you is the early steps in using this protocol that might have uncertain applications for the general public. In a zoological environment it is very effective. The following was accomplished with a large group of professional trainers working without a timeline. I had a group of skilled trainers to work with. This is not a recommended procedure for dealing with aggression or reactivity. It is just an animal introduction protocol that happens to be with aggressive animals.

Coral - highly reactive, very fearful dogs. She barked at men, women, children, other dogs, she barked at leaves rustling on the ground, she barked at everything. We understand why she was given up for adoption. Anything novel and new set her off.

And then we have Bruce, he was being trained as a fighting dog, no bite inhibition. He was taken away from someone who was later jailed, this was a dog that was reported as no bite inhibition, any dog was a trigger to froth at the mouth and attack.

Dory was an assertive shepherd mix. She was a very assertive dog that never backed down. Nothing allows her to back down. When we started with this program, my staff asked me why are we doing it with these dogs. And I think I said something like, something Bob said in his talk today, "because it's fun". (This man is dangerous) I wanted to see what could be accomplished.

Bruce was the most aggressive. In the first week or two, if he saw the other dogs, he lunged or frothed at the mouth. He had a very serious deep growl. Severe and aggressive barking. We tried to reinforce any pause in barking. At first we had to put a handful of food in his mouth and it still wouldn't stop him. This was when the bark was no longer the aggressive bark. It was higher pitched. Slightly more playful curious, but he would also take food from us.

We also then by the.. besides doing basic early training, we did a lot of cooperative training, working on opposite side of fence, we reinforced any type of cooperative. I am working with Bruce in the kennel. Bruce never showed aggression towards people, always twards other dogs. Karen is stepping on the leash just to make sure that the dog doesn't run away. There is no physical aggression, they can bark but they don't get anything from it. They cooperate really well, we do some shared targets, we have them looking at each other, the session is short, they don't spend a lot of time doing it, Coral becomes more relaxed and Bruce becomes more relaxed.

Our next step is next some shared space station on leash and on platforms. Having the dogs work on a platform is really valuable. It doesn't keep them from jumping off and attacking the other dog; but it does give them a specific place to be. This is week 8 of the training. This is the 10th time they have been in a shared placed together, always on platforms. We worked this way until they could do an entire session without being focused on the other dog, only focusing on the trainer. Just a basic session. It may look like they are loose leash, but we are holding that leash pretty tight and close. We've done this 10 times now, you are only seeing minimal looking at each other. These are dogs that have never been able to sniff each other other than through a fence, and really that was limited until this point too.

What you're about to see here is monitored socialization. This is week 9. This was the 4th time that we allowed the dogs to look at each other. You're going to have trust that .. there's some stuff that goes into this. There's 6 of us, it's in the middle of winter, so we're doing it indoors, it's too cold, there's lots of space in this warehouse. In this session, we will reinforce calmness, name rsponse, and if they seek a trainer out, we will reinforce them. We're going to take the leashes off and let them play. It will get a little rough, but my experience of looking at dog behavior to determine if we need to intervene. I want you to keep in mind is the behavior you're not seeing here. Coral was so fearful of other dogs. This is Bruce seeing another dog trigger a huge aggressive response. After seeing these sessions on opposite side of fence. We are seeing good behavior. There are some concerning behaviors here, we are watching them very carefully. This particular session lasts 45 minutes. We did not have to physically pull them apart. There was a couple times of barking.. but it wasn't.. just seeing Bruce being more submissive was very comforting to me, and seeing some of this play behavior. These are both 2 year old dogs by the way. Yes they were altered. They sought me out, I grabbed their leashes, I am waiting to... we are each going to reinforce the dogs that we have. We are also going to give tactile reinforcement, and also we are going to reinforce each other's dogs as well. There are some reasons for that but I want to continue. This thing would continue, and we would interrupt like this every 10 minute. Sometimes we would reinforce with water, sometimes just with food. This went really well.

By month 5 we had relaxed socializations. In this session, there was food reinforcement available. We primarily used social. You are going to see some real reversals. If Coral comes over to Bruce, he looks the other way and goes to a trainer. We like the fact that if he doesn't want to interact with another dog, it's great that he just walks away. Neither dog is overtly concerned with the other dog. There are 3 of us in this session. Coral seeks out Bruce, she wants to go, but Bruce looks the other way and seeks out a different trainer. There's still some of those stress signs that he doesn't like, he doesn't like being with other dogs. Notice how he avoids. He will play with the other dogs. But this is the 5th month of having worked with these dodgs.

Trained introductions. Same process used for all dog combos. And eventually we were able to get all of them together in 4 to 5 months. At month 4 we did controlled introductions of unknown dogs (trainer's dogs). We did the same process with them. Next 3 months we used the dogs in public. We plan to replicate with more dogs. We have Marlin, a lab mix, 2 years old, adopted on December 20 just before xmas, this was 3 months and 2 days, we introduced each dog one at a time, the female- because we used this process with introductions, Marlin to the females took place 2 to 3 weeks without a problem. Bruce had a severe reaction. He was frothing at the mouth. This was a male dog, a big dog, and he was intense.

I am going to show you where we are today. This has tkaen 3 months. This is 12 months after adopting Bruce, 6 weeks after adopting Marlin. We have done sessions with opposite.. 2 sessions on platforms. This is our first session in a shared space without platform. The trainer (Megan) that is working the dog is in a wetsuit, but our staff works with lots of animals, Megan is really good with Marlin, she happened to be working with dolphins and whales, but we brought her over... it's not that comfortable to work dogs in a wetsuit, but that's why she's doing it.

Once the initial excitement was over, yes they keep looking at each other, but they are doing really really well. Every once in a while.. when the session begins, we draw an imaginary line. Megan is going to keep the dog on one side of the room, Bruce will be kept on the other, and Bruce will be distracted, but he is no longer barking excessively, we don't see him frothing at the mouth. We have regained his attention relatively quickly. And because of the time.. I want to show you a few more.

We have a number of people ready to intervene. We do not do this on a leash. When they are on a leash they get wrapped up and it's more dangerous. We have a large outdoor run, but we're in the middle of winter, and sometimes in a smaller space it makes us easier to intervene. The twitch in Bruce's tail, you might think you're looking at a stale picture. The other one will move a muscle, they will sniff a ... we try to come in and reinforce them. It incites some excitement. We back off. They do become more playful. But I can't show you all 40 minutes of this particular play. This is week 8 with Marlin. They are both in the same space. We are keeping them occupied, there is a trainer next to each one. This is in training. We are still shaping behavior. Just because we don't have our clickers out, just because we're not training a specific behavior, we are actively shaping their interactions and we are conscious of how those interactions are going.

We are reinforcing, we found that by keeping, by them focusing on us, and knowing that we have reinforcement, we found that a lot of them revert together.. and slowly over the weeks reduce how often we reinforce them. We've gotten to the point where we can use the pet tutor, and a reinforcer can come from one side or another side. We don't have to give the food ourselves. We do see the animals working together relatively well. We finally took them out in the snow. You're only seeing a bunch of them. it warmed up to 32 degrees. You will .. we do take them out for walks every day. We do a lot of social reinforcement with them. They live together, they do this really well. This picture was taken just Monday of this week. They are all working together side-by-side very comfortably.

Just a few thoughts about this. Great care should be taken not to overstate the significance of what I have shown you. It is just one example of some training. I do not want people to jump to conclusions. It is an excellent protocol for dog introduction. It is not necessarily the best for difficult dogs. There were 9 trainers owrking on this 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I do not ever leave Bruce in a social situation unsupervised. I don't know if that will ever occur. All 4 dogs can be together for 5 or 6 hours a day. And during those 5 or 6 hours, there is always a trainer there. It used to be 4 trainers. But we approximated more time less trainers. We made it to the point where I might feel comfortable with leaving them alone, I don't know if that's 3 months from now, or 3 years from now, or never. I will assess that as time goes on. I only submit this as a food for thought, I think there's a lot of work and replication that needs to happen.

Working with groups has its challenges. But with the right tools there is a lot that is possible. A reminder that whatever you do, training is a critical part of good animal care. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity to teach animals how to live together. I must talk about the "Five go to Sea" cruise. Come on the cruise because we will be out at sea, we will love to share more about it on the cruise.