Brodersen, T., Glerup, P., Mølgaard, S. et al. 2010. The use of positive reinforcement with Göttinger minipigs. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 721-722 (Abstract #P128).
Experimental procedures, such as dosing, weighing, and physical exams are usual parameters included in nonclinical safety and efficacy studies using laboratory animals. Many of these procedures are often associated with discomfort for the animals and restraint is necessary, which can cause stress and impact the study results. Also, technical staff may have to work in ergonomic undesired positions during the restraint of large animal species, such as the Göttingen minipig. We sought to facilitate various procedures, eliminating stress and optimizing working conditions for staff. Positive reinforcement has been used for many years in training pet and zoo animals, but has only been used to a limited extent in laboratory animals. We, therefore, chose to implement this method in a repeat dose toxicity study with intranasal dosing 10 times daily for 1 wk with Göttingen minipigs. Three animals were included in the study and each animal was trained for approximately 30 min/d during 14 d. Training was performed by a dedicated team of trainers, using clickers as a marker for the desired behavior and GLP-certified dietary pellets as rewards. The principle of shaping was used in the training sessions, gradually transforming specific behaviors into the desired behavior. First, the sound of the clicker was associated with the reward, followed by the acceptance of approximation of the trainer to the animal. This was followed by further successive training steps until the complete desired behavior was reached. The completely trained animal voluntarily came forward, stepped onto a box (to elevate the animal), accepted approximation of the intranasal device, and the subsequent dosing in one nostril in a “freeze” position. All animals learned the complete behavior prior to study start, although differences in the ease of learning were noticed between the animals. The study was completed successfully using positive reinforcement throughout the study, increasing animal welfare and working conditions significantly. We consider positive reinforcement a great potential in relation to other experimental procedures in the Göttingen minipig as well as in other laboratory animal species.