McMillan, J. L., Galvan, A., Wichmann, T. et al. 2010. The use of positive reinforcement during pole and collar training of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 705-706 (Abstract #P78).
The pole and collar method enables safe transfer of a monkey from their home environment to a restraint chair without sedation. The ability to conduct procedures with a conscious and cooperative subject is cost effective, labor saving, promotes animal welfare, and supports certain research protocols in which it is essential that animals do not receive sedatives or anesthetics prior to experimental sessions. Traditional methods to train animals for pole and collar primarily use negative reinforcement (NR) and coercion (for example, the squeeze cage mechanism, exerting force on the pole to move the monkey toward the chair), with only minor use of positive reinforcement techniques (PRT). Usually a few days or weeks are sufficient to train monkeys using these techniques, but the animals seem to experience stress, which may negatively impact their wellbeing and cooperation with research staff. In an effort to address these problematic aspects of the pole and collar method, we are in the process of changing our training approach to more strongly emphasize PRT. The current assessment looks at the incorporation of PRT as the foundation to train 9 young adult rhesus macaques for the pole and collar method. Training sessions were conducted at least 5 times per week for 10 to 20 min each. Monkeys were given time to acclimate to the collar, and all implements used in training. Desensitization techniques were applied to increase the animal’s acceptance of the restraint process. One of the subjects has completed training with exclusive use of PRT (27 sessions; 405 min) and 3 additional animals are currently undergoing the same training. The remaining 5 animals were trained with a combination of PRT and NR techniques, with emphasis on PRT (averaging 41 sessions; 809 min). Important components in changing our training procedures were to ensure trainers maintained consistency by understanding training terminology and applications, using primary and secondary reinforcers, and developing a defined step-by-step approach with documentation. The trainers report that using PRT techniques have significantly improved the behavior of the monkeys during the training phase and animals appear calmer during experimental sessions than under conditions that used NR more extensively.