Roller, J. E., Meyers, M. 2014. Positive reinforcement training in a research setting: An introduction to sling training the Ossabaw pig. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 539. (Abstract #PS51).
Over the past year, the large animal care staff at our institution was introduced to an unfamiliar breed of pig, the Ossabaw Island pig. Not only were they tasked with adapting to this unique research model in their facility, but also with training them to undergo restrained medical procedures. The task was to train the animals to willingly travel from the housing room into a sling. Positive reinforcement training techniques were employed to assist in this process and to find the best way to accomplish our training goals with the Ossabaw pigs, as their behavior tends to be slightly different than your typical research pig. The overall training process proved challenging for many reasons, including: finding the proper equipment to restrain the animals, the overall size and personality differences of the pigs, and finding their primary motivator, which at times was not food. While the training process was difficult, what started out as a fairly labor-intensive and time-consuming process became manageable with just a few people and very little effort. We will discuss the use of positive reinforcement training for pigs in a research setting, with a brief overview of the mechanics and science behind this type of training. Challenges associated with our specific project will be discussed, as well as an overview of the various training methods that were employed to get the desired results. Lastly, we will provide some advice to those wanting to implement a positive reinforcement training program for the animals at their facility.