Savastano, G. M. 2013. Operant conditioning with laboratory beagles. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 619 (Abstract #PS57).
There is increased regulatory emphasis on positive reinforcement training for husbandry, research procedures, and restraint devices. We practice acclimation, association, and positive reinforcement training with our beagle colony with goals to reduce stress for dogs and improve efficiency for personnel. Desensitization and acclimation practices are used to prepare dogs for participation in PK studies. Dogs are desensitized to sounds and vibrations of the electric shaver to prepare skin for catheterization, and acclimated to the sling for up to 1 h. Association training was used to decrease anticipatory barking. Staff enter the room many times throughout the day, and we noticed that barking became louder around lunchtime, with the dogs not knowing which entry was for feeding. The caretaker now rings a dinner bell when they enter with feed, signaling lunchtime. This has reduced the amount of barking and signals to the dogs housed in kennels that do not face the door that lunch has arrived. Positive reinforcement techniques were used to train dogs to return to their kennel on command. This behavior has an ergonomic benefit to the staff, who no longer have to lift dogs, and saves over 50 h of labor per dog room per year. Positive reinforcement training techniques were also used to train the dogs to jump onto a platform and present a paw for voluntary blood collection. Blood collection usually requires a second operator to restrain the dog, or requires putting the dog in a sling. With voluntary paw presentation a single operator can rapidly collect the blood sample. Behavior modification via clicker training is an effective and positive way to not only enrich the lives of the animals but also to ease the lives of the animal care, research, and veterinary staff.