Severs, E., Leszcynski, J. 2012. Training rats to shift into clean cages by using operant conditioning with positive reinforcement. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 632-633 (Abstract #PS8).
Changing soiled cages is an integral part of husbandry, yet it can be a source of stress for both animal and animal care technician. In one case, large geriatric rats weighing around 1 kg did not have a positive response to the standard method of transfer (holding by the base of the tail) to be physically moved from one cage to another. These rats would become visibly agitated and occasionally attempt to bite the care technician performing the cage changing. The technician began using operant conditioning with positive reinforcement, which is a training technique commonly used in zoos and aquariums to train animals to shift between exhibits and holding areas to minimize stress and increase worker safety. As a result of the implementation of these techniques, the original group of older rats now transfer themselves from one cage to the other without any physical manipulation by the technician. Due to the success of this training method on the test group, the care technician is now implementing this training with other rats within the rat colony, and there are plans to expand to the rest of the program if this is also successful. If an animal care technician has the time and skill to train shifting behaviors in laboratory animals, it can provide mental stimulation for the animal model, decrease stress in handling due to cage-changing, and increase safety for the technician.