Tresler, A., Rasbach, C., Stevens, T. et al. 2021. Adapting positive reinforcement training to novel laboratory species. Laboratory Animal Science Professional 9(6) (November/December), 42-44.
Positive reinforcement training (PRT) is a component of a comprehensive species-appropriate enrichment program to train specific species behaviors and reduce the stress on animals. Our facility has historically used PRT with nonhuman primates, so we adapted the PRT model and complex enrichment when we started a new project with the goat. Once the animals have become accustomed to staff and their surroundings through a robust enrichment program, they are more inclined to participate in training. Preference treat testing is substantial tool that can be used to encourage voluntary participation and compliance of animals. After a reward item was established for each animal, we then developed a bridge using a clicker device. Our goats quickly picked up the clicker bridge after to 3 to 4 interactive sessions. Training took place in a large open enclosure where the goats were housed. Small PRT sessions were given 3 d per week starting at short sessions of 5 to 10 min per animal. Since we had a small group of animals to work with, they were left with their group. We gradually increased the length of the training sessions over 4 to 5 wk up to a duration of 15 to 20 min. Goats are very intelligent and food motivated; they respond well to PRT training and are quick to learn, however, some individuals seemed to learn more quickly than others. Some behaviors that we reinforced with the clicker training were display of calm behavior when being haltered and walked on lead as well having their legs and hooves manipulated. Trust that was developed and instilled through training and daily positive interaction with husbandry staff proved beneficial with the goats’ overall perception of people. The goats were less fearful toward staff in general (even towards staff that they were not well acquainted with). This allowed for easier handling and routine procedures to be performed by veterinary staff such as physical exams, leg and hoof manipulation, passive range-of motion, walking on a lead, and administration of medication.