Williams, M. L., Torrini, L. A., Nolan, E. J. et al. 2022. Using classical and operant conditioning to train a shifting behavior in juvenile false water cobras (Hydrodynastes gigas). Animals 12(10), 1229.
All animals have the capacity to learn through operant conditioning and other types of learning, and as a result, zoos and other animal care facilities have shifted towards the use of positive reinforcement training to shape the behavior of animals under their care. Training offers animals the choice to participate in their own husbandry routines and veterinary procedures, while also providing mental stimulation. By adopting these practices, the welfare of animals in human care has improved, but it has not been applied equally across taxa. Snakes are frequently overlooked in the discussion of choice and control in a captive setting, likely due to the historical misinterpretation of their intelligence and behavioral needs. In this study, a shaping plan was developed for 28 juvenile false water cobras (Hydrodynastes gigas), a rear-fanged venomous species, from four clutches. Snakes were rewarded with food when completing behaviors related to the ultimate goal of following a target into a shift container. The purpose of this study is to incorporate the trained behaviors in routine husbandry practices, while preventing unnecessary stress in the snakes and risk to the keeper.