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Member formerly known as MistyLea21
332 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Nellie (my service dog) and I have recently went to Baltimore for an animal behavior management group with some of the top animal trainers in the USA. Trainers that founded most of the things you see at Sea World with the killer whales and dolphins etc. to top zoo trainers all over the USA and many other top people in their field. Including this woman, Karen Pryor. People that read this that are into training may know of her or have read her book "Don't Shoot the Dog".
I learned at this conference LITERALLY any animal can be clicker trained. I met people that were training even chickens and reptiles.
They wanted me to practice clicker training with my chins, I said "ohhh I dont know if I could train them" but they ensured me that ANY ANIMAL CAN BE TRAINED. So I may try doing that and doing a presentation at the ABMA next year.
Anyway, Nellie and I have now been asked to speak at Karen Pryors conference in November held in Orlando. I went to her web page tonight and just thought I would share this with y'all. Just to be clear most animals at zoo's (minus Sea World shows) are trained solely for medical exams, husbandry, safety of caretakers, etc. Not for tricks and cute show type behaviors. I don't want yall to think when I say animal trainers a bunch of circus type animal trainers and tricks.
Its cool she even mentions chinchillas, but did make a mistake by saying they have storage cheek pouches... but oh well... lol

Clicker Critter: preview



Click a Critter: mice, hamsters, rabbits, any small pet. Karen Pryor tells you how. Get a sneak preview of one of Karen's ClickerExpo workshops
Small pets
Any small mammal can be clicker trained. Use a preferred food in small pieces.

Work in an area where the pet feels safe: a familiar room or location. To train the pet in a confined area, at least at first. You can use an X pen for rabbits or guinea pigs. A cardboard box with cut-down sides (six or eight inches high) will fence in a hamster, gerbil, or rat temporarily. Nothing confines chinchillas or ferrets very well but they can be worked for short periods on a tabletop (also true for wing-clipped birds.)

Food preferences: pick out six or eight delicious food items, put them on a plate in a row (take notes) and see which one the pet goes for first. Use small squares of greens, one or two rolled oats, chopped raw carrots or apple or broccoli, and anything else you think they might like. For ferrets, use tiny bits of meat. Repeat the test with foods in different positions, to select the first treat you will use in training. Remove that treat from the diet temporarily. Remember that preferences will change in time; if training slows up, do a new preference test.

As usual, a good first behavior is targeting, and a good second behavior is the recall. My office rat, Lucy, always came out of hiding even if she had been sleeping, when I called her name; so I could for example turn her loose in the plant window in the bathroom, a jungle of houseplants, and go and call her a couple of hours later and she would stick her head out, wherever she happened to be-"Yes?" -and allow herself to be carried back to her cage.

Some good behaviors for small pets

Rabbits are surprisingly clever and have an odd sense of humor. They can throw things (bite and toss). They can use their paws to hit balls. They can retrieve small objects. They're great jumpers: use hurdles or home-made agility obstacles. Free-style acrobatics-jumps, flips, paw moves, spins-can be easily caught with the clicker. Rabbits can press buttons, close and open cupboard doors, and do any scent trick a dog can do.

Rabbits can also be litter box trained, making them excellent apartment pets. Clicker-trained rabbits tend to become extremely tame and cuddly. There are rabbit rescue organizations and at least one rabbit 'school,' in Canada (rabbit owners and their pets meet in a dog training facility once a week to practice agility and hurdle racing and learn tricks from each other.)

Mice, rats, and hamsters
All of these critters can learn to hang by their front paws from a bar, trapeze, or cage top wires. Build mini agility courses or use petstore hamster tunnels and structures. You can target animals through the clear plastic tunnels using a pencil on the outside, or a laser pointer dot; or try developing an acoustic target, such as tapping on the table, and teach the pets to come to the sound.

Mice and rats can walk a tightrope, pull up a basket hanging on a string, fetch and carry small objects, drop a marble into a jar or tube, climb ladders ( try the bird department in a big pet store for ladders and other climbing equipment suitable in size to mice).

Small bits of food are needed so the animal doesn't fill up, at least at first. However, all these animals are food storers by nature. If you give the animal a cosy nest in its normal enclosure, and deep litter, your pet can set up a pantry and take food treats to its storage place rather than eating them outright. This allows you to give bigger and more wonderful treats (my rat Lucy especially enjoyed getting one whole cooked kidney bean at the end of a training session, and would rush to put it in her pantry and then gloat over it.) You can always clean out the pantry when you need to, I don't think they can tell.

Incidentally you can also train octopi to store their food after each click rather than eat it click by click which saves a lot of time as they are slow eaters.

These rockhopping critters are very, very smart and very acrobatic. They take to clicker training instantly and will turn the tables and start training you in the very first session.

They like raisins and will store them in their cheek pouches rather than eating them. Cut raisins into six pieces and give a piece at a time and you can get fifty behaviors out of a chinchilla before it has to stop.

No data. Why doesn't every ferret owner use clicker training? There should be a world of wonderful behavior in these animals.

Fish are very trainable. Bettas can be trained using the tiny pelleted betta food available in pet stores. Use a penlight or keychain flashlight for the click: fish see a blink very well. You can target a fish to move from one side of the tank to the other, or up and down, using any target stick against the glass. Other ideas: swim through a hoop (use an earring for a small fish; make hoops out of surgical tubing for larger fish). Jump (use a target). Figure eights (shaped and on cue.) Weave poles. Gold fish are good and so are all the Cichlids, especially Oscars (Astronotus ocellatus.) As with other animals, the clicker training experience tends to make fish more interested in the outside world and more apt to initiate interaction with people, a peculiar experience for us.


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10 Posts
That's interesting. I don't know how easy it would be to train chinchillas, but I've heard of people training them to do some things.

Don't know where she got the cheek pouches part from.

Tarzan Mama of Two
7,329 Posts
Wow thanx for the information!! I wouldn't mind trying it on my rabbits!!! I'll let you all know how I go!! (But I want to get me dog trained first so it may be a while!)
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