Enhancing animal well-being

Positive reinforcement training and environmental enrichment: enhancing animal well-being



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It has been 18 years since the Animal Welfare Act mandated that facilities housing nonhuman primates provide for their psychologic well-being, triggering a concerted effort by scientists and professionals to enhance the welfare of all captive animals. Today, it is difficult to assess the progress made or whether, over- all, captive animals are substantially better off. In gen- eral, zoos are good at providing animals with the basics: quality food and medical care, a safe and secure place to live, a naturalistic environment, and appropri- ate social contacts. Increasing longevity and reproduc- tion of many species are indicators of the success of this pursuit. Despite these efforts, some observations about a wild animal’s life in captivity can be made. These animals are spatially limited in an environ- ment that is sterile and unchanging, in comparison to the wild. There are no predators or prey. Social group size and configuration are limited and, in most cases, there is no diversity of species present. They must eat a fixed diet when and where it is offered, even if the feed- ing method is unnatural. And most zoo animals still spend most of their time in holding areas that are small- er and more barren than the exhibit spaces zoo visitors see. The net result is that captive animals have little control over their lives. Negative consequences ranging from boredom to stereotypic behavior often result. Given these realities of zoo life, addressing animal welfare is a daunting task. Most will agree that welfare is not something that an animal either has or does not have. Rather, it lies on a continuum from poor to good. Petto et al1 suggest that psychologic well-being be gen- erally defined as “the ability to adapt—to respond and adjust to changing situations.” To assess well-being, they recommend using a combination of variables, including behavior, health, reproduction, and longevi- ty. Desmond 2 suggests that in pursuing enhanced ani- mal welfare, the behavior of the animal “should be the lens through which we focus our efforts.” Shepherdson 3 provides a detailed framework using observable behavior as an indicator of well-being. He notes that most animal welfare researchers would agree that enhanced well-being requires that animals have a reasonable measure of choice and control in their lives and that they are “behaviorally competent and empow- ered to act on their own behalf.” He suggests that ani- mals experiencing enhanced welfare should be free of behaviors that are abnormal or indicative of fear and frustration. They should actively explore and interact with their environment and demonstrate a diversity of behavior similar to that typically observed in the wild. Finally, they should demonstrate behavioral flexibility and appropriate responses to changing circumstances. With these behavioral objectives in mind, this paper will explore how positive reinforcement training and environmental enrichment can address 2 broad aspects of captive animal welfare: helping animals to cope and prosper in an “artificial” zoological system and maintaining as much “naturalness” in this new context as possible. Positive reinforcement training and environmental enrichment: enhancing animal well-being Gail Ellen Laule, MA From Active Environments Incorporated, 7651 Santos Rd, Lompoc, CA 93436. awf03.qxd 9/10/2003 1:49 PM Page 969

Define Your Training System In assessing the benefits of training to animals, par- ticularly in regard to welfare, it is important to distin- guish the type of training being used and specific tech- niques employed. The training recommended in this paper is based on the use of positive reinforcement; ani- mals are rewarded with something they like for the desired behavioral response. Operationally, it means that the positive alternatives are exhausted before any kind of negative reinforcement is used. On the rare occasions when an escape-avoidance technique is nec- essary, it is kept to a minimum and balanced by positive reinforcement the vast majority of the time. Physical punishment is not appropriate as a training technique, and no food deprivation is required. Animals are fed their daily diet, and rewards for training include por- tions of that diet or extra treats. Finally, this training relies on the voluntary cooperation of the animal. Unfortunately, captive animal management prac- tices have traditionally included a large measure of negative reinforcement. Although this training works, there is an inherent cost to the animal’s welfare when it is forced to cooperate through the threat of a negative event that elicits fear or anxiety.4 Consider a primate that must receive an injection for its health. If negative reinforcement is used, training the animal to present a leg for the injection requires the threat of an even more negative stimulus, thus exposing the animal to stress from both stimuli. Using positive reinforcement, the animal is trained through shaping and rewards to vol- untarily present the leg and is concurrently desensi- tized to the procedure to reduce the associated fear or anxiety. It seems reasonable to say that positive rein- forcement training is consistent with efforts to con- tribute to that animal’s welfare. Basics of Environmental Enrichment There have been different names used to refer to the process we call environmental enrichment. In this paper, I am using the term and definition developed by the Behavior Husbandry Advisory Group for the American Zoological and Aquarium Association: “Environmental enrichment is a process for improving or enhancing zoo animal environments and care with- in the context of their inhabitant’s behavioral biology and natural history. It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species- appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare.” Research has shown that the key to successful enrichment is in its complexity and variability.5-7 These features keep enrichment interesting and novel and encourage animals to interact with their environment. Enrichment is divided into the following categories: • Physical enrichment, including natural features (eg, logs, rocks, water, and substrate) and artificial items (eg, culverts, ropes, cargo nets, and platforms) used to create useful elements (eg, perches, dens, climb- ing structures, and lookouts). It also includes tem- perature, light, sound, and space use, as well as arti- ficial and natural manipulable objects and toys. • Feeding enrichment, including the type of foods provided and the frequency and method of deliv- ery, with emphasis on novelty and variety. Examples include feeding whole, frozen, chopped, and live food items that are dispersed, hidden, buried, or hung in the environment. • Sensory enrichment, entailing stimulating the sens- es by introducing music or nature sounds; perfumes, spices, and urine or fecal scents of other species; edi- ble plantings; varied bedding materials, such as straw and shavings; varied light and dark spaces; and temperature variations created by hot rocks, misters, ice shavings, and heated or cooled spaces. • Social enrichment, referring to group size, compo- sition, and changes within groups caused by births and the introduction of new animals, as well as compatible mixed-species situations. • Occupational enrichment, including introducing items that encourage problem solving and physical manipulation by the animal and activities like pos- itive reinforcement training. • Human-animal interactions, including play, grooming, brushing, and training for husbandry purposes and other behaviors like painting, retrieval, and A to B’s to encourage exercise. Living in the Zoo—Helping Animals to Cope To help animals cope and prosper in an “artificial” zoologic system, we must consider the routine events animals are exposed to that may be in conflict with nat- ural behavior, and a source of short-term stress and, in some cases, long-term distress. Among these events are: • Daily routine husbandry activities, including shift- ing animals between enclosures; brief physical examinations; short-term separations from con- specifics; noninvasive procedures, such as skin care, hoof or claw trims, urine collection, and minor wound treatment; and short-term restraint. • Veterinary procedures that are uncomfortable, inva- sive, require special equipment or greater restraint, including blood draws, injections, more thorough physical examinations, TB testing, serious wound treatment, radiography, and ultrasonography. • Social housing and resultant behavioral problems, including aggression and excessive dominance, which threaten the safety and welfare of individual animals because of a lack of sufficient physical space and alternative social grouping options. Although husbandry routines, veterinary proce- dures, and social living are all important components of captive animal care and welfare, each comes with a substantial cost to the animal. Positive reinforcement training is an effective technique to minimize these costs and maximize benefits. The training process rewards animals with something they like for voluntar- ily cooperating in necessary behaviors, from shifting on and off exhibit to having a blood sample taken. This voluntary cooperation provides animals the opportuni- ty to work for food, 8,9 achieve greater choice and con- trol over daily events,10 and experience greater mental stimulation.11 A more tangible benefit of voluntary cooperation is reduced use of physical restraint and anesthesia

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