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Animals Can Do What?!?

Rochel Burstyn

It’s not just dolphins. Large and small and very unexpected animals around the world are being trained every day. Why? All sorts of reasons

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

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Photo: Shutterstock

The crowd is sitting in the bleachers, waiting with bated breath… and then — a collective gasp! The impressive smooth-nosed dolphins are in the water, swimming in synchronization, jumping and flipping in the air, following signals from the human trainer. The crowd is ecstatic with excitement — what an incredible show! What fascinating creatures!

But it’s not just dolphins. Here are some of the many ways animals around the world are being trained right now.



You might have seen a blind person crossing the street with a guide dog, a hearing-impaired person with a hearing dog, or a dog standing on its hind legs to press a button that opens an electric door for its wheelchair-bound owner. These animals who help people with their disabilities are known as service animals. Dogs can also be trained to stand on their hind legs and press a button to open. Service animals are usually dogs but can also be monkeys, birds, and horses. 


As we see with the dolphins, animals in zoos and aquariums are sometimes trained to “perform” their natural behaviors on demand. This educates people about the animal world; if not for zoos, how many of us would ever see any of these creatures? Seeing these animals fills us with appreciation for the animal world and a desire to be more considerate about conservation and resources, to help make sure these wonderful animals don’t become extinct. 



You can’t just walk up to an animal and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Gorilla, but I’d like to put you in a different pen, so would you mind going in this tiny box that will transport you?” And try saying, “Could you just stick out your flipper, Mr. Whale? I want to stick a needle in it and take a vial of your blood so I can study it in the lab.” That’s just not going to work, is it? 


Animals need to be trained to enter crates for transportation in a way that keeps them and people safe. Husbandry behavior (nothing to do with getting married!) are actions that vets need animals to do to allow them to have physical examinations or care. For example, they need animals to step on scales to get their weight, to not lash out when they take their blood, to be fine with getting their nails cut or accepting eye drops if they need it. 



Many animals are trained to help humans get their work done. Before strong tractors and machinery were invented, strong animals were used to do the hardest farm work, and many people around the world still use horses, elephants, and oxen to pull carts and logs. Dogs have a great sense of smell and are used by the military and police to search for drugs or explosives. Camels, donkeys, horses, and dogs are used to pull wagons and sleds. Some dogs help people hunt or herd livestock. 

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