Gifford (left), Ohio Animal Training consultant
and Dr. Grey Stafford (right), nationally
recognized author and animal trainer with Wildlife
World Zoo and Aquarium, watch Mark Schneider, work
with "Cletus," a Guinea Hog being
weighted at the Akron Zoo, November 2, 2012, in
Ohio — Boo’s world turned upside down when Athena
moved in last spring to share the large barn owl
enclosure at the Akron Zoo. After getting a new
roommate, the raptor, who had seemed happy splitting her
digs with the male owl that died of old age,
inexplicably became aggressive when zoo staff entered
her habitat, said owl trainer Shannon Benedict of Stow,
anyone goes in the cage, she starts shrieking and
screaming so loudly you can hear her all over the
zoo," she explained. She asked nationally
recognized animal behaviorist Dr. Grey Stafford for help
to curb the owl’s obvious stress.
author of the book "Zoomility: Keeper Tales of
Training with Positive Reinforcement," visited the
zoo recently to conduct a behavior training seminar for
the public and help staff members find solutions for
stubborn behavior issues.
an opportunity for our staff members to talk to someone
who’s been at it for 22 years," said mammal
curator Eric Albers.
the group arrived at the barn owl habitat, they saw Boo
quietly resting in a nest box while her nemesis, Athena,
had claimed Boo’s favorite perch. Benedict
acknowledged she hit a roadblock while trying to help
the bird learn to cope with the newcomer.
there any fights between the two?" Stafford asked.
never confronts Athena, "just me," Benedict
she’s taking it out on you," Stafford told her.
suggested Benedict try feeding the bird frequently
during the day so she would associate the food Benedict
was giving her with positive feelings.
the nocturnal hunter’s daytime world would begin to
revolve around seeing Benedict, who represents food, and
she would obsess less about her perceived territorial
rights being violated, he said.
you leave, they should know the food leaves, too,"
began his zoological career as a trainer at Sea World in
Aurora, Ohio. He said his methods work with all animals,
including domestic cats.
are just like the big cats here — the lions and
jaguars — when it comes to training."
are still felines, Albers reminded a visitor.
"These guys are not all that different, but they
can take your face off," he said.
takes a lot of training to get a snow leopard to back up
to the bars on its cage to await the piercing pain of an
inoculation by needle, but that’s the goal, said
teaching animals to participate in their own care,"
keepers today want to avoid anesthetics for routine
exams and inoculations. An anesthetic, as well as the
stress of having it administered, may skew blood test
results, Stafford said.
Gifford, the zoo’s animal training consultant who
works with zoo staff members one day a week, concurred
time you can get a good look at an animal without
anesthesia is good for the animal’s welfare," she
said while observing Zheng, a red panda, standing on a
scale for the price of a raisin.
Melnik, primary trainer for the red pandas, demonstrated
how she encourages 4-year-old Zheng when she enters his
habitat for daily training sessions.
always, we remember they are wild animals. We know the
subtle signs of frustration and know when to back
off," she said.
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was impressed that Zheng and the zoo’s wood storks
seemed unfazed by noisy construction from the nearby
future site of Grizzly Ridge, slated to open next
animals are all being trained with the construction
noises and they are calm," he noted.
message of positive reinforcement training with
Zoomility’s three R’s — request, response,
reinforce — has earned praise from TV personality Jack
Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, who wrote
the foreword in Stafford’s book.
work in zoos, oceanariums, and television has enabled
him to apply the same principles of reinforcement
training to dozens of exotic and endangered species.
Along the way, he’s helped many pet owners and
professionals provide better care for their animals
through positive reinforcement," Hanna wrote.
food may be the incentive for many animals, it doesn’t
always work; some animals may require other inducements,
can be done with toys, attention from the teacher, or a
particular scent," he said.
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large cat at the zoo loved a ginger body scent trainers
sprayed inside a crate so much, it didn’t want to come
out when its exam was finished, said Albers.
was just like a cat with catnip," he said.
why visitors to the zoo’s website shouldn’t be
surprised that the donation "wish list"
includes perfumes for its scent-loving residents.
STORY CAN END HERE)
the group headed to Farmland, the zoo’s petting
habitat, Linda Criss, vice president of communications,
acknowledged she makes regular early morning visits to
see the resident black Guinea hog named Cletus.
of Wooster, said she has a soft spot for the pig,
probably because she grew up on a farm and was a member
of a 4-H Club.
one of my favorites. I like his personality and he likes
to be scratched," she confided.
secondary trainer, Mark Schneider of Akron, who also
cares for the storks and red pandas, said he didn’t
have a particular favorite.
all have different personalities and so it changes every
day," he said.
asked Stafford for suggestions to help teach Cletus, who
was nibbling on grapes, to mind his manners while
feeding staff throw his food on the ground of his
he is a pig," Schneider said drolly.