Just as you teach your dog tricks at home, the Zookeepers in the Indiana Family Farm at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo are training some of the same behaviors to ducks, pigs, and more!
Three call ducks, named Sheldon, Leonard, and Howard (after characters on CBS’ The Big Bang Theory) are about half the size of a normal duck, though they’re fully grown. Zookeepers train them to give them choice and control in their environment so they don’t have to chase them inside, or restrain them to check their weight.
One of the duck’s favorite exercises is target training. Ducks actually see color very well, so Zoo Staff use different colored sticks and corresponding mats to train them. When they touch the stick or stand on their mat, they’re rewarded with veggies like peas, corn, and green beans.
The kunekune pigs, named Elvis and Pugsley, also have fun with training. Pigs are intelligent animals, like dogs, and need constant mental stimulation. Training with the kunekune pigs is mostly husbandry. So, separating the pigs, getting them to go outside, separating them for feeding time – things like that.
The kunekune pigs can’t see as well as the call ducks and so their target training is based more on shape and texture rather than color. They’re rewarded for backing up, touching a target, and sitting down with produce – things like pineapples, blueberries, and green beans.
All animal training, whether for the call ducks or the kunekune pigs, is based on the concept of operate conditioning. Operate conditioning is very important for the animals because it lets them choose whether or not they participate. The animals are rewarded for good behaviors, while bad behaviors are ignored. So, they’re never being punished for anything and it’s more of a relationship-based training.
Animal training takes place every day at the Indiana Family Farm. Stop by and see it for yourself!