Sunday, December 8, 2013

More About Dorothy.....Condor Training

If you’re not already familiar with Dorothy she is our sub adult Andean Condor, and for the last two months I and a few others have been training her.

Dorothy, our young Andean Condor
We have been training Dorothy in a variety of different behaviors ranging from going to a particular location by verbal command to simpler behaviors like waiting patiently for her food reward.  There are various reasons why we are training with Dorothy but the primary reason is to provide her with an enriching and fun environment.

I have personally been around and known Dorothy for just 3 years now, but in that time she has come to be one of the most special animals I work with at World Bird Sanctuary.  Now if you have never seen Dorothy she is one of our largest birds at WBS, with a wing span of around 10 feet and weighing around 20 pounds. She definitely has a big character to match her massive size as well, and being a condor one of her strongest character traits is her intelligence.

The training has evolved greatly since September, through many training sessions and with instruction from my peers.  The goals have shifted and training style improved to efficiently get the most out of the time we spend with her.  The training technique that we are using is positively reinforcing behaviors with food and verbal praise. 

Dorothy about to receive a food reward 

Currently we are working on getting Dorothy to step to and stay on a scale so we can accurately weigh her. It would appear that this would be a simple goal, but I have learned that what would look to be a simple behavior is not always as simple as it appears.  This one seemingly simple behavior is actually broken down into many small steps and then these steps are combined to result in Dorothy stepping onto the scale and getting an accurate weight. 

We have started to train Dorothy to do this behavior by utilizing some of the behaviors she has already learned.  She will already go to her stump when called to it, so what we have done so far is to place another stump about 5 feet from the first one and placed the scale on it.   It has only been 5 days and we already have the two stumps next to each other and Dorothy is starting to put her toes on the scale to reach the food reward.  We are still far from getting the behavior down completely but every day she is getting closer to our goal of stepping to and staying on the scale.
The last two months have been a learning experienceboth for Dorothy and us (the trainers) as well.  At times it can be very frustrating, but as an animal trainer we must learn how to overcome the frustration, and keep looking at what we can do to promote a productive learning environment for Dorothy. 

Overall the time and effort that is exerted day in and day out is all worth it when you get to work with an amazing bird like Dorothy.     

Submitted by Adam Triska, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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