Chapter 7 Behavioral Training for Medical Procedures
Training animals to cooperate voluntarily in veterinary procedures is an important cornerstone of a zoo’s animal care program and provides numerous benefits.7 Preventive medicine tasks, measurement of baseline physiologic parameters, visual and physical examinations, diagnostic procedures, therapy, and reproductive evaluations may be done more efficiently with less stress to the animals and without the inherent risks of anesthesia. Long-term therapy such as insulin injections, impossible in many cases in the past, may frequently be accomplished.9 Animal introductions may occur with less stress and fewer injuries.4 The training process may desensitize the animal to past negative experiences with the veterinarian, thus developing trust between animal and caregiver and allowing closer observation of the animal. Often overlooked are the positive psychologic stimulation and behavioral enrichment benefits that the hours of training also provide for the animal.
Along with the benefits of a training program come costs. There may be a substantial commitment of time by both the keeper/trainer and the veterinary staff. The risks of staff injuries increase when fully aware animals are palpated and body parts manipulated. Limbs of staff may be grabbed, bitten, and crushed with subsequent lacerations and fractures. Expensive medical equipment may also be at risk of damage by animals.
A well-informed, skilled staff increases training effectiveness and the efficiency and reliability of positive results.8 Skillful application of techniques reduces risk of injury and avoids excessive frustration for trainers and the animals. A helpful tool is a medical behavior training worksheet that includes a brief description of the behavior, name of trainer, training steps, equipment needs, and safety concerns and mitigation steps. The worksheet is prepared and reviewed with input by program coordinator, curators, trainers, and veterinary staff, and progress is reviewed at designated times during the training process.