How to Draw Blood from a Hyena

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
September 15, 2011

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Clients who are just learning how to clicker train often ask me what it's possible to teach a dog. You can't teach a dog to read or do calculus, but otherwise the sky's the limit. Well, the sky and your own skills.

For my money, one of the most amazing features of clicker training is that you can teach animals to accept all kinds of caretaking behaviors, even ones they find uncomfortable or painful. And the animals don't need to be forced, restrained, or drugged. Here's a video of two hyenas at the Denver Zoo. They lie down on cue, stand still on cue, and offer their necks and legs for blood draws on cue. (Don't worry, there aren't any actual blood draws in the video -- it's just a presentation for visitors!)  The hyenas don't do all this for free, of course: they get paid in raw ground beef.

If you're insufficiently impressed by seeing hyenas clicker trained, how about these ostriches? Or this frog, learning to follow the keeper's finger around his or her enclosure? (And how much does it crack you up that the keeper praises the frog after she delivers the flies? Frogs -- I just have trouble imagining that they care a whole lot about human praise.)

Suppose you have no handy hyena, ostrich, or frog, but you do have a dog. And he doesn't enjoy it when you cut his nails. You can spend some time doing behavior modification with him -- or you can do an end run around the problem and teach him how to use a nail file.


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