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Huckleberry the North American beaver gets his first official training session... and it doesn't go as planned.

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 (00:00) to (02:00)

Hi guys.  Welcome back to Animal Wonders.  I'm Jessi and today, I'd like to do something I actually haven't ever done.  I'm going to train a beaver.


Hi sleepyhead.  What's going on?  Do you wanna come say hi?  Come on out.  This is Huckleberry the North American beaver.  He is a year old and roughly 40 lbs.  He was found as an orphan in the wild with trauma to his brain and right eye, which is why he's now living in captivity under our care.  Over the last year, Huckleberry and I have established a pretty strong trust bond.  I can tell he knows me and trusts me because he's calm around me and comes to me for comfort, whereas if he met a stranger, he would get really nervous around them, hiss, and maybe try and run away.  

Beavers have poor eyesight to begin with, and since Huckleberry has impaired vision in his right eye, he's even more wary of new people and new situations.  Huckleberry and I have been doing public presentations since he was about nine weeks old and so far, we've communicated through trust and touch.  I get him to come on to my lap and gets to eat his favorite foods, but I'd like to start giving him more clear communication so he feels more in control of the situation, so the first behavior I'd like to train him is to target.

A behavior is what you call something that an animal does.  It's often referred to as a trick when training dogs, but I prefer the term 'behavior' because it's more accurate.  Targeting is when the animal touches a body part to the specified target.  In this case, I'm going to use my hand in a fist like this and have him touch his nose to my hand, but since I want to make sure our communication is very clear, I'm going to use a clicker to let him know that what he's doing is what I'm asking for, so let's teach him what a clicker means.

I'm going to simply click this clicker and then give him his food.  

 (02:00) to (04:00)

I expect that the click noise is going to make him a bit nervous so I'm going to muffle the sound as much as I can with my hand.  I'm going to repeat this until it's clear that he understands that the click means treat.  This can sometimes take quite a while, depending on the animal. 

So this isn't going exactly the way I hoped it would go.  Huckleberry kinda got bored with this training game and the treats and he's a little bit nervous about the camera over there, so he decided to go and do his own thing, and that happens sometimes.  What I'm going to try and do is find some more reinforcing treats, rewards to give him, so I'm going to go and get his favorite foods and then we're going to try and get back into it. 

Alright, guys, I got some new treats and what I want to do actually is move him into a new location so that he's not as comfortable in his little safe spaces and he wants to focus on me a little bit more.  I think that's gonna help out a little bit.  The reason I want to move to a new location is because right now, he's doing something called self-reinforcing.  He's going and finding something that is very, that makes him feel good, which is building and constructing and moving things around, and so it's more reinforcing than what I'm doing.

Alright, so let's go ahead and move him on out of here.  There you go.  I know, it's different, huh?  Good boy.  Did not want that treat.  That's okay.  Exploring is always good.  You know, I'm just excited that he's staying nice and calm in a new space.  He's actually never done this--this is all new.  All this cement stuff is new so he's like, what--what is all this?  Hi, handsome.

So Huckleberry is just kinda checking out the space.  I love how calm he's being.  He keeps checking in with me, which is awesome.  Gonna see if he wants to eat any food.  

 (04:00) to (06:00)

He's not super into the foods right now.  Yeah, get that grape.  That's a good one.  You know, this also happens in training sessions as well.  Your animal might not be super motivated by the treats, the food you're giving them, and so you have to find other ways to reward them and keep them motivated.  I'm not upset that this isn't going to plan, because this is pretty much, you know, most training sessions don't go to plan and so just being flexible and knowing that every time you're interacting with your animal, as long as it's a positive experience, then you're making progress, so even though he's not coming over to target, we're still making progress in our relationship.

Good boy.  Here, here, here, eat that.  Eat.  Okay, so what I can say from this is he's not scared of the clicker, so that's good.  I just need to find something that's a little bit more reinforcing for him.  Careful, and then we can make more progress on the actual like, target training part.  

The reason I picked target training as my first behavior is because it's a simple one to do and it gets them to focus on you and it really puts the control on the animal.  They get to control the situation.  Alright, I'm gonna go deal with that.

So, when I say an animal's in control of their situation, he gets to choose, he makes the choice, to come and participate, and right now, it's--he's choosing not to participate, which is fine, I'm okay with that.

Alright, so Huckleberry was getting into a little bit of trouble over in the corner there so I just went and scooped him up and we're just going to hang out here for a second., but I am not gonna stop here.  We're gonna continue working on unformally clicker training you, huh, buddy, and that will probably, I mean, I'll probably check back in tonight and do another little five or ten minute session with him and then every day from now on, we can do mini sessions, so I will update you on his progress.

 (06:00) to (07:24)

Hopefully we get better and yeah, I'll let you know how that goes.  

Hey guys.  We're back here with Huckleberry and I'm going to try this again and see if he's a little bit more motivated.  Yeah, I have some treats for you.  So we're gonna do a little clicker training.  Now I'm going to try with the target stick here.  Let's see if he does it.  I want him to have a clear mouth and then, good job, buddy!  Good job!  This is going great.  Good job!  That was so good!  Oh my gosh.  Oh, I'm so glad we did this second session here an that just really goes to show, if at first you don't succeed, try again.

So thank you for joining us, and if you'd like to go on adventures with us every week, subscribe to our YouTube channel, animalwondersmontana.  I'll see you next week.  Thanks, guys.