At Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, we participate in something known as behavior management training almost every day with our animals. Training helps encourage our cats to partake in stress-reducing activities by also allowing animal care to examine their health. This helps with checkups without having to sedate them; the more sedation an animal goes through, the more stress it causes them to have. There’s never a time that we force the animals to do anything they don’t want to do, this includes the training; it’s all volunteer-based using positive reinforcement through chicken or steak treats.
These animals are extremely food motivated! Due to treats being involved, these cats will more than likely want to participate. Since we are letting them choose, there are times when these cats will not participate at all, which is okay. These cats can act just like house cats when it comes to being stubborn. Not to mention, getting house cats to do certain things can be impossible at times! Keeping that in mind, think of a cat that is 300-500 pounds bigger than a house cat and much more aggressive!
When training and rewarding our animals, we use something known as a bridge and reward training method. We look for desired behaviors and reward them with a bridge of a high-pitched whistle and some treats. This reinforces the desired behavior with a sound creating excitement and anticipation of food. If we don’t see the desired behavior done at all or correctly, we won’t blow the whistle and they don’t get a treat.
During training, we use wiffle balls that have a wooden rod attached to them and use these as our targets. These targets let the animals know where to point their nose. With the animals pointing their nose to a specific area, we can check their visuals as well as their face. When checking their paws, we get them to stand up by the “up” command or have them touch their nose to the ball. Also, we can get them to put a singular paw on the fence. We do this by giving them the “paw” command. We check their paws to make sure they look healthy. Like our hands in the winter, animal paw pads can easily get cracked and chapped.
In saying the “up” command, the animals will stand up on their back paws. This puts their belly in view and we then can check their underneath side for wounds or see if stitches are healing well.
If they need a shot, we say the “side” command. With this command, they put their side up to the fence to receive that shot. The cats then receive lots of treats during the shot process. We like to call this their jackpot! Our vet comes up during training to complete that shot when needed. We will also pretend to give them a shot to get them more familiar with that pressure. To imitate shots, we have a staff member present to poke their hip with a stick, pencil, or something similar to create pressure.
These easy ways are how we do general wellness and health check-ups on our animals without sedation. This creates a healthier and happier life for these wild animals. Join us at Turpentine Creek and maybe while you are here, you can witness this training going on!
*Getting a treat (below)* *Side Command (below)* *Up Command (below)*