Boards and Binders: Zoo Training Consistency
One of the things that we as trainers deal with is zoo training consistency across keepers when it comes to behavior criteria and Sds. We all deal with drift in our teams – we even deal with drift in ourselves when we were the ones to make up a Sd in the first place! You may be shaking your head in agreement but wondering how you can fix this issue. First, a little background:
My name is Janine and I’m guest blogging here at AA. I am also one of the mentors if you take the Animals Amplified course. I work at Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City in the Rocky Shores area. As part of the pinniped program, we have primary Rocky Shores staff (6 people), relief staff (10 people) and seal feeders (3+ people) who all train the pinnipeds. Some of these people are in the area a lot, while others come to sessions as supplemental trainers. That is a lot of people to keep straight! So how do we do it?
Color! Lots of color! The repertoire of the seals is printed on a laminated paper. Each person in training is assigned a signature color and get a dot next to each behavior that they know. When learning seals, they also learn one seal at a time to build their relationships with the animals. Since it is a laminated sheet, we can take it on exhibit during training sessions to train new staff or review behaviors. We have a white board with the sea lion behaviors on it but use the same method of tracking what people have learned. Since both behavior trackers are always available, staff can check to see what behaviors they know or refresh – some of the relief staff are trained in several areas of the zoo so they have many things to keep straight!
My favorite reference is a binder that has every behavior we have trained in it. Each page is a behavior with a photo and written description of the behavior, the Sd and the criteria. Not only do new staff use this as a reference, but so do staff who have been in the area since its inception. This book is in the area where we train, so we can check on questions immediately prior to or after a session, rather than forgetting a question or remembering days later. As with training, timing is everything! It is also a great reference for behaviors that were trained by staff that have since moved on to other facilities or areas– the quick reference information for the behavior is right there, without having to dig for the original training plan. We have even taken this book to our weekly team meetings and gone through several behaviors as a team – just to review and confirm what the Sd looks like or refresh on criteria. Having these discussions led to adjusting some of the behaviors due to animals aging, which is why the drift had started to occur.
Find what works for your team. The training team has a lot of people to keep track of, a very wet environment, and feedback is a big part of our culture as a team. This system has evolved to work for us and just like training, is still evolving!