The Rescued Sea Lions of SLEWTHS

I’ve recently returned from a fantastic trip to the USA. Our first stop was Moss Landing in California to visit the amazing and talented Dr Jenifer Zeligs of Animal Training and Research International. Dr Zeligs runs a research centre for animal behaviour called SLEWTHS – Science Learning and Exploration With the Help of Sea Lions. We were excited to visit her marine mammal research centre to see the rescued Sea Lions receive their care and training.

The Rescued Sea Lions

These Sea Lions are trained with many of the same techniques that I use in dog training and can be used for many different animals. Sea Lions are cheeky and energetic – like the dogs of the sea. Their excitement to get started on their training (and food) for the day reminded me a lot of dogs predicting exciting times in their daily routines, like feed time, walk time and of course, training time!

All of the sea lions in care at SLEWTHS are rescued animals that are not suitable for release into the wild.

For example, Cali is a Sea Lion that survived demonic acid poisoning as a premature pup, leaving her with health and behavioural issues and having to be hand raised. She is now doing well at SLEWTHS and she is the Sea Lion that we got to meet up close during our time there.

In this short video, you can see Jamie and I giving Cali a pat and receiving a kiss! If you watch and listen carefully you can see some of the clear cues that the trainers give to Cali, and that she knows exactly what each one means.

If I had to choose two big take aways that I learned from seeing the high level training at the facility it would be that clear communication is critical and the importance of teaching animals to be safely handled for things like medical procedures and safe interactions takes priority.

I think these are both important lessons that everyone can benefit from for their pets or any animals in their care and so they are the ones I want to share with you most.

Clear Communication

The animal you’re training has to understand exactly what you mean when you use a word or body signal. It’s not that I didn’t know this, but it’s something so important that it’s good to be reminded. Seeing the clear communication system of the trainers was a great reminder on how to do this expertly and how well it works when a clear system is in place.

How can you improve your communication to your dog?

Does your dog know what you want when you give them a cue?

Do you have a way to tell your dog when they are close or when they are off course?

Or when they’ve got it right?

Is your timing on point when they get it right or wrong?

Every time you train with your dog or expect them to obey a command, check with yourself that you know they can understand what you want from them.

Remember that animals learn by association and prediction – so if you are teaching a new word, you need to be able to clearly show them what it means immediately after you say it.

Handling For Medical Procedures That Lowers Stress And Improves Safety

Every animal in captivity under our care needs medical attention at some point. Our pet animals need it quite regularly. But going to the vet or being handled by strangers can be highly stressful and even make medical issues worse or cause long term psychological harm.

We think about training obedience commands, skills for dog sports and even tricks and often train for medical handling last, if at all.

OR commonly, we train for it when our dogs are young puppies which is great, except then we stop. I’ve been guilty of this myself and my dogs are now getting training for this thanks to the inspiring work of Dr Zeligs and her team.

It really showed me that there are so many benefits and it’s so important for both the animal and us.

Some examples you might want to start teaching to help make medical exams and physical handling less stressful and safer for your pet are holding still on a nose target while accepting physical touch on other body areas, paw examinations and calm restraint.

Did you know that this training is even being used to have large animals like lions come up to the side of their enclosure and offer their side for an injection voluntarily?

Or for tooth removal on a sea lion while awake, voluntarily holding her mouth open while the tooth is removed…

How cool is that?

All taught with that clear communication system we were talking about before.

I’ll be going into more detail about the words we use and how in an upcoming post. Make sure you join our free membership to receive free training and get notified when I release new free training videos and blogs so that you can use the same techniques with your dog as what’s used on the sea lions!

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