The other day I saw this photo of a beluga whale calf on the ever-beguiling Cute Overload, a site that does wonders for my mental health. I followed links to the calf's home,
Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, where I found the following description (on this page) of their marine mammal training program:
The emphasis on training goes far beyond putting on presentations several times a day for guests. Training provides the animals with mental stimulation, it gives them physical exercise and, perhaps most importantly, it teaches them to cooperate in their own care. With a simple hand cue from a trainer, a 1,700-pound beluga whale positions itself for a mouth exam or to allow a veterinarian to take a blood sample from its tail. Teaching the animals to participate in their own healthcare makes the regular medical exams easy for staff members. And it’s easy for the animals, too, because all training is conducted like a play session, with food, toys, or verbal praise as frequent rewards.We've all heard a lot about the importance of people being partners in their own healthcare, but I'd never seen the principle applied to non-human animals! On the other hand, having watched 35-pound children in the hospital vigorously resisting blood draws, I certainly wouldn't want to be in the vicinity if a 1,700-pound beluga whale were doing the same thing.
Now if only Gary and I could train our cats to be happier at the vet's office! Of course, if we could train our cats, our furniture would be in much better shape.