Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Friday Factor in Animal Training

Aren't Fridays just the best?

Every. Time.

We animal care professionals know that the word “Friday” generally means The Day That Immediately Precedes Our Weekend Which Is Usually Not Really A Weekend.  That is to say, most of us work through the weekends (or at least one weekend day).  

Even though we love our jobs, we get the same Monday Blues anyone else does.  Because weekends are awesome.  Sleeping in is awesome*.  Doing whatever you want is awesome.  Eating junk food for 18 straight hours because everyone knows weekend food has no calories in it is awesome.

Every. Time.

What’s even tougher is that it feels like the rest of the world is on a Normal Schedule.  When you turn on the radio, there is usually reference to how close we all are to Normal Weekends.  Like, “Hey everybody, it’s HUMP DAY!” but really, it’s my Monday, so I’m all like bummed because everyone else listening to the radio knows their weekend is just around the corner, and mine is eons away.

Or when you’re in the store, and the cashier wishes you a happy weekend, but to you Saturday and Sunday means working 16 to 20 hours with Insane Summer Crowds, and you sort of want to cry until all of your water leaves your body and you are left a shriveled, desiccated shell.  

Again, our jobs are super awesome.  Once we are there, we love it.  

But when it’s that time, that glorious time, when you realize it’s Your Friday, some really profound things start to happen.  You get really happy.  It’s an impenetrable-sort of happy that is only destroyed if something absolutely terrible happens, but pretty much everything else is  meaningless.  Have a coworker driving you nuts? Have a grueling eight hours ahead of you?  No biggee, Friday Glow will protect you.

This feeling that your weekend is just on the horizon means you Can Do Anything.  You have so many Weekend Plans every Friday, don’t you?  The possibilities are endless, your soul is filled with hope.  You’re going to see that movie, go to the gym twice, catch up with an old friend and then feed all of the world’s starving children.  

And then.

The weekend comes.  And you spend it doing something profound such as: avoiding laundry. 

Before you know it, you’ve eaten 6 metric tons of Cheetos and watched every season of Walking Dead and it’s now Monday morning.  You accomplished literally none of the fun and/or productive things you’d planned just a couple of days earlier.


We need to carpe diem!  We need to follow through on our Weekend Dreams.  And you know what’s more insane? Those of us who train animals do the SAME thing with our animals as we do to our weekends.

What do I mean?

Okay, since I’m a marine mammal trainer, I’m going to use marine mammal training as an example.

When you start a session, you’ve got a full: bucket, basket of toys, brain of ideas.

Um, I choose you, little bread Picachu? 

Everything seems possible.  You’ve Got Plans for this session, oh boy, oh boy!  Your training session is like every Friday you’ve ever had. 

And then, your session starts.  The dolphin’s mood is sort of meh.  Or you realize your boot has a hole in the bottom, and now your socks are soaking wet.  Or another trainer is doing a really complicated medical behavior and has asked everyone else to keep their dolphins quiet.  Whatever the case may be, all of your Session Hopes have been dashed.  The thrill is gone.

So there you sit, haphazardly feeding boring behaviors with boring amounts of food, half-heartedly tossing toys out just because you realize you’re running out of food.  The session is a dud. The session is your wasted weekend.

To all of you I say, let us take back our weekends, figuratively and literally!  We work so hard.  We are physically and emotionally labored and exhausted.  We give up time with our families, we miss holidays, many of us live paycheck to paycheck.  We DESERVE a good weekend.  We and our animals DESERVE a fun training session as often as possible (how about like, every time?).

They deserve it!

No matter what it is that removes that hopeful, creative and energetic zest from your mind, find ways to rediscover it.  So often, what we hope will happen only happens when we WORK to get it.  It rarely just happens, especially in animal training.  Going through the motions is not enough. 

When I get like that, I try to come up with a game to play with the animal.  I’ll hide toys, teach them to wait while I toss them out, or mix up my reinforcement intervals.  Those are super easy to do, and make a big difference in your session because both of you have to pay attention to do it right.  I’ll give myself challenges in sessions where I’m feeling really uninspired, like not asking for certain behaviors I always ask for….because even that tiny change makes a big, happy difference to the animals.  I experiment with what games or toys the animals are into.  Even if it’s a big fail, it’s fun to try.  

So go see that movie.  Take a long bike ride.  Get a tattoo.  Play with your animals and leave each session so you and the animals are thinking, “THAT WAS SO FUN YESSSSSSSS.”

What about you guys?  What are some ways you inspire yourself during sessions and weekends?

* What is “sleeping in” again?

1 comment: