The seals quickly learn every time the trainer rewards them
Animals, like people, learn at different rates, and there is no set time for learning and training certain behaviors. One thing that helps trainers teach animals is discovering what an animal finds reinforcing. A reinforce is anything that increases the frequency of behavior.
We can also employ a few training tools that make the job easier, the main one being the whistle you see around a trainer's neck. When we first start training seals, we pair the sound of the whistle with fish. So each time they get a fish they hear the whistle and soon begin to realize that the whistle means a good thing is coming.
You might be wondering how giving a seal a fish or treat when they do the right thing can end up with the seal performing a leap out of the water? Well, all such behaviors are broken down into tiny little steps we call ‘approximations’. Before we start any new behavior we break it up into smaller steps and introduce all these steps individually and then piece it together at the end. The final demonstration by the seals you see in a show may have taken months, or even years, to learn.
The most common question we get asked as trainers, is why we train our seals. The main, and most important, reason is it allows us to provide them with proper care on a daily basis. We call this ‘training for animal husbandry’ or ‘cooperative care’.
We can train our seals to do numerous things including opening their mouths, allowing us to brush their teeth, and lying down and rolling over, allowing us to inspect their whole body. We can also train our seals to keep them constantly challenged and stimulated, as well as for research and to demonstrate to our visitors their amazing natural behaviors and abilities.