Recently we added some new logs to our stage. We thought it might be fun to watch the wolves jump over two sets of logs instead of just one. Since the wolves already knew the behavior "leap," the only real hurdle was to show them that "leap" over the new set of logs was the exact same behavior as "leap" over the old logs.
I went on stage with Sikko during one of our Wolf Training Spotlight Tours to show him these new logs. Wolves can be super cautious of new things. So instead of asking for the leap, I was going to give him a "follow" signal up and over the logs. When I guided my hand up and over the logs, instead of leaping, Sikko climbed right on top. The old logs are smaller and too wobbly for a wolf to do this. But these new logs are big and sturdy. So there he stood "perched" atop these new logs. It was so neat and unexpected, and he looked so magnificent standing up there, I decided to start capturing the behavior.
Capturing a behavior simply means that we see a behavior happen and we reinforce it. We are "capturing" the exact instant that we see something we like. It's a method of training we can use if we see a wolf exhibit a cool behavior. We don't actually have to teach them how to do the behavior, like when we "shape" a behavior through the use of operant conditioning. We just have to reinforce them for doing it on their own. Sometimes this is a science, as the wolf might not always do that behavior again. You might not ever get another opportunity to reinforce the behavior again. But if you reinforce it the first time, and you're lucky, you just might see it again and again.
Sikko hasn't fully learned "perch" yet, but he knows how to climb up on those logs and look handsome. So hopefully within the next couple of sessions he'll have it all figured out.
Next time you come to Wolf Haven, look for Sikko in a show or a tour, and see if you can capture his new behavior in a lovely photo. I'd like to personally thank Sikko for his creativity; I'm not sure I would have come up with that behavior on my own. I'd also like to thank our observant tour photographer for being in the right place at the right time.
Wolf Trainer at Busch Gardens