Jordan’s Star Students
by Jordan Garbarino, Positive Reinforcement Training Program Supervisor
What is Chimp Haven’s Positive Reinforcement Training (PRT) Program?
All Animal Care staff at Chimp Haven participate in the PRT Program, which pairs staff members with chimpanzees to train them for various behaviors and give the chimps the opportunity to voluntarily participate in their own medical care. Staff, for example, can train the chimps to present body parts for health checks or even to receive nail trimmings, laser therapy treatments to promote healing, or temperature monitoring. After presenting the correct behavior, the chimps are rewarded with a preferred reinforcer, which varies based on each chimp’s individual preferences (think tasty fruits or juice). Trainers can work with as many chimps as they feel they have time to engage with.
I presently have eight trainees, and below are five of my star students!
Levi didn’t start out with much PRT background, but has quickly taken to it and learned so many behaviors! He has learned how to target (touching a PVC tube with a cap on the end, used to ask the chimps to move around their enclosure) and how to present his hands and lips. He is close with head and feet presentation too! Levi is so interested in training now that it’s not uncommon to see him waiting patiently behind me while I train with other chimps nearby, sometimes bobbing his head when I finally turn his way. He loves to train for any flavor of sugar-free juice and usually he gets to finish the bottle as a jackpot at the end of our session!
As you’ll see in the video below, while the chimps always have the choice to spend their time inside or outside, we always have our training sessions across a mesh barrier to ensure the safety of the chimps and our human trainers.
Lil Rose has really started to blossom in her PRT journey! We’ve been working on KardiaMobile training utilizing a small, portable device made to obtain EKGs from humans. This form of training requires a lot of patience and trial and error as it requires the chimps to place both hands on the device very precisely and hold them there for 30 seconds straight to get a full EKG reading. Lil Rose has quickly mastered the two-hand approach and we’re now working on holding her hands in place for longer durations. Her favorite reinforcer is grapes, so once those came into the picture it was a fast process!
Toya has always been a PRT super star, but I want to praise her specifically for how far she’s come with her exercise training! Toya is a larger lady and weight management is one of her training goals. To add some extra exercise to her day, I’ll ask her to climb or stand to touch a target and then sit back down after. We call these her “squats.” She used to be hesitant to even stand up to target but now she’s climbing to reach it regularly! We even recently introduced a laser pointer target and she will travel across her room to touch the projected laser light.
Once again, as you’ll see in the video below, while the chimps always have the choice to spend their time inside or outside, we always have our training sessions across a mesh barrier to ensure the safety of the chimps and our human trainers.
Tessa has also been one of my star trainees from the beginning. She knew many behaviors when I started working with her and she’s only continued to learn more! I truly do not think there is anything Tessa can’t do. Most recently we started working on KardiaMobile together. While this behavior is complex, Tessa proved a quick study yet again! Once she figured out I wanted both of her hands – it was on. Now we can obtain EKG readings while Tessa is sitting amongst her groupmates and receiving her preferred reinforcers – sugar free raspberry lemonade, dried fruit, and a banana jackpot.
Latoya is one of my favorite chimps to train with because she is so deliberate and gentle with presenting behaviors. She is the most delicate with medical equipment as well and injection training has been no different! We’ve recently started working towards that behavior, so that she could willingly present her arm for injections of medications or vaccines if she needed them. I started by showing her a syringe with a cap on it and she immediately turned to present her arm – brave as can be. Latoya also loves grapes, so she was rewarded with many as a jackpot for this milestone. She can also be a bit of a diva, so sometimes after our sessions she gets a “mani-pedi” which involves me brushing her fingers and toes with a long paintbrush.