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Animal Training

All Species

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All Breed Grooming

Wall of Tradition; Using Food To Train A Horse? !

Catherine J. Crawmer

How long has man been involved in training horses, mules and donkeys? I am convinced that the scientists who study cave drawings have the best answer to the question. It’s been going on for a very long time! I don’t believe there will be much argument there. As with most things, how training is accomplished is steeped in tradition. There are a number of schools of thought, of course. Everyone knows the accepted methods to get a horse on a trailer and there are some less than funny jokes about how much force is required to get a mule to do anything. When new things are presented there is always a fair amount of resistance. But, take it from me; you haven’t seen resistance until you talk about training an equine to work by using food.

Everyone “knows” that all a horse needs is a pat on the neck with a sincere, “Good boy” and the horse is happy, obviously. I have tested this idea. While there are some horses that seem to enjoy a good scratching it may be a stretch to say that they are responding in the same way to verbiage and physical contact that one would expect from, for instance, a dog. Yet people continue to reward them in like manner. Faced with giving evidence for this I once stood before some people who watched me verbally praise a young horse lavishly all the while petting and stroking it on the neck and face. Then I stopped. I held my hand inches from his head. He would not make a three-inch adjustment in his position to repeat the experience of being petted again. Rather than being the exception, it seems that this reaction is the norm.

From day one horses, their purpose and work not withstanding are trained with pressure of various kinds and in varying degrees. Pull on the lead rope and he comes toward you. Pull backward on the reins and he backs up. Put heel pressure on his left rib and he moves to the right and put pressure on his leg and he will move or lift it. Verbally praise as liberally as you choose. While a given horse may notice it, the average horse is rewarded not by the verbal “Good boys” but by the ceasing of pressure from whatever source it has been offered. Is this positive reinforcement? Well, not exactly! Does it get the job done? Well yes, and no. Much depends upon the situation, the goal, the animal and trainer involved. 


When food is used properly one can accomplish more in less time than most people believe possible. It will not “ruin the horse” or make the animal “mean.” Using food will not, in and of itself, cause a horse to bite. Most people have no problem with calling a horse to them and then handing him a handful of grain or an apple. For that reason many horses will come at a gallop through the paddock at the sound of a whistle or other cue offered, meaning to the horse, food is now available! How would you like such a willing response to other cues? It is possible and it is not all that difficult to accomplish.

Your horse can learn to be a working partner and a willing one at that. Are there places and times when you would like to make your horse happy? Wouldn’t it be great if he were not resistant to handling? How about a handful of grain during the vet’s examination? Do you have a horse that doesn’t like being handled around the head? Do you have real problems putting on his halter or bridle? He could learn to enjoy it if it was associated with a small amount of grain delivered at the appropriate time.

All you need to do is keep an open mind. Actually, this may be the most difficult part.

We are all familiar with the saying “Beating Your Head Against a Wall”. There is no wall quite as difficult to penetrate as the “Wall of Tradition".

Copyright 2001


Camelids; Beginning Halter Training

Catherine J. Crawmer

Get a halter on him; attach a lead rope and pull! If you are strong enough he will follow you. In the past that unfortunate attitude prevailed. While it may have gotten the job done practitioners of this ilk often ended up with other issues. Fear and force based training of a flight animal is an ill-advised pursuit at best. The first halter and lead lessons should be short, positive and designed to build a relationship between the teacher and the taught.

Not every trainer starts out with the same animal. Every animal is an individual. His training progress will be affected by many factors, some of which are, his species, his genetics, his past experiences, his environment and how he feels on a given day. Throw all that together and add a trainer dealing with the same issues and the word convoluted takes on a very real meaning.

Confusion can prevail when we start any new endeavor so before you start it is wise to have a plan. What are your objectives? What steps are likely to be necessary to bring you to your ultimate goal? Steps you say? Exactly! Think of your goals as you would a staircase with the first stair being where you are now with the top stair as the achievement of your objective. 

Can’t get near your animals at all? Good place to start! Something as simple as feeding them and then sitting on a folding chair, in gradually closer proximity, as they eat can create a positive association between the food and you. Can you hand feed your camelid? Perfect! Can you hand feed your camelid while you wave your other hand near his head? Can you hand him treats through a halter held in the other hand? Will he follow you around the field for treats? If you can positively reinforce him to get him consistently doing these things you have a short path to halter and lead training.

Lead training by definition is simply yielding to pressure. That can actually be started while your camelid is standing still. Pull slightly to the right. When you feel or see the slightest move of his head in the direction of the pull pass him his treat. Pull in the opposite direction and repeat and then pull slightly toward the ground and repeat. Finally we work on getting him to move forward. It’s a matter of reinforcement at the appropriate time.

When people have a problem it is generally an issue of incorrect timing. The animal starts moving and then, for whatever reason stops. At this point people will go to him and offer treats to get him moving. What is he being “paid” for? Stopping! If there is any stopping to be done the trainer should be the one to do it. As the animal is moving the trainer should offer the treat. Even if your camelid then stops to eat the treat it wasoffered while he was moving. The message: You are likely to get paid when you move. When you stop you get a slight lead pressure. Movement in the direction of lead pressure pays more than stopping.

The steps will be different for each animal. It is useful to consider the particulars of your animal and to make a list of what you anticipate as the necessary series of steps before you start. There is no point to jumping ahead in your steps. While it may be possible to chase down, wrestle and finally get a halter on your subject it will only succeed in teaching him ways to avoid the same experience in the future.

Visualize your ultimate goal! You go out into the field, whistle or call and immediately your boy starts running toward you. You hold out his halter. He puts his head in it and you buckle it. You snap on his lead rope and he gently follows you in the direction of your choice at the speed that you move. Each session should be short in duration and end with something positive. The next session will begin with the attitude generated by the previous one. Make it a positive one.

As with any animal, early life experiences are most important. Time spent during the first few weeks and months of life have a profound effect on an animal’s attitude toward human beings. The progeny of tame animals are easier to deal with on all counts. Young animals, in particular, are affected by the attitude of the rest of the herd. When young animals are housed with others, who are accustomed to running at the sight of a human, that young animal is likely to follow the herd. This situation can make building a relationship difficult and training near impossible. Everything must be taken into consideration when it has an effect on your goal. It is important to be willing to make changes in environment and enclosure design when training is the priority.

Copyright 2001

Get Out Of The Way!

Catherine J. Crawmer

“Watch out when you open the door. He will run you down”! This is an unfortunate problem with many horses. While some horses will lead quietly in and out of the stall, a fair number of animals will push past the hapless person who is left figuring out how he is going to stop the animal, or at least slow it down, while not getting pushed, knocked down or stepped on.

Everyone is in a hurry. The goal is to “get ‘em in” or “get ‘em out” as fast as you can so that we can go on to the next job. But what are we doing? A few minutes spent in examination of our routines may determine what is causing the in /out “stall rushing” problem exhibited by so many horses.

When horses move quickly they are usually moving so for one of two reasons. They are moving toward something they want or away from something they don’t want. How many times does a horse have to be slapped on the butt to get him in or out of a stall before he moves quickly to avoid it? It doesn’t take him long to figure it out. “Quickly” turns into “too quickly” which can soon become “too quick to be safe”. 

No, it’s probably not the worst thing in the world to slap a horse on the butt. It would be a real stretch to call it painful but most horses would just as soon avoid the experience. Some of the implications of dealing with a flight animal may be lost if we are simply thinking of the experience as a human would. Worse than the physical feeling, most horses are more disturbed by the startling effect produced by a sudden slap

What does the horse get for waiting quietly in the doorway or moving slowly and reasonably in the desired direction? He gets nothing. Examination of commonly accepted procedures will often reveal a system which produces exactly the opposite result most of us say we want. The horse actually is being trained to run us down in the doorway and we are inadvertently working to achieve this result with the procedures being used.

Maybe the horse is trying to get into the stall because there is something in there that he wants. No slap on the butt is necessary in this case but you can still get just as run over with his enthusiasm to comply.

We have now a horse rushing in and/or rushing out with no reason to wait. The motivation is in place causing him to rush rather than move slowly or carefully. A fifty pound dog doing the same thing in a doorway can cause injury, a 1200 pound horse doing the same thing is quite another matter.

What to do? First determine the causation. No one engages in repeated, consistent behaviors for no good reason. Horses don’t do it either. Once the cause for the behavior is determined, change the routine. Whatever you are doing, stop it, and do something different. If he is rushing in to eat don’t put food in the stall at that time. Feed him later or earlier. If he is rushing to avoid something, eliminate that action or condition. If the horse is new to you his body language and what he does will give you a good idea what caused the problem even if those conditions are not present in your stable. Habits that have been long established will continue unless some positive step is taken to change them.

After the causation is determined and the routine altered, it is time to embark on an alternative behavior. In applied behavior science it is called DRI or Differential Reinforcement of an Incompatible Behavior.

If the horse was taught to back up on cue as he was walking through the doorway he could not be rushing out at the same time. He is either doing one or the other. With the motivation for the rushing no longer in evidence it’s time to teach him to do something else, a whole different routine to get him in and out of a stall.

Horses are a lot more responsive to voice cues than they are given credit for and this is a good exercise to teach you just how responsive they can be.

Before the training begins pick a word, sound or sound. Some people use a clicker, just as often use a letter of the alphabet. For a few days every time you go by your horse say your letter and give him some small amount of something he likes. The more you do this the faster the association will be. When he hears your chosen sound you want him to visibly expect something. When you see the signs of his obvious connection with the sound and food you are ready to start.

First get a fanny pack and put grain or pellets in it. Put a halter and lead rope on him. I like to bring him out of a paddock for his first lessons rather than the stall. The reason why we start the training in another place is so that we don’t have the stall rushing as an issue during the initial work.

Stand in front of him or just to the side, depending on the temperament of the horse. Put your hand on his chest and push, at the same time using the verbal cue to “Back.” At the instant you see or feel any movement away from the pressure of your hand sound the letter you have taught him and give him a few pellets from your pouch. In a very few minutes your horse will be responding to your push. As you see that happening now let him take one entire step backward before sounding you letter. The next time let him take three steps backward. Always give your letter while he is actually moving, not after he has stopped. After he stops you will feed him but make sure he is visibly moving at the time that he hears your letter. After he backs up you can move the lead rope to pull him forward but don’t give him any treats for responding at this juncture. He only gets paid for backing up.

You will soon notice that it takes very little pressure to get him to move backward. As you see that you can stop touching him. At this point use your verbal cue to “Back” and use a hand signal, similar to that which would have touched him. Use your letter and give him pellets when he complies. Many horse will respond almost instantly to the verbal cue.

If you spend a few days on this procedure it will be solid before we move to where the problem is occurring. After he is backing well in other locations on verbal cue and hand signal it’s time to get him to the stall area. You already know the point at which the rushing occurs. Start your training several feet before he gets to that location. Get him to back, pay him, move him forward, back him up pay him, over and over. Each time you move him a few more steps forward contrasted with fewer steps back. If he takes four steps forward and backs up two, and so on, you will eventually get him through the doorway. If the problem is coming out of the stall you have less space, of course, but it can still be done. In that case you can back him up and move him forward all over the stall before you finally move him to the doorway.

Horses are amazingly fast learners. Of course, they learn bad habits as fast as they learn good ones. But when there is motivation to act in a particular manner and a program is in place to accomplish your goals any behavior can be established. Long standing habits can be changed. As is often the case in animal training, the first habits that may have to be changed may be our own.

Copyright 2001

Moving The Monkey

Catherine J. Crawmer


Java Macaque


They’re fast and they’re smart and not so easy to catch. One time you use a towel, the next time a net, then you try baiting a cage and then closing the door. While you might trick him once you will have a difficult time attaining success a second time with the same tactics. Just let him see a net and the race begins. Each and every time you are successful at nabbing the creature you find that all you have ultimately accomplished is teaching him more evasive maneuvers for the next time. The stress level on both sides is sky high. You dread it and so does the animal. As time goes on and you heap one experience upon the next some facts become readily evident. It’s not getting any better. It’s getting worse.

Yet, no matter what the living environment sometimes you just have to transport a monkey and you simply have no other choice. Moving him inside and outside, moving him to a different enclosure, moving him to clean, moving him to repair fence or moving him so that he can be examined or treated by a veterinarian, sooner or later you have to move that monkey! No matter how much time has lapsed between this moving experience and the last you will learn one thing very quickly. Monkeys have great memories.

The idea of a monkey jumping into a small crate on cue is almost too much to imagine, yet some do it and it is not very difficult to train this behavior. The most important consideration is getting the behavior before you actually need it. Planning for the inevitable is just smart animal management. Sooner or later you will have to move that monkey! Training a monkey to enter a transport cage can be interesting and fun for both you and the monkey. Monkeys get bored easily and they usually enjoy solving problems and learning new things.

Start first with your transport cage. Don’t think that your monkey will not see a difference between the practice cage he was trained with and another that you ultimately intend to use. Put the cage near his pen. Depending upon the animal, he may be frightened of this cage or find it very interesting. When he comes to the conclusion that it’s part of the landscape you can move it inside his enclosure. Always place it in a non-threatening spot that does not block him off from the places that he wants to go. I like to deliver special treats in the cage. You can start by putting the treats near the cage, then just inside the cage and finally in the back of the cage.

While this cage introduction is going on you can start a simple game, which, right now, has no connection with the cage. Associate any sound; you can use a letter of the alphabet or a clicker toy along with the delivery of a tiny piece of the monkey’s favorite treat. Make the sound give him the treat. Do this over and over until he seems to expect delivery of the treat. Once he has made the association you are in business!

 Use a concentrated flashlight beam or laser light beam. If you use a laser light be aware of the cautions connected with this device and do not shine it in anyone’s eyes, either yours or the monkey’s. Place a small piece of food where the monkey can see it and then shine the beam on the food. While he is going for that piece place another piece without him seeing you place it and then shine a beam on that piece to attract his attention to it. As you repeat this over and over you will see that he is going immediately to the light every time he sees it.

In the next step we do not put any food down. Shine the beam of light and when your monkey goes to it make your “Good” sound and deliver the food afterward. Repeat this until he has figured out that he hears the “you will be paid” sound when he goes to the light.

By now you can see where we are going with this. That’s right! To the transport cage! Shine the beam near the cage. When he goes to it you know what to do. Since he has already been desensitized to the cage beforehand it will not take him long to go to the light shined inside it. Give your sound when he goes into the cage after the light. He will come out to get his treat but it is very clear to him that going to the light is what he needs to do to hear the “you will be paid” sound.

We can now teach a cue to go into the cage. It doesn’t matter what you use. It may be a spoken word, a whistle or other sound of your choosing. First give this cue, and then shine the light in the cage. When he goes in make your “Good” sound then give your food. After a while your monkey will believe that anytime he hears the “get in the cage” cue he will see the light inside. However, the light can now be eliminated by giving him your “Good” sound when he goes into the cage.

Martha, the Java Macaque, is transported twice a day inside and outside. No cue is necessary at this point. When she sees the little carrier she stops what she is doing and dives into it. Since so many good things have happened to her inside the cage she is in no hurry to get out of it. It is important to practice far more transports to places where the monkey wants to go than to places where he does not want to go. If every time he gets into a cage he ends up at a vet’s office he will figure it out quickly. It should be a fun game that far outweighs the occasional negative experience.

Copyright 2000


Olivia is an owl monkey. Once a very common monkey species, the owl monkey numbers were greatly reduced by medical experimentation. Seized in a cruelty raid, Olivia needed some training and rehab before she moved to a permanent home.

A year went by before the perfect home was found. Owl monkey pairs are devoted to each other. Such was the case at Wild Wonders. Tragically, the pair was separated by the untimely death of the female and the facility had been searching unsuccessfully for a female companion for the distraught male. The timing was perfect. Olivia was ready to go and go she did. She can be seen on the Wild Wonders website enjoying her companion and her new life.

OH! Rats? Catherine J. Crawmer

Mini was a wild mouse found alone. Wild

mice do not do well as pets even when hand Ben is a domestic pet rat

raised. When Mini matured she went on her way


The domestic rat is as different from the wild rat as a wolf is from a dog. Bred for countless generations as domestic animals, pet rats are unable to survive in the wild.

They need a bath, like any pet. Ben is shown here getting his weekly bath. And yes, he uses a hair dryer.

When people think of a rodent pet, they are usually thinking of a small, easy to care for, inexpensive pet for their children. Most are considering a hamster, gerbil, guinea pig or white mouse. They are rarely considering a pet rat. Having had all of the above, I would have to say that the rat is far and away my favorite. I have had many rats over the years, one at a time, but there was a point in time where I was breeding some on a small scale. I was fascinated by the various colors and patterns on the hooded variety especially.

Most folks who have rats do not realize that there are national organizations for rat fanciers and even shows where one can exhibit rats in their various categories. While people think of pet rats as being white there are actually many colors. The hooded variety has a white base color on the body with an interesting pattern of color. Every individual has a slightly different pattern. The head from the neck up is a solid color, thus the designation, “hooded”. The hood and pattern color can be black, brown or cream colored. Rats also come in a coat type known as rex, which looks like short waves. They also come in a variety of solid colors; black, brown, tan, cream and, of course, white. There is also a hairless variety, which sounds strange but they actually grow on you after a while.

Rats are fun, intelligent and definitely know one person from another. When raised by humans from very early on they will even wrestle and play rat games such as tag with a human hand.

At the point where I was breeding a friend came to my house. Denise was, by profession, a high fashion model who also instructed at a modeling school. Not everyone wants an animal tour but Denise always did. When she saw the latest litter of rat babies she just went wild over them. She had to hold them all. Throughout her visit she couldn’t talk of anything but the friendly adults and how cute the babies were. At the end of the visit she told me that she just had to have one! I told her what she needed and she went out and bought it all. Soon after, she picked out her new baby. There was a problem though. Her husband was not going to like the idea of a rat as a pet. His family owned many rentals in the city and he was constantly engaging pest control to deal with rats. I assured Denise that if Jim didn’t like the rat baby she could just bring him back. The little thing was only a few inches long and was incredibly cute so I couldn’t imagine a problem.

About three months later Jim and Denise came over to dinner. Everything was going well when Jim said, “I’d like to ask you a question. Just how big do these mice get?” I almost choked. Denise never told him it was a rat. I surprised myself with my demeanor and never missed a beat. When cornered make a joke! I laughed and told him “I never saw one over 15 pounds!” We all laughed and Denise cleverly moved the conversation forward in another direction although I knew she caught my “look.”

As time went on and “Mad Max” grew it became obvious to all concerned that this was no mouse. In fact this was THE single largest rat that I ever saw. Jim was horrified but his horror did not approach the shock and distain of his mother. Denise, not entirely her mother in law’s favorite person, had now “brought vermin into the house”. For months there were problems over this new pet. But, over time, things started to change. Once in a while, Mad Max would get out of his cage. When he did he went all over the apartment searching out “his people.” The two great Danes in the household accepted the rat as a member of the family. On some occasions Max would get out of his cage at night. On those occasions he awoke his human family by jumping up and down next to the bed until he was noticed. He obviously would alert to his name and come when he was called.

How did it all end up? Jim, a carpenter by trade, built the most elaborate Plexiglas rat house that I have ever seen. Mad Max had a pillow that he liked to drag out onto his deck where he could enjoy the daytime breeze coming in from the window. At night, he dragged his pillow off the deck and into his house. “Maxie’s grandma”, you’ve got it, Denise’s mother in law, sewed the little rat pillows and stuffed them for her “little pet.” On Christmas, and on his birthday, she gave him wrapped presents because she enjoyed seeing him delight in taking off the paper.

The worst thing about loving a pet rat is the painfully short life span. When Max was three and a half years old I got a phone call at 8a.m. It took me a few moments to understand who it was. Jim was one very upset man. Denise was clearly crying in the background. Being that they lived in the city, with no real private yard, they wanted to bring him out to my country property and bury him so they would know where he was. Mad Max is buried here along with the preconceived ideas that some people had about a species they came to appreciate, through a relationship, with an extraordinary individual animal.

Copyright 2000

Catherine J. Crawmer is a professional animal trainer and owner of Crawmer’s Animal Training in West Sand Lake New York

Parrots Don’t Lie

Catherine J. Crawmer

 “Ugh!” “Is that what the parrot said? Did I hear him right? Actually, didn’t that other one make the exact same noise just a moment ago?” Visitors too often notice and question the utterances of the family pets. Yes, unfortunately, “Ugh” was exactly what you might have heard and not only from one parrot. It could have come from any one of three! In the kitchen, in close proximity to the kitchen table, are two grays, one Congo and one Timneh and one double yellow head Amazon. The ugh noise is typical of my husband standing to his feet. People make all types of noises on a regular basis. These sounds, mercifully, would typically go unnoticed in the course of one’s life but in this case there is a concerted effort to record the event, exactly as it occurred. The frequency of the original sound undeniably contributed to what can best be described as the now chorus of “Ugh.” The sound now reverberates, in rapid succession, from various parts of the room, rolling off every parrotal beak with perfectly accurate tone. That is bad enough but there is more.

Running a business on the same property as our residence is very convenient in many ways. Communication however, is often a challenge. Walking between buildings may cause a lapse in contact. Going outside, for any reason, can create momentary inaccessibility. It can be very frustrating at times. The phone rings from early in the morning to very late at night for one person or another and for one purpose or another. Finding the right person at the right location has often been a source of irritation. To solve the problem a system of intercoms has been put in every possible location. One press on the signal button sends out a loud and continuous beep noise designed to first gain everyone’s attention. After the beep noise the voice message would typically start. This system worked marvelously for a short period of time before everything changed.


Beep! Beep! Beep! What an efficient system! When you hear that sound you simply go to the nearest intercom, listen to the voice message and prepare to respond accordingly. However, this time there is no voice message forthcoming. “Hello! Hello! Did someone call? Hello! Hello! Who beeped?” Did one of the cats step on the intercom again?” Achieving no response those answering the beep would grumble about having nothing better to do than run to an intercom and then resume their activities. Shortly thereafter the entire experience was repeated. You guessed it. One parrot picked up the sound, followed in rapid succession by all the other parrots. Did I mention that there are also parrots residing in locations other than the kitchen? Intercom beeping noises are going off on a regular basis at any one of a dozen locations. Standing right next to the intercom will not help. The clarity of the intercom imitation makes it impossible to determine the source of the sound.

My husband, Glenn, first arrived at the solution. Upon hearing the intercom page noise he answered it in a somewhat irritated tone of voice, “Is that you or is it that bird?” This solution worked just fine, for a while. Shortly thereafter intercom messages had added phrases designed to thwart the obvious but as soon as they were implemented the parrots joined in the new routines offering the additional phrasing. At this point the messages, parrot or human initiated, can be quite lengthy. “Beep! Beep! Is that you or is it that bird? Is it you? Who is it? Stop it! Stop it! It’s not me! No! It’s a bird! Beep Beep!”

It’s been going on for years now. We are thinking of ripping the intercoms out and just screaming from building to building but, after some more serious thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea either.

Copyright 2001

Catherine J. Crawmer is a professional all species animal trainer and owner of Crawmer’s Animal Training in West Sand Lake. 518-477-8230

Barbara’s Story Catherine J. Crawmer

Barbara? Who is she? A barred rock. What is a barred rock? A breed of poultry, a chicken, to be exact. She is a good-looking bird though maybe a little overweight. But, really now, what could possibly be unique or unusual about a member of, arguably, the most common chicken breed in existence? The answer is simple. Barbara is a trained chicken. In this region she is a real star, having appeared in various media. In a recent appearance on TV, Barbara, selected her own number picks for the one of the largest lotteries in New York State. People actually called the TV station after the piece was aired to make certain of the numbers selected by Barbara. Apparently, these folks were confident enough in Barbara’s abilities to play her picks. Barbara didn’t win with the numbers she picked for TV audiences. But then again, who knows if she actually played the numbers that she selected for the TV news audience?

How did Barbara get to this exalted position in life after being born of such humble beginnings? Barbara is a hand raised, from one day of age, imprinted chicken. Now at the age of five years she is unique in very many ways. First, she is fearless. She takes not one step to the side to accommodate man or beast. If you are walking in her path the wisest thing to do is walk around her. One thing is for sure. If someone moves out of the way, it’s not going to be her. Making the mistake of pushing Barbara aside will gain one a sound peck or two. An additional push could mean war!

Training for Barbara started when she was only a week of age. She well understands that if she takes a certain action she may hear the “Good!” signal and she will be rewarded with something she likes. What she likes is cooked shrimp or tiny pieces of stew beef. When the training “game” is played she moves around trying many different behaviors to see what is “paying” at the time. When the TV news called to see if she would select numbered cards for the lottery piece the training took only minutes.

Whether or not a chicken can be trained is not the interesting part of this story, however. The real story is about how the chicken trains the humans. We often forget that in training an animal we are developing a mode of communication between that animal and ourselves. The animal does something we like and we reward that behavior. We are looking at it from our point of view. Did you ever wonder how the animal might view this? You might consider that the animal has trained us to reward her by the action that she takes. Same thing. Different objective. Kind of humbling isn’t it? 

Who is training whom? I believe I have a story that illustrates the answer to this question. Every morning we feed animals, as you all do. Barbara, being an expert of fine dining, makes it her business to follow the process very carefully. She will peck around while food is being passed out to other animals and since she has the run of the place she makes out quite well. We ignore her some of the time but a couple of years ago she had taken to pecking our feet really hard while we were paying attention to the animal we were feeding. Naturally, we threw her a couple pieces to “get rid of her.” As a trained animal it didn’t take her long to “get it.” If you had a hard shoe on it was amusing. If you had on a sandal or soft shoe it surely wasn’t. All in all it was easier to throw some food to her to keep her busy while you fed the next animal. If you are slow in your delivery or if you don’t throw the food far enough to get her away from you, you will soon feel a powerful beak hitting your foot.

Barbara is only outside when someone is home. When there is no one on the property she is brought into our shop building. She always waits on the shop porch at dusk until someone opens the door and she sleeps in her own pen at night. During the season that she lays the few eggs that she does she lays them inside her cage. Occasionally, during the day she may be seen on the porch waiting to get in. When this happens she will be let in the building so that she can go to her cage and lay her egg. If the door is left open she walks in by herself and goes to her cage, lays the egg and then goes back outside.

In the summer of 2004 my husband, Glenn, was walking his dog far from the shop building when Barbara walked up to him. This is a little unusual since she likes to pick around the property and doesn’t approach us after the initial feeding of the other animals in the morning unless we call her. Glenn didn’t pay much attention to her because he was walking his dog and suddenly Barbara pecked his shoe, and a good shot it was! Glenn looked down at her and she hit his shoe again. After she pecked his shoe she started to walk back toward the shop only to return and hit his shoe again after which she moved back toward the shop. Glenn didn’t think much of it and brought his dog back into the house. Shortly thereafter he went to the shop and found Barbara’s egg on the front porch of the shop.

Remember, it’s only a chicken. Really? Cognitive skills and deliberate communication are evident to those who train animals regularly. It makes you bring into question some of the things you know about the “lower” life forms doesn’t it?

Copyright 2000

Catherine J. Crawmer is a professional animal trainer, author, lecturer and owner of Crawmer’s Animal Training in West Sand Lake, New York, 518 477-8230 email:

Squirrels Back to Nature

Catherine J. Crawmer

Oh no, more spring babies! Every year it’s the same thing for folks at humane societies, animal parks, zoos, and almost everyone else associated, in some way, with animals. “I found these babies and I knew you would know what to do!” Of course you do know what to do. Leave them where you found them! Rabbits, rabbits and more rabbits. Every year. Well meaning people find them, where else? On the ground. Baby birds of all kinds. If they are not in a nest they must be lost? Not! Find a fawn without it’s mother and it needs to be transported to “someone who knows what to do.” No, no, no! So much education as goes out to the public yearly on the subject of wildlife yet the average person still seems reluctant to leave wildlife alone.

 Unfortunately, by the time the animal gets to the “rescuer” it is often impossible to return it to its original location and all the “help” that had been given it, to that point, is likely to leave the animal in serious physical condition, almost always cold and very dehydrated.

It had been many years since I had raised squirrels. Just luck, I guess, so when these arrived, in a box, from sources unknown, I wasn’t real thrilled with their prospects for release. They were days old with their eyes closed. I knew when these Eastern grey squirrels opened their eyes they were going to see, as Mommy, a two legged blond who had not climbed a tree in 25 years. At the same time, release was the first thing on my mind. Constant feedings during the day and waking up for the night feedings can be pretty tiring. No matter how often I have been through it I am still amazed how fast I can adjust to a totally unreasonable routine.

The three, two females and one male squirrel babies were doing very well. As with most babies the opening of the eyes was exciting as was the moment that they are seen trying to eat on their own. As the weeks went by they would leap from their enclosure to my arm. They were eating but also continuing to “nurse” on milk delivered via syringe.

For step one of the release plan I took their cage outside and set it on a table next to two large trees and opened the top door. One male and one female came out and went on the tree and the other would not leave her pen. At night they went back into the cage to sleep and I would bring them inside. After a few days the 3 squirrel went up the tree with her littermates. After a week or so they were all moving up and down the tree but would come down when they saw me. I continued to give them milk from the syringe but I noticed they took less and less of it. All of them were quite relaxed in my hand and had no trouble being encircled or physically held. As the days went by they came down less and less during the day and we saw them leaping from one tree to another.


When they were about 9 weeks of age I decided that it would be time to get them out to a more remote area of the property where there was no domestic animal or human presence. I went for a long walk up a hill and put their cage down on the ground. They had plenty of food and a bowl of water and I left them there. When I went back that night I saw them in the trees. They came down part way but would not get into the cage. The next morning when I was having my coffee I saw one of “my” squirrels in the tree outside my window. I don’t care how long you spend in the company of animals they will still surprise you at times with what they do and what they are capable of. It was a very long walk from where these animals were left to my kitchen window. Had he, and it was the male, watched my direction of travel from a high tree? Did he do it by scent? I certainly don’t know how he did it. However, he was back

The female was still up on the hill and alone. She looked frightened and confused to me. For two days I fed her and tried to get her to come into a cage. She would not go into the cage. She would come down the tree and take milk from the syringe while clinking to the tree so at one point I just picked her up. Unless you have been bitten by a rodent you can’t appreciate the damage they can do. I knew, but decided to take the chance. She kicked but she didn’t bite. I brought her down the hill and released her back to the tree near my kitchen window. The two siblings had quite a reunion and for a few more weeks we fed them and watched them leap all around the property from tree to tree. They gradually acted more and more aloof and sometimes were not seen at the feeding station at all.

They are adults now and we think we see them but there are many squirrels around here. We have always fed the birds and squirrels here during winter but, needless to say, the cuisine is particularly special this year. I’m hoping the public doesn’t find any squirrels in need of rescuing this year. I need a vacation.

Copyright 2003

Catherine J. Crawmer is owner of Crawmer’s Animal Training West Sand Lake NY

Raccoon Babies

Wildlife babies are found by people in some very strange places. As a general rule all wildlife young should be left right where they are. It is natural that babies will leave the nest. Unfortunately, when young animals are seen, people quickly assume that if no parent is in sight the baby must be abandoned. Parents go off to feed for many hours in some species leaving the young ones alone during that time. Often parents are available and watching the baby but do not make themselves known to well meaning people.

Many wild animals can be dangerous to people. The hazard of being bitten is a real threat. Even very young wild animals can use their teeth to protect themselves when cornered. Rabies is a real threat in the Northeast as well as some other areas of the country. There are several species of animals designated as rabies vectors species. The raccoon is one of those RVS designates. Great caution should be moved when moving wild babies. It is important to move the newly found baby with gloves. A cat carrier is secure and is the best choice for wildlife transportation. The age of the animal and its physical condition will determine what other types of containment can be utilized for transport. Very young babies can be placed in a cardboard box. Keep in mind that a cold animal, warmed up can start moving and climbing out of a box. Being overly secure is a good thing in this regard.

Don't try to feed wildlife babies that you might find. Animals that are cold can die from forcefeeding. Feeding an animal the wrong type of food at the wrong time can do far more harm than good. Raccoons, for instance, should be feed kitten replacer milk, not puppy milk replacer. 

There is a particular type of roundworm raccoons are likely to have in the wild. That roundworm can be passed to humans with serious results.

Wildlife Rehab people are available in all parts of the USA. In the Northeast area we are fortunate enough to have a marvelous resource called North Country Wildlife. This group has a central phone number that will connect up people who have found wildlife babies with the appropriate Rehabber. Do not hesitate to call this group with other wildlife questions that you may have. North Country Wildlife (518) 964-6740

Coonie was a 4 week old baby who was found in the wall of a home. After determining that there were no others, the homeowner took the single baby out of the wall and boarded up all access to the nest. Any single wild animal is at particular risk for what is known as imprinting. When a young animal becomes imprinted it associates better with humans than its own species. If this situation is not handled properly the animal can be unreleasable. Meaning it can no longer be released into the wild since it has become dependent on humans. Even an animal which seems to do well on its own will often seek human contact which can end poorly for all parties concerned..

Pictured here at 8 weeks Coonie found a great situation with other raccoons so that she could be raised in a natural enviroment with her own kind. Raccoons spend many months with their parents and siblings before becoming really independent. Coonie's story had a happy ending. If you find wildlife babies it is best to call someone with expertise in that area before moving or handling them.

Catherine Crawmer

Glenn Stevans loves his ducks! He is pictured below with Donald on the right and Daffy on the left. Donald was rescued as a one or two day old baby from some kids that had found him at a pond and were tossing him in the air. Glenn raised the single baby to adulthood. As with many wild animals, Donald soon became imprinted on humans in general and Glenn in particular. Donald followed Glenn every step and floated in a pan of water while Glenn watched him closely. Transitioning Donald to the pond was not easy. He graduated from a pan, to a bucket and then to a pool but it took more than a year to get him comfortable about going into the pond. Strangely enough, he would only go out into the pond when Glenn rowed his boat out into the water.

Introducing a female mallard to Donald was not easy. At first he wanted nothing to do with her but after a time he decided he could tolerate her. Now they are a pair, completely devoted to each other except that Glenn finds that he is still "head duck". When he calls Donald this 7 year old mallard runs from wherever he is. Glenn gets a duck immediately at his feet....or actually ON his feet. He can't walk because Donald is inches from every step he takes! At night both ducks go the grooming shop, walk up the stairs and walk into their night cages. They never spend a night outside or in the dark. Glenn loves his ducks!

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