Introduction to animal training techniques

One of the major improvements in how we care for captive primates has been refining animal training methods used to manage and care for the primates. Positive reinforcement training techniques have been developed to promote animal welfare, to assist in animal husbandry and veterinary care, and in some cases, to improve the quality of research conducted with the primates. When positive reinforcement methods are used, animals are taught to voluntarily cooperate with procedures rather than relying on coercion to get their participation.

Captive primates have been trained to perform a wide variety of behaviors including: moving when asked into transfer boxes or from one enclosure to another; allowing careful examination of parts of their bodies such as opening their mouths or positioning hands, feet, chest, back, etc. for visual inspection; positioning ears for examination or for using a tympanic thermometer; tolerating the use of a stethoscope to listen to the heart or lungs; having their wounds closely examined and treated with topical medications; receiving injections for anesthesia, antibiotics, or vaccinations; and cooperating with veterinary procedures such as x-rays or blood pressure measurement. Many different biological samples can be collected from cooperating primates, and they can be used either for veterinary care of the primates, or for research studies. Samples that have been collected include: urine, feces, blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and nasal samples. Positive reinforcement training can also be used to reduce aggression and competition within groups of primates, and it can decrease fear or decrease abnormal behavior in some situations. Clearly, primates can be taught a huge range of very useful behaviors that can improve their lives.

There is a growing body of scientific literature that assesses various aspects of animal training including training technique, required training time to achieve certain behaviors, behavioral impacts of the training, and physiological consequences of the training. This literature offers objective information about the value and the limitations of training. These studies should be carefully reviewed by those who are trying to discern the value of positive reinforcement training for their own primate management programs. This list of science-based references and articles about a variety of animal training topics may help you begin that process.

There are a variety of workshops and certification courses that focus on animal training techniques. These workshops and courses are not endorsed by the American Society of Primatologists, but they may be useful to those trying to learn more about training.


Clay, A.W., Bloomsmith, M.A., Marr, M.J., Maple, T.J., 2009. Habituation and desensitization as methods for reducing fearful behavior in singly housed rhesus macaques. Am. J. Primatol. 71, 30-39.

Wilson, G.T., Davison, G.C., 1971. Processes of fear reduction in systematic desensitization: Animal studies. Psychol. Bull. 76, 1-14.

Training and Abnormal Behavior

Baker, K., Bloomsmith, M.A., Neu, K., Griffis, C., Maloney, M., Oettinger, B., Schoof, V., Martinez, M., 2009. Positive reinforcement training moderates only high levels of abnormal behavior in singly-housed rhesus macaques. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 12, 236-252.

Bloomsmith, M.A., Marr, M.J., Maple, T.L., 2007. Addressing nonhuman primate behavioral problems through the application of operant conditioning: Is the human treatment approach a useful model? Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 102, 205-222.

Bourgeois, S.R., Vazquez, M., Brasky, K., 2007. Combination therapy reduces self-injurious behavior in a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes): A case report. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 10, 123-140.

Coleman, K., Maier, A., 2010. The use of positive reinforcement training to reduce stereotypic behavior in rhesus macaques. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 124, 142-148.

Dorey, N.R., Rosales-Ruiz, J., Smith, R., Lovelace, B., 2009. Functional analysis and treatment of self-injury in a captive olive baboon. J. Appl. Behav. Anal. 42, 785-794.

Martin, A.L., Bloomsmith, M.A., Keeley, M.E., Marr, M.J., Maple, T.L., 2011. Functional analysis and treatment of human-directed undesirable behavior exhibited by a captive chimpanzee. J. Appl. Behav. Anal. 44, 139-143.

Mason, G. 1999. Stereotypies: a critical review. Animal Behaviour. 41, 1015-1037.

Morgan, L., Howell, S.M., and Fritz, J., 1993. Regurgitation and reingestion in a captive chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Lab Animal 22, 42-45.

Whittaker, M. 2005. Applied problem solving to diminish abnormal behavior. In: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Environmental Enrichment. New York, pp. 126-131.

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Training for Medical Care

Gresswell, C., and Goodman, G. 2011. Case Study: Training a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) to use a nebulizer to aid the treatment of airsacculitis. Zoo Biology 30:570-578.

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Training for Present for Injection

Schapiro, S.J., Perlman, J.E., Thiele, E., Lambeth, S.P., 2005. Training nonhuman primates to perform behaviors useful in biomedical research. Lab Animal 34, 37-42.

Vertein, R., Reinhardt, V., 1989. Training female rhesus monkeys to cooperate during in-homecage venipuncture. Laboratory Primate Newsletter 28, 1-3.

Videan, E.N., Fritz, J., Murphy, J., Broman, R., Smith, H.F., Howell, S., 2005. Training captive chimpanzees to cooperate for an anesthetic injection. Lab Animal 34, 43-48.

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Training for Sample Collection

Coleman, K.L., Pranger, L., Maier, A., Lambeth, S.P., Perlman, J.E., Thiele, E., Schapiro, S.J., 2008. Training rhesus macaques for venipuncture using positive reinforcement training techniques: A comparison with chimpanzees. J. Am. Assoc. Lab. Anim. Sci. 47, 37-41.

Kelley, T.M., Bramblett, C.A., 1981. Urine collection from vervet monkeys by instrumental conditioning. Am. J. Primatol. 1, 95-97.

Laule, G.E., Thurston, R.H., Alford, P.L., Bloomsmith, M.A., 1996. Training to reliably obtain blood and urine samples from a young diabetic chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Zoo Biol. 15, 587-591.

Reinhardt, V., 2003. Working with rather than against macaques during blood collection. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 6, 189-197.

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Physiological Impacts of Training

Hanson, J.D., Larson, M.E., Snowdon, C.T., 1976. The effects of control over high intensity noise on plasma cortisol levels in rhesus monkeys. Behavioral Biology 16, 333-340.

Lambeth, S.P., Hau, J., Perlman, J.E., Martino, M., Schapiro, S.J., 2006. Positive reinforcement training affects hematologic and serum chemistry values in captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Am. J. Primatol. 68, 245-256.

Reinhardt, V., Cowley, D., Scheffler, J., Vertein, R., Wegner, F., 1990. Cortisol response of female rhesus monkeys to venipuncture in homecage versus venipuncture in restraint apparatus. J. Med. Primatol. 19, 601-606.

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Training and Socialization

Cox, C. 1987. Increase in the frequency of social interactions and the likelihood of reproduction among drills. In: Proceedings of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums [AAZPA] Western Regional Conference. Wheeling, WV, pp. 321-328.

Desmond, T., Laule, G., McNary, J., 1987. Training to enhance socialization and reproduction in drills. In: Proceedings of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums [AAZPA] Western Regional Conference. Wheeling, WV, pp. 435-441.

Schapiro, S.J., Perlman, J.E., Boudreau, B., 2001. Manipulating the affiliative interactions of group-housed rhesus macaques using positive reinforcement training techniques. Am. J. Primatol. 55, 137-149.

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Training for Enrichment

Baker, K.C., Bloomsmith, M.A., Neu, K., Griffis, C., Maloney, M., 2010. Positive reinforcement training as enrichment for singly housed rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Anim. Welfare 19, 307-313.

Bourgeois, S.R., Brent, L., 2005. Modifying the behaviour of singly caged baboons: evaluating the effectiveness of four enrichment techniques. Anim. Welfare 14, 71-81.

Laule, G., Desmond, T., 1998. Positive reinforcement training as an enrichment strategy, in: Sheperdson, D.J., Mellen, J.D., Hutchins, M. (Eds.), Second Nature: Environmental Enrichment for Captive Animals. Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, D.C., pp. 302-313.

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Training to Reduce Aggression

Bloomsmith, M.A., Laule, G.E., Alford, P.L., Thurston, R.H., 1994. Using training to moderate chimpanzee aggression during feeding. Zoo Biol. 13, 557-566.

Minier, D.E., Tatum, L., Gottlieb, D.H., Cameron, A., McCowan, B., 2011. Human-directed contra-aggression training using positive reinforcement with single and multiple trainers for indoor-housed rhesus macaques. J. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 132: 3-4, 178-186.

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Training for Movement

Bloomsmith, M.A., Stone, A.M., Laule, G.E., 1998. Positive reinforcement training to enhance the voluntary movement of group-housed chimpanzees. Zoo Biol. 17, 333-341.

Veeder, C.L., Bloomsmith, M.A., McMillan, J.L., Perlman, J.E., Martin, A.L., 2009. Positive reinforcement training to enhance the voluntary movement of group-housed sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus atys atys). J. Am. Assoc. Lab. Anim. Sci. 48, 192-195.

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Training for Restraint

Reinhardt, V., 1997. Training nonhuman primates to cooperate during handling procedures: A review. Animal Technology. 48(2), 55-73.

Moseley, J.R., Davis, J.A., 1989. Psychological enrichment techniques and New World monkey restraint device reduce colony management time. Lab Animal 18, 31-33.

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Training and Welfare

Chelluri, G.I, Ross, S.R., Wagner, K.E. Behavioral correlates and welfare implications of informal interactions between caretakers and zoo-housed chimpanzees and gorillas. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. (in press).

Laule, G.E., Whittaker, M.A., 2001. The use of positive reinforcement techniques with chimpanzees for enhanced care and welfare, in: Brent, L. (Ed.), Care and management of captive chimpanzees. American Society of Primatologists, Texas, pp. 243-265.

Laule, G.E., Whittaker, M.A., 2007. Enhancing nonhuman primate care and welfare through the use of positive reinforcement training. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 10 (1), 31-38.

Pomerantz, O., Terkel, J., 2009. Effects of positive reinforcement techniques on the psychological welfare of zoo-housed chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Am. J. Primatol. 71, 687-695.

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Improving Training Efficiency

Coleman, K., Tully, L.A., McMillan, J.L., 2005. Temperament correlates with training success in adult rhesus macaques. Am. J. Primatol. 65, 63-71.

Fernstrom, A.L., Fredlund, H., Spangberg, M., Westlund, K., 2009. Positive reinforcement training in rhesus macaques – training progress as a result of training frequency. Am. J. Primatol. 71, 373-379.

Clay, A.W., Bloomsmith, M.A., Marr, M.J, Maple, T.L. 2009. Systematic investigation of the stability of food preferences in captive orangutans: implication for positive reinforcement training. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 12,306-313.

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Training Program Information

Colahan, H., Breder, C., 2003. Primate Training at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 6, 235-246.

Perlman, J.E., Bloomsmith, M.A., Whittaker, M.A., McMillan, J.L., Minier, D.E., McCowan, B, 2012. Implementing positive reinforcement animal training programs at primate laboratories. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 137, 114-126.

Prescott, M.J., Bowell, V.A., Buchanan-Smith, H.M., 2005. Training of laboratory-housed non-human primates, part 2: Resources for developing and implementing training programmes. Animal Technology and Welfare 4, 133-148.

Prescott, M.J., Buchanan-Smith, H.M., 2007. Training laboratory-housed non-human primates, part I: a UK survey. Anim. Welfare 16, 21-36.

Ramirez, K., 1999. Animal Training: Successful Animal Management through Positive Reinforcement. Shedd Aquarium, Illinois.

Whittaker, M., Perlman, J., Laule, G., 2008. Facing real world challenges: Keeping behavioral management programs alive and well. In Hare, H.J., Kroshko, J.E (Eds), Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Environmental Enrichment, Vienna, Austria. The Shape of Enrichment. San Diego, USA pp, 87-89.

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Training and Husbandry

Joint Working Group on Refinement. 2009. Refinements in husbandry, care and common procedures for non-human primates: Ninth report of the BVAAWF/FRAME/RSPCA/UFAW Joint Working Group on Refinement (M Jennings & M.J. Prescott, eds). Lab Anim. 43(1)S1:1-S1:47

Laule, G.; Desmond, T, 1990. Use of positive behavioral techniques in primates for husbandry and handling. Proceedings, American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Annual Conference, pp. 269-273

McKinley, J., Buchanan-Smith, H.M., Bassett, L., Morris, K. 2003. Training common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) to cooperate during routine laboratory procedures: Ease of training and time investment. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 6, 209-220.

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National Research Council, 2011. Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, Eighth ed. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

OLAW Report on Site Visits to Chimpanzee Facilities and Associated Resources to Aid Grantee Institutions, July 2010. NOT-OD-10-121. National Institutes of Health, Maryland.

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Social Learning

Perlman, J.E., Horner, V., Bloomsmith, M.A., Lambeth, S.P., Schapiro,S.J., 2010. Positive reinforcement training, social learning, and chimpanzee welfare, in: Lonsdorf, E.V., Ross, S.R., Matsuzawa, T. (Eds.), The Mind of the Chimpanzee: Ecological and Experimental Perspectives. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Il. pp. 320-331.

Young, R.J., Cipreste, C.F., 2004. Applying animal learning theory: training captive animals to comply with veterinary and husbandry procedures. Anim. Welfare 13, 225-232.

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Training for Testing

Washburn, D. A., Hopkins, W.D., Rumbaugh, D.M., 1991. Perceived control in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta): Enhanced video-task performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 17, 123-129.

Gillis, T.E., Janes, A.C., Kaufman, M.J. 2012. Positive reinforcement training in squirrel monkeys using clicker training. Am. J. Primatol. 74: 712-720.

Graham, M.L., Rieke, E.F, Mutch, L.A., Zolondek, E.K., Faig, A.W., DuFour, T.A., Munson, J.W., Kittredge, J.A., Schuurman, H.J. 2012. Successful implementation of cooperative handling eliminates the need for restraint in a complex non-human primate disease model. J Med Primatol 41, 89-106.

Westlund, K., 2012. Can conditioned reinforcers and variable-ratio schedules make food and fluid control redundant? A comment on the NC3Rs working group’s report. J of Neurosci Methods. 204:202-205.

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Other Training Resources

Kazdin, A.E., 2001. Behavior Modification in Applied Settings, sixth ed. Wadsworth, California.

Pryor, K. 2002. Don’t shoot the dog! The new art of teaching and training. Ringpress Books Ltd. Great Britain.