Animal Training: The Art of Training and the Science of Behavior Change

When some people think of ‘animal training’, they visualize a person forcing an animal to comply with their commands. This is the antithesis of our training goals. We work with our partner facilities to create situations where animals want to perform behaviors. Our training is based on the most positive, least intrusive methods available. We empower animals with the ability to make good decisions that earn them positive reinforcement rather than force them to perform out of fear of punishment or the need to escape aversive stimuli. Key animal training components include:

  • Behavior Management Program Development
  • Educational Program Design and Development
  • Creating High-Performance Teams
  • Husbandry
  • Medical Care

Behavior Management Program Development

A formal Behavior Management Program is an essential component of animal care at zoological institutions, and we have years of experience assisting in their creation. The success of a behavior management program is highly dependent on staff training and program organization. In addition to staff coaching, we offer development of customized forms and documents, including (but not limited to):

  • Staff roles
  • Identification and expectations
  • Training plan approval forms
  • Training session documentation forms
  • Behavior status and tracking report forms

NEI will work with your staff to develop a behavior management program that addresses the specific needs and objectives of your zoo. Since no two facilities are alike, our consulting services are tailored to your facility’s goals. We offer a wide variety of program packages and individual services, so facilities can custom-design the package that best pursues their objectives.

Educational Program Design and Development

One of the most important ways that we can reach our guests is through fun, exciting and engaging educational programs. Giving guests the opportunity to learn about animals in an intimate, up-close and personal setting sets the stage to create memories that last a lifetime and to encourage conservation action. Educational program design and development services include:

  • Program development and implementation and guidance in application
  • Evaluation of current programs and curricula
  • Development of training programs for program behaviors
  • Evaluation tools to measure program effectiveness
  • Audio/visual design concepts and implementation

Creating High-Performance Teams

The significance of staff training cannot be overstated; it is simply the most important component in the growth and development of a successful animal management program. We are committed to helping staff members learn the skills required to lead the zoological industry in animal care and management. We are also committed to creating effective high-performance teams that operate as a single unit pursuing a common goal. Our staff training programs include:

  • Workshop lecture series, including (but not limited to):
    1. The Art of Training and Science of Behavior
    2. Problem-solving
    3. Show and education program design and development
    4. Communication and team building
    5. Behavior and Enrichment Program development and support
    6. Individualized coaching and feedback


Positive Reinforcement training has an enormous impact on how animal caregivers work with and provide for their animals. Through training, animals can learn to accept a wide variety of different food items, cooperatively feed and decrease aggression with others in their group or exhibit, make better use of exhibits and increase their visibility, learn new motor skills, and increase their confidence with novel objects and situations. A training program can eliminate many if not all of the problems keepers often encounter when shifting their animals. In these, and many other ways, training is a timesaver and cost saver.

Medical Carehippo

Teaching animals to participate in medical exams is one of the most dramatic benefits of positive reinforcement training. Animals can be trained with positive reinforcement to participate in such things as full body inspections, weighing, ultrasounds, x-rays, urine collection, injections, and blood draws. Training has been incredibly important in the reduction in physical and mental stress for animals taught to willingly participate in these necessary exams.


Enrichment is far more than tossing a toy or a plastic ball into an animal’s enclosure. Enrichment is creating opportunities for animals to use their senses and adaptations to “earn” a living, something sorely missing in most static zoological environments. Enrichment is providing animals mental as well as physical challenges and opportunities. It is giving animals power to make decisions and experience the consequence of those decisions. Enrichment should be about a program not a particular experience that an animal might tire of in a few seconds. Enrichment program services include:

  • Development of formal program infrastructure
  • Guidance in application
  • Assessment of exhibits
  • Development of customized forms and documents, including (but not limited to):
    1. Staff role identification and expectations
    2. Enrichment item/idea approval form
    3. Enrichment calendars/documentation
  • Interpretive opportunities with enrichment experiences

Let us help your facility reach their goals! Contact us for more information.

Connecting People to Nature