Training Farm Animals-For What?
How many of you older adults remember going to fairs or attractions and paying a small fee to see a farm animal perform? I was still young when this type of entertainment was prominent, but I’ve seen historical video on the subject and find it intriguing. The credit for developing the concept of Operant Conditioning and subsequent training of animals is given to B.F. Skinner, a highly-influential behavioral scientist and famed psychologist.
Professor Skinner was behind Project Pigeon where he trained street pigeons to guide missiles in World War II. His help with this program actually came from newlyweds Keller and Marian Breland who had been working at Skinner’s lab at the University of Minnesota. The project never developed because Skinner’s idea was considered strange and unconventional, but the Brelands saw financial potential in using positive reinforcement when training animals. They bought a small farm in Mound, Minnesota, launching Animal Behavior Enterprises (ABE) in 1943. One of their clients was General Mills for whom they trained a chicken that was in a show for the company’s farm-feed division.
In the 1950s the Brelands opened the IQ Zoo in Hot Springs, Arkansas – a fully automated, coin-operated animal show. They also trained a wide selection of animals for television and film, and on top of all of this, published several professional papers about their work in this field. Most importantly, their work in behavioral programming for the mentally handicapped began in 1963.
As farmers with livestock, the practice of Operant Conditioning is probably used daily. It may not be so your chicken can dance or your cow can play the piano, but can any of you site an example that’s worked well for you and why? Share your comments. The video below is a very informative piece on the Breland’s IQ Zoo. I encourage you to take a look and see if you can spot any familiar footage showing the successes of animal training.
By the way, for those of you who hit the casinos in your spare time. Did you know that the act of pulling the slot machine handle is an example of Operant Conditioning? Something to think about…
-Terry Olson, Titan Outlet Store Team