Posted by: Linda Trunell | October 6, 2013

Positive Training – Not Just for Dogs

“What if you could teach a rhinoceros to “sit” on cue?  How about teaching it to lie down and roll on its side on cue?  This might sound ridiculous but that’s just what trainers at the Denver Zoo did.  And it wasn’t just an exercise to see if  they could do it.  The behaviours are very useful in performing routine maintenance and medical procedures as well.  You can see video of this amazing rhino on Karen Pryor’s column at”  Read this great article by Eric Brad – LIFE AS A HUMAN – Positive Training – Beyond The Dogs.


Rhino – DJRphoto36 2011 from Flickr

A friend’s daughter externed with a zoo vet this summer and said the animals are trained by positive reinforcement to let the vet and staff do assessments. The elephants were trained to lie on their side to have things like an ultrasound done while being fed treats! The primates were trained by positive reinforcement to extend their arms for the staff to draw blood.

If elephants and rhinos can be taught behaviors using positive reinforcement, surely a 60-lb. dog can!  Why then do people still use force?  Is it because they can and it makes them feel “in control”?  Is it because they just want a quick fix and don’t want to put in the time and effort to teach the dog?  Maybe it is because they do not know that there is another way – a better way – a way that can build trust and confidence in a dog instead of anxiety and fear.

Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,



  1. Teach Donna to lie down and play dead was useful to me… I now cut her nails while she plays dead :p


    • Haha – that’s great! She gets to relax while having her pawdicure 🙂


  2. Loved the idea of teaching elephants to lie down and would love to see a rhino “sit”.


    • You can see a rhino sit and lie down! Click on the link to the video above – it’s pretty awesome. 🙂


  3. Great article! That rhino is simply beautiful! I wish they could train the savages who keep killing our precious rhino off to disappear?


    • I agree – I am not in favor of hunting at all and the poachers who threaten endangered animals are the worst. I am not really a big fan of animals in captivity either but I understand sometimes we need to help preserve a species. The very least we can do for zoo animals is to give them an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible and treat them with respect and compassion. Using positive methods in their handling and care is wonderful.


      • Yes….our rhino situation is so bad, that even though I detest animals being captive, I’m seeing a zoo as a hide out right now for them!


  4. I think part of the problem is that, in our experience, there seem to be a lot of people running dog training classes who don’t fully understand positive reinforcement. If the dog or puppy is not motivated by food, they have no ideas. When these trainers can’t help the people with the dog solve their problems they then think this method of training has failed and turn to the harsher methods.


    • That is an excellent point! I think it is a very large part of the problem because anyone can say they are a dog trainer even if they have no clue about the science of how dogs learn. It is like someone calling themselves an accountant when they don’t know basic math.



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