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We all know that horses and dogs can be trained for obedience and performance. How is that done? The library has many, many books on the proper methods for training different animals. Not only for training dogs and horses, but cats, monkeys, camels, certain birds, certain wild animals such as elephants, lions, and tigers, to name a few. These books do not always agree with each other; some trainers have different ideas from those of other trainers.

About the only point on which they all agree is that it takes a great deal of patience to train an animal, and some are easier to train than others. Cats, for example, are very independent animals by nature, and they really don't care whether or not they please their owners. Dogs, on the other hand, like to please their owners, and once the dog gets the idea of what he is supposed to do (because the owner has bribed him with food), all he needs is a pat on the head, and he will keep up the good behavior.

Dogs and horses are trained with treats (horses get an apple, a carrot, or a sugar cube for good behavior), and with firm-but-gentle discipline, such as getting slapped with a rolled-up newspaper when they misbehave.

There are some things that some animals really enjoy doing just because it feels good. Dogs love to run, and to chase things. It comes fairly naturally to them to chase a stick or a ball their owner has thrown. It takes a bit of teaching to get him to bring it back so he can chase it again.

Horses love to jump. Jumping comes naturally to most kinds of horses. Jumping in a certain way, over certain kinds of barriers, needs to be taught to the horse. Sometimes a horse-trainer will put a strip of canvas with small nails sticking up onto the rail of a fence that is built just for this purpose. If the horse jumps slightly too low, his tummy or legs get scratched. If he jumps a lot too low, the rail falls off after the horse bangs his shins on it. Have you ever seen a gaited horse? They put their feet out front a bit farther than is natural, they sort of prance, and their body shows very little up-and-down movement as they trot or run (called "racking"). This is accomplished by putting weights on the front feet, and undergoing very special training. Gaited horses have to be worked each day, forever, or they lose their ability to perform in this way. It is very expensive to train and maintain a gaited horse. They give the rider a very nice, easy ride.

I don't know how lions and tigers are trained for circus performing, but I have observed that the trainers don't trust these animals. The trainers never approach them without their whip and chair. This is definitely a subject on which we should do some research.

We should also research elephants. I have read that it takes about 12 years to train an elephant for the logging operations that they perform in Asia. I have also read that African elephants cannot be trained. We'll have to find out if either statement is correct.

It is obvious that the well-trained working horse is a cowboy's most valuable asset, and that the seeing eye dog is necessary to the well-being of a blind person who has one. The training takes a great deal of time and effort, and if either animal is stolen or lost, the owner suffers terribly. Individual members of Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and of 4-H Clubs help with the seeing-eye dog projects by raising puppies and beginning their basic training before the experts teach the harder lessons. Adult animal lovers in Florida volunteer to raise baby Capuchin monkeys for three to four years, at which time the trainers take them to complete their schooling to be companions and helpers to paralyzed people. Any student who is interested in participating in these kinds of projects could find out more about it by contacting the
local SPCA.

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