Rochelle posted a blog about seals sticking out their tongues when we first started the blog. I thought it would be neat to show you how we teach that behavior. I just taught Chacoda how to stick his tongue out like the others and here are the steps I took:
First, I needed to let him know what I was looking for. I wanted to use a little "tongue target." Since he is used to my fingers in his mouth (for mouth check-ups and brushing), I chose to use the smooth end of a toothbrush. Every time I touched the tip of his tongue with the end, I would bridge him and reward. I did this a few times, just to make sure he knew what I was looking for.
Then, I put the end close to his tongue, but didn't touch it. I wanted him to find the target he had been reinforced for so many times. Since I had made it clear that touching this = lots of fish, it was no surprise that he caught on quickly and pushed his tongue out toward the target.
I immediately bridged the forward motion and fed A LOT. I wanted to be sure he knew that pushing outward with his tongue was the motion I was looking for. This is where I introduced my signal, a tap on the nose. Each time I asked him to find the target and stick out that tongue, I tapped his nose so he would pair the two. Nose tap = stick out my tongue.
After approximating his tongue out to his lip, I was able to selectively bridge and reinforce the trials where his tongue was out the farthest, without using the toothbrush end.
With the correct reinforcement, I successfully taught him that tapping the end of his nose, meant stick out your tongue!
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We train the Aquarium's Atlantic harbor seals and Northern fur seals for enrichment and to build a trusting relationship that allows for regular medical checkups. Read our posts to learn about what's new with the animals and how we train behaviors.
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