Today I was working with one of my favorite animals, Wally the American alligator. Wally lives in front of the Reptile Discovery Center in an outdoor pond. Historically, Wally was fed over the edge of the metal catwalk on the right hand side of the exhibit. Keepers inadvertently trained Wally to associate their presence on this catwalk with food, creating what we call a "feed response". We wanted to reduce food-aggression from Wally, so we decided to train her. First we trained Wally to swim away from the keepers instead of towards us when we use the catwalk. Three times a week I enter Wally's catwalk and give her a command to swim away from me. If she listens, she is rewarded with a treat. When we first started it took Wally over two hours to swim away from me. Today, she typically swims away within 20 seconds. She has made great progress!
We have also begun training Wally to enter a crate when asked. This involves Wally exiting the pool and walking into a specially-built large wood box. It's very helpful when she steps into the crate so we can safely clean her yard and pool, and it's not stressful for her since we practice it in training. It also helps having Wally comfortable with her crate in case we ever needed to move her, or safely get a very close look at her.
Next time you are visiting the Zoo make sure to see Wally in front of RDC. You might even be lucky enough to catch one of her training sessions!