This is what we expected Moyo to do when we showed him a target buoy for the first time. When he touched it with his nose to sniff it, we used our bridge (the clicker) and gave him a reward. Timing is the most important part of capturing a behavior, so you can communicate to an animal exactly what they did to earn a reward — and what they can do to earn it in the future. With a few repetitions, Moyo quickly learned that touching his nose to the target buoy each time it’s placed on the fence will earn him a treat.
Targeting is a great tool that we can use to train other behaviors, too. Weight can be an indicator of an animal’s health and body condition, but you can’t just pick up a zebra and place him on a scale. Moyo has to put himself on the scale, and just as important, he has to want to. Stepping onto a platform that feels and sounds unfamiliar was not something Moyo initially wanted to do. When asking an animal to do something that scares them, it is important to slowly build their confidence and keep the experience positive. It’s also important that the animal has a well-established relationship with their keeper. That trust allows them to feel safer.
Because Moyo has such a positive relationship with his main keeper, Deb Grupenhoff, she was able to build his confidence over time. He first learned to follow his target around the scale, and then onto it. Finally, he learned to stop with all four feet placed on the scale. Eventually, Moyo learned that the scale is not dangerous, and he is rewarded with treats each time he is weighed. He does not even need his target anymore.