#14 - Dr. Eduardo Fernandez:
The Science of Enrichment

[00:00:00] Eddie: Well, enrichment should mean something that somehow improves the welfare of the animal. That means it should be evidence-based, in that sense that it’s not just, ” I think this is something my dog would like.” Okay, but your dog might also like eating a big bowl of chocolate, and that would not be good for your dog’s welfare. Right?

So, we wouldn’t say, I just gave my dog a bunch of chocolate enrichment. Probably not good. Might be good for the behavior for the short term, but enrichment should have some evidence-based component to it. We should be thinking about what effect does it have? And that’s not just limited to behavior, I should say as well.

[00:00:43] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:01:02] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:01:03] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts. The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Dr. Eduardo Fernandez. Eduardo J Fernandez is a senior lecturer of Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare in the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He received his PhD in Psychology, minors in Neuroscience and Animal Behavior from Indiana University, where he worked with the Indianapolis and Cincinnati Zoo.

He received his MS in behavior analysis from the University of North Texas, where he founded the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals, ORCA. Most of his past and current work involves behavioral research applied to the welfare and training of zoo, aquarium, and a companion animals. His past positions include a visiting professorship in the school of behavior Analysis at the Florida Institute of Technology and affiliate professorship with the Psychology department at Trinity Lutheran College and affiliate assistant professorship and the Psychology Department at the University of Washington, a research fellowship with Woodland Park Zoo, and a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship while working with UW and the Woodland Park Zoo, he started the Behavioral Enrichment Animal Research, BEAR group, which conducted welfare research with many of the species and exhibits located throughout the zoo.

He currently runs the Operant Welfare Lab, OWL, which is dedicated to the use of learning principles to improve the lives of animals across many settings, including exotic animals in zoos, companion animals in homes and shelters, and agricultural animals in farms. Many of his past publications, research projects, and presentations can be found on his Research Gate profile located in the show notes.

I always learn so much from Eddie, and I often find it really humbling to talk with him. He reminds me that there’s still so much to learn, there’s so much we don’t know, and that the learning journey has never complete. If you want a deep, deep dive into the science of behavior while getting to talk about penguins and get some laughs along the way Eddie’s your man. In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Eddie talk about enrichment needs to be observable, porcupines, penguins, and emus, and data tracking. Which doesn’t sound exciting, but I promise it’s more exciting than it sounds.

All right. Here it is. Today’s episode, Dr. Eduardo Fernandez, the Science of Enrichment.

[00:03:40] Emily: Thank you for joining us, can you please say your name, your pronouns, and your pets?

[00:03:45] Eddie: Yeah. Hi, I’m Eduardo, Eddie Fernandez, pronouns, he, him, and I have no pets currently.

[00:03:53] Emily: All right. Eddie, tell us your story and how you got to where you are today.

[00:03:57] Eddie: Well, let’s jump around a little bit because I was going to say part of the reason why I don’t have pets currently is because I’m still in this limbo period during this, and I know we’re all in a bit of limbo with the pandemic, but I’m not even supposed to be in this hemisphere, so I’m supposed to be in Australia.

I accepted a senior lecturer position with the vet school at the University of Adelaide in Australia, in south Australia, Adelaide, Australia, back in December of 2019, I signed the contract in March of 2020, and I was supposed to start that position in June of 2020, and we’re still waiting on the visa being processed. Australia just opened back up in November and they’re still working through backlogs of visas.

So, how did I get to the point of being a senior faculty member, in a vet school, at a big university in an entirely different hemisphere? Well, and part of that is the fact that I am a behavioral researcher and an applied animal behavior researcher. I am definitely one of those people that had a strange childhood. I grew up mostly down in south Florida, Philadelphia, and South Florida. And I spent a lot of time, I was a reptile kid, spent a lot of time chasing a lot of alligators, and snakes, and turtles.

And turtles are the, are the greatest, by the way. This was my background, as a kid was spending a lot of time trying to just hang out with as many animals as I could, as early as I could, getting out and hiking into the Everglades as far and into the weird parts of the Everglades that I could manage to go.

And I remembered seeing in the nineties an American crocodile for my first time, which at that time they were absolutely, you can see them now. Now, when I go down to south Florida, if I go kayaking in the main Everglades National Park out there, I see dozens of them. But at that time, you had to, you just didn’t see them, and I saw one in the nineties, they were almost unheard of. They were almost extinct for the most part and they were pretty shy. So, I, I grew up chasing a lot of, a lot of animals. I kind of grew out of the reptile component and expanded into being more of a mammal kid. But when I went to college, I jokingly say that because I still do and in fact, I was just part of a Reptile Jam Workshop with John Coe and a few other people, Fiona French, and some others. So, I still do stuff with reptiles, but most of my research has focused on behavioral welfare of mammals in zoos. And then with some companion animal work as well, and a little bit of farm stuff.

So, how I got there was in college, I, I, was just fascinated with behavior in general. That was something I learned very early on, both human and non-human. So, people were weird and strange to me as well. I liked watching behavior. I was one of those people that was like, I could just sit at a party, and sit in the back, and observe rather than do much interaction, those kinds of things. I know that’s, it’s so odd to think of me as being the weird guy at the party, but I certainly was. Rather than if, if I’m already looking for the people’s pets to play with, then, then I’m, I’m just being fascinated by other interactions, and things like that. So, I actually thought I was going to be a clinical psychologist.

That’s what I spent a lot of my college, early college really focused on studying, becoming a psych major. I just decided there wasn’t much of a future of doing animal work. That was me trying to be pragmatic as a younger college student. I was an undergrad at University of Florida, and they had a big behavior analysis program, and I started getting my introduction to behavior analysis through people like Tim Hackenberg and Hank Pennypacker and became one of Hank Pennypacker’s managers for his precision teaching courses. Did that for a year and a half, two years before I ended up then going and doing my master’s at North Texas.

So, I started my behavior analytic career. I said, “Wow, we can do something that seemed much more scientific in studying behavior. Let’s focus on overt behavior. Let’s find ways to control this in the same way that I would learn about manipulating any other kind of variable that we can talk about independent, dependent variables and studying it specifically on the overt responses.” That just fascinated me.

And then really with that welfare focus that I would say all of behavior analysis has, which is to say, “How are we bettering people? Society? Where’s that focus on that?” That was the applied behavior analytic component. So, I went and did my master’s at North Texas, thought I was going to do applied behavior analytic work, thought I was going to either go and do organizational behavior management stuff, go and do autism therapy, something along those lines, two very common areas for applied behavior analysis.

And within that first semester at North Texas, there was a student Donry Ferguson who had just finished up her thesis. She was someone who spent a lot of time with horses and got her master’s in behavior analysis didn’t really fall into any field, and she didn’t know what she was going to do for a thesis, and she ended up working with Jesús Rosales-Ruiz. He just said to her, basically, “what do you like, what are you into it?” She’s like, “Well, I like hanging out with my horses.” And he said, “Okay, pick a problem with horses and do that.” So, she did. And she did a thesis focused on trailer loading horses. So, I’m coming into, North Texas, in this behavior analysis program, I see that there’s this thesis done with horses? I said, “Can you, I can study behavior, and animals, and do this academically? I can, I can do this for my Masters?” I was blown away that this was just some random thing that was done. So, I can remember this must have been either, I think I was like maybe my second week of, of being a graduate student that I just walked into Jesús’ office and said, “Hey, we’re going to start an applied animal behavior lab.”

And he just kind of laughed, and said, “okay.” And I came back a week later with a list of about 20 undergraduate and graduate students that wanted to be part of the lab. And I said, “Hey, no, we’re going to start this lab. We’re going to start this applied animal behavior lab.” And he just looked at me and he was like, “I guess you’re starting and applied animal behavior lab.”

So, I spent the rest of the semester starting to talk with students, figure out facilities where we could work, coming up with a name, which that name in and of its, I remember sitting there trying to think of different acronyms, and I just spelled out Orca, you know, Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals.

I went, this is our lab name and that was it, by the, by the next semester we were up and running. Uh, spent the next two and a half years running that lab, we eventually started working with Frank Buck Zoo. We worked with the Dallas SPCA, the Denton Humane Society, Animal Edutainment, which did a lot of animal ambassador work.

So that’s where I ended up working with a porcupine an old world African Crested porcupine, shaping study that finally got around to publishing that paper last year. That’s almost 20-year-old research that was published, Nicole Dorey and I did that. Nicole Dorey ended up doing her master’s thesis with Animal Edutainment looking at functional analyses with that hybrid baboon. That baboon was a lot, it was wild to be around.

It was something that we experienced working with the porcupine in an enclosure, not far from that baboon. And she ended up doing her functional analysis. That was her thesis with that baboon, and that started some of the applied animal work there. Started a listserv, 20 plus years ago as well.

At that time, the Animal Reinforcement Forum back in the day of list serves ARF, the Animal Reinforcement Forum, and. just about everybody joined that listserv at that time. Karen Pryor, Bob Bailey, Terry Ryan, Susan Friedman was just starting to get involved with applied animal work, and she had reached out to me at that time and said, “Hey, I don’t, I’m a behavior analyst, I, I’m, I’m teaching faculty here at Utah State, and I’ve just started to be involved with some applied animal work.” And I said, “Please come join, I need more behavior analysts in this listserv.” And so, she became active in that listserv.

This is 20, just over 20 years ago. And that’s the flow of things just kind of went from there. after I finished my Masters, I went and did my doctorate with Bill Timberlake at Indiana University. Gosh, I don’t even know when Bill started, but he wanted me to come and be as Doctoral student because he said, “Hey, I’m, I’m willing to do some zoo stuff.” So, I spent the next, what, five and a half years, or something like that, almost six years working with Indianapolis and Cincinnati Zoo, and a few other places. And then did a post-doc out here after spending all that time, really trying to focus more on, studies of enrichment and, rather than just necessarily focused on some of the training components. Looking at overall welfare stuff, then came and did a couple postdocs back-to-back here in Seattle, University of Washington, and Woodland Park Zoo.

And spent a bunch of time consulting in between then, and then working with some different Universities. And that’s, I think I got everybody up to speed in terms of me waiting to go to Australia. How about that?

[00:13:51] Emily: Thank you for sharing that. So, today we’re going to be talking about the research that you’ve done in regard to enrichment. So, I know that you’ve done a ton of enrichment research. So, talk a little bit to our listeners about why they should care about this topic, and how it applies to them. How is it relevant to our listeners?

[00:14:11] Eddie: Yeah, this is a really important and good question. And I know we just kind of focused more on that academic journey side of things, and I threw out a bunch of names to that. I don’t know that a will be necessarily familiar to all your listeners, but let’s talk about what enrichment is. Why is enrichment important? How is it relevant to the welfare of animals? This is all really important, you all know quite a bit, you’ve written an amazing book. That is really one of, I think, one of the most useful practical guides, particularly for pet owners, on how to think about enrichment, how to go about initiating enrichment activities.

And this term just gets thrown around a lot. So, it’s easy to think about how is everything enrichment? I, I think of enrichment as a term, as it’s almost like how people started to add therapy to so many things where they would just say, if it makes me feel good it’s therapy. So, I’m involved in ice-cream therapy, this is retail therapy, or all these things that people would say.

And it’s like, but that’s not supposed to be what the term means. And I think when we talk about enrichment, that’s a similar thing. So what, what does it mean? Well, enrichment should mean something that somehow improves the welfare of the animal. That means it should be evidence-based, in that sense that it’s not just, ” I think this is something my dog would like.” Okay, but your dog might also like eating a big bowl of chocolate, and that would not be good for your dog’s welfare. Right?

So, we wouldn’t say, I just gave my dog a bunch of chocolate enrichment. Probably not good. Might be good for the behavior for the short term, but enrichment should have some evidence-based component to it. We should be thinking about what effect does it have? And that’s not just limited to behavior, I should say as well. In fact, the earliest ways that enrichment was studied was primarily through physiological components. So, enrichment came from the laboratory, although it had a very different designation in how people identified it, because they talked about it in terms of the environment itself, and an enriched first and impoverished environment.

So, if you look at some of the really early studies going on in the sixties, fifties, sixties, where they first started to examine these kinds of things, that it’s all coming from the laboratory. That’s where the first use of the term. I talk about this a little bit in which I guess this is good to plug this, Dr. Alison Martin, who’s a professor at Kennesaw State and I, so Fernandez and Martin published a paper this past year, that is about some of the history of behavior analysis, and enrichment, and training. Since I think some of that history is not very well known. That article, the Fernandez and Martin 2021, that history article is it is open access. That was an important thing when we published it, is I really wanted it to be open access, so that anybody could, any, anyone anywhere can just get access to it without having to email me directly, or go to my research gate, or whatever, you can just go to the website. I colorized a bunch of beautiful older photos, photos that were black and white photos, which includes a photo of, Keller and Marian Breland.

 There’s a colorized photo of Keller Breland and good old Burris, BF Skinner on top of the General Mills building in Minneapolis circa 1943 when they were working on Project Pelican or Project Pigeon. So, I described some of this history in that article, I think it’s a wonderful article, and there’s another podcast by the way, Atypical Behavior Analysts, podcasts, where I detail some of this history.

So. I might as well throw that out, Kelly Tate does that podcast, so I might as well plug that as well, since, since I talk about some of that history there. So, one of the really important things is enrichment, because where it really took off was in zoos in the late seventies, early eighties, by the late eighties, it was well underway in zoos.

 And that’s where you started to hear this term environmental enrichment, and this talk about what this thing was, Hal Markowitz being the guy who really brought the popularity of it. But it was still very much focused on a change in behavior, and as I mentioned, we can talk about physiological change. I alluded to that at least that it doesn’t just have to be behavioral, but the point being is there’s some type of improvement.

There’s some way that we’ve shown through evidence and improvement in the behavior, or physiology, or something that that benefits the welfare of the animal. And what I’ve said, is that what that necessarily means, is that therefore enrichment isn’t a thing. it’s not just, I gave my dog a boomer ball, or I gave him this Kong toy, boomer ball, that’s going to be more likely that you give that to a sea lion or a polar bear. Right?

[00:19:21] Emily: Your zoo background is showing through.

[00:19:23] Eddie: Right, right, right, so, I gave my dog a Kong filled with treats, and this is me giving my dog enrichment, right? Calling the Kong toy the enrichment. The Kong is not the enrichment, that Kong itself is an enrichment item. It’s an item used to produce enrichment. Enrichment is that interaction between the item and the animal. So, something the animal does physiologically or behaviorally, and usually we’re focused on the behavioral component. That necessarily means it’s a contingency, and that also means that, similar to the way that we define reinforcement, that you wouldn’t say I used reinforcement, but it didn’t work.

No. Then it’s not reinforcement, we wouldn’t say, although I like to be clear about this, they are not the same thing, enrichment, and reinforcement. They are different things, and we’ve talked extensively about that.

[00:20:23] Emily: We wrote a whole thing together on that, didn’t we?

[00:20:25] Eddie: Right, So that’s an important distinction, but the similarity is that they are both contingency based. So, that’s really important that we’re talking about an interaction between some response and an item.

[00:20:41] Emily: I want to quickly insert here because I know that a lot of the people who have come to us either pet owning clients or people who are new to training, have expressed confusion about the word contingency, or feel like it’s an overwhelming word. So, I just want to put out there for any listener, who’s like, “Oh my God, contingency, that’s a $40 word.” The way that we phrase that, or a synonym for saying it’s about contingencies, is saying that enrichment is defined by its outcomes. Enrichment is about the effect that it has on the learner’s physical health, or behavioral health, or even emotional health.

Although I know that’s debated, but that is what we mean when we say contingency. Is that it’s defined by its outcomes, the relationship between the thing that we do and what happens as a result of the thing that we do.

[00:21:32] Eddie: Yeah. Yeah, no, I think that’s a really good, important way of distinguishing it. I think it’s good to take a step back and break some of these things down because sometimes I throw out these $40 words and I don’t even necessarily realize I’ve just thrown out a $40 word because people apparently, for some reason, pay me to use $40 words and say that to people that want to be taught.

So, I’m trying to steer away from necessarily just being academic. So, one of the things that I point out about the term contingency is if you think about what that means, something being contingent on another thing. That’s another easy way to think of contingency, that there is, there is an interaction.

And we can get into the bigger 50 and $60 words. If we want to talk about two term, or three term, or four term contingencies, we don’t have to go there. The point being, is that something has an effect on another thing. So, when you talk about that outcome, that’s, that’s perfect.

That’s exactly what that means that we’re talking about, there’s a relationship between these two things. That’s the interaction. So, now going back to enrichment, when we say that enrichment is a contingency, not a thing. We mean that the response is contingent on the delivery of this thing, and that response can be behavioral, it can be physiological, it can be emotional. And I have no problem talking about emotional contingencies in general. I think it’s a cool, interesting distinction to make, but I don’t necessarily feel like it’s necessary, necessarily necessary, to distinguish between emotional, emotions and emotional behavior. But I think it depends on the context, it depends on what you’re trying to do, but affective states is a fancy $40 word for emotions. And we talk about affective states and welfare, we talk about affective states and the relation to play in domestic cats, which is part of what Julia Henning’s doing.

[00:23:37] Emily: I just wanted to be sensitive to the fact that it is hotly debated and not just steam roll as if that wasn’t a conversation that’s currently happening, but it’s definitely not today’s topic.

[00:23:48] Eddie: We can leave it as effective states emotions, all of it. It’s important, and we can talk about emotional enrichment.

[00:23:54] Emily: Perfect. So, for the purposes of this podcast, we are going to talk about emotions, in a colloquial way that people understand it and relate to. So, you have done a ton of research on enrichment, and um, you talked to us about what set you on that path in general, you talked a lot about how animal behavior became your field of study, but how specifically did enrichment end up being your primary research focus?

[00:24:22] Eddie: These things go in waves because I ended up doing more or less training focused, research in general, but as I was getting into my doctoral work, I really wanted to focus on a broader, more comprehensive understanding of welfare rather than just, “Hey, I trained this and this was the effect it had on that.”

Finally, this review, it’s about to get published next month that’s about the concept of training as enrichment. So, I review that topic, but nonetheless, I really wanted to talk about something that was more comprehensive.

That was going into some of the biological routes, ecological routes that was getting at, the learning and behavioral route. So that was really comprehensive. It was talking about all the things that should matter for animal welfare. And enrichment was a very nice suitable topic because enrichment means you’re trying to improve the welfare if it’s outcome focused. Your focus is on improving welfare. So, enrichment happens to be the primary means in zoos that people try to improve the welfare of animals.

Now, I would emphasize that the environment itself, that the enclosure or the environment itself, is all part of what produces welfare, and that’s beyond just enrichment. But enrichment is a very nice, simple thing. It’s something that you can go into some environment, you can introduce it to an environment, and then you can look for ways that the, the, that there was an enrichment effect.

[00:25:57] Emily: So, that actually leads me to a question. When Allie and I were doing research for the book, I read a lot of papers about enrichment that made a distinction between active enrichment, where the animal has to engage with it, to get the benefit versus passive enrichment, which is where you structure the environment so that it has a desired outcome, and the animal doesn’t necessarily have to engage in order to reap the benefit. So, an example of passive enrichment for dogs would be like a dog who is, reactive to seeing, stressors outside a window, we would put up window film, and that would alleviate stress, and empower the dog to rest more, prevent a stress stacking process. So, that’s a passive form of enrichment because we are improving welfare, but the animal, the dog doesn’t have to engage with window film. Right? So, what are your thoughts about that?

Structuring the environment or the enclosure where the animals not necessarily engaging, but it’s still changing and improving their physical, behavioral, and or emotional health just by how the enclosure is, is arranged.

[00:27:02] Eddie: It’s interesting that you bring this up. John Coe who, has spent over half a century, designing exhibits for zoos, really amazing individual, lives in Australia. John and I just were involved together in a workshop that I mentioned the Reptile Jam Workshop. We spent a lot of time talking about reptile behavior in general, and then some of the things that have been done to try to change the behavior of reptiles, and improve the welfare therefore, of reptiles in captivity.

I’ve argued that there are things that enable the ability for enrichment to work, that some of the way that you structure some things, especially with respect to the environment are what allow enrichment to work, but I wouldn’t necessarily call those things enrichment.

And some of this is just, we haven’t come up with the proper terminology, the proper ways of describing these things. So, if we want to call that passive enrichment, I’m not necessarily fully resistant to calling it passive enrichment, but I think it’s more accurately described as an enrichment enabler.

It’s an environmental manipulation that then allows other things to be enriching. Let’s talk about the dog example there. It’s distracted by things that are happening outside of the house. Right? It’s barking at lots of people, you talked about putting that foil up, so when the dog’s distracted like that, and you come over and you, you try to give this Kong filled with treats and the dog doesn’t interact with it at all, because it’s distracted by this thing.

You’ve now arranged the environment in a way that makes this other thing able to function as enrichment. That’s why I would say that’s something like, I don’t think the term enrichment enabler is necessarily a good term by the way, but it’s the best I’ve got right now.

[00:28:45] Emily: What about enrichment catalyst?

[00:28:47] Eddie: Yeah, that might work a little better, but the point being is that we’re what we’re really talking about is allowing for enrichment to work. But whether we’re calling that thing enrichment, I’m not sure, it’s really more about structuring the environment in a way that allows enrichment to succeed. But the thing that you’re doing to structure the environment to allow enrichment to succeed itself, I don’t know that I would call that necessarily enrichment.

[00:29:14] Emily: So, I’m going to pursue this path a little bit deeper because I’m in hearing you talk about this. I’m thinking about one of the examples that Hal Markowitz gave in his book Enriching Animal Lives, which we borrowed this example and used it in our book is about how, pacing is on the Wolf Ethogram, and so in zoos they’ll often create a little dirt path around the enclosure to kind of give the wolves a path to pace on. And he’s talking about in the context of people misinterpreting what they’re seeing and thinking that the wolves are pacing because they’re bored, when in fact it’s a species, typical behavior for wolves. But in the context of our conversation, to me, creating that path that, enables wolves to like have a path to pace on would be classified as passive enrichment because it exists in the environment. But now that I’m hearing you talk about it, it sounds like the path is almost more like a Kong because the wolf has to interact with the path, has to walk on it in order for that pacing behavior to occur. What are your thoughts?

[00:30:20] Eddie: By the way, boredom as an explanation for pacing is a very circular argument. So, I do not like using either relying on boredom or frustration as explanations for the occurrence of some supposedly maladaptive behavior. Those are circular, right? How do you know the wolf is bored? Cause he’s pacing. Well, why is he pacing? Cause he’s bored.

With captive carnivores, there’s tons and tons of research that shows, in fact, I have some studies on this topic as well, involving two different species of bears that show some of the species-typical relationship that those pacing patterns have to their forging activity. And to their circadian and circannual activity.

So, there’s a lot of stuff related to how these animals have evolved, how those behaviors emerge in that environment. And that’s the good point here is the emergence of behavior. I’m still trying to think of that word enrichment emergers or, or something, things that allow, allow for the emergence of enrichment.

But that’s what I would argue, is that if in some way you’re intervening on the environment, you’re intervening on the enclosure to change how the animal responds in some way, but it’s not the same thing, as providing an activity, or, or an event that changes behavior in that same way, it’s the you’re structuring the environment that allows these other things to occur.

We’ve got to come up with a different way of describing how structuring the environment, like I said, the closest thing that I can say it’s synonymous to is the fourth term, so establishing or motivating operations for behavior analysts, although I’m not sure that it’s completely synonymous. I think I would say it’s, here’s one term that I think it’s possibly most synonymous with setting events.

[00:32:12] Emily: Yeah!

[00:32:14] Eddie: The, the original, the pre motivating establishing operations. So, we’re going back to Keller Schoenfeld, 1950 setting events. That’s where this term and actually Jim Carr, back in the early two thousands, late nineties, early two thousands, wrote a great paper distinguishing between setting events and establishing operations.

I’m getting really overly academic here but, these are, these are the, the nice little surprise gifts to the people that are into this kind of stuff that will be listening to the podcast. But, nonetheless, setting events are more, more appropriately described all of the things we’re doing within an environment that allow for contingencies to work.

[00:32:59] Emily: One of the things that I love about talking to, and learning from, and reading papers from different academics within a field who are kind of researching the same or similar topics is seeing this kind of conversation that’s happening, where, you know, something isn’t maybe really well-established within a field, and we’re still kind of hashing things out. So, I really love to see that some researchers are talking about it or thinking about it in terms of passive enrichment, and then you’re making this argument for it being like the enrichment analog to setting events. And I, I love that. for the purposes of our listeners who are mostly non-academic folks, we can think of it as all within the realm of enrichment.

It’s still related to enrichment some way, what we want to call it or how we want to classify it, still obviously up for discussion, but all of these things are still lending themselves towards our main goal, which is improving welfare of the animals in our care.

[00:33:56] Eddie: Yeah. I think if the term passive enrichment, I’m fine with that. I think it’s hard to have a really strong opinion on this as you noted because the things are being figured out, but more importantly for practitioners, for people that just, I just want to make my dog happy. And that’s fine.

If the only way that you could get your arm fixed is if you showed up to the doctor and told them specifically which arm was broken, there’d be a lot of people with broken arms, right? But if you just said, “Doctor, this hurts. This thingy, I don’t know what it’s called, but this thingy hurts.” He can go, “Okay, well, you don’t need to know the term for that, to be able to know that that hurts and that we need to take care of that.” And that’s my job as doctor, is to figure that part out.

I think sometimes people get a little too hung up on terminology, and I know that’s part of why when I talk to people about terms, if I’m going to do some kind of, of correction, I’m using that term very carefully here, I want to do it in as helpful of a way as possible, but I don’t have the expectation that, nobody needs to talk like I do to be an effective practitioner. In fact, it might help to not talk like I do to be an effective practitioner.

[00:35:12] Emily: One thing that I enjoy about our relationship is that you can, tell me because you know, that I care about learning that stuff, right? So, if I’m misusing a term or if you think I’m misusing a term, we can hash that out together, and that is valuable to me. Whereas I’m not going to do the same thing with my client because it’s not valuable to the client.

They just want me to help them with their pet. They don’t care about what it’s called. So, I think you’re right, context definitely matters there.

[00:35:37] Eddie: They just want to fix their funny bone.

[00:35:39] Emily: Right, they want the ouchie to go away. But I mean, the concept of passive enrichment has been really helpful in talking to clients and shelters, because so many times people feel overwhelmed and they don’t have enough time, and I’m like, look, you can do the strategy that once you set it up, requires zero effort on your part and it will have this impact on your animal. Or we, we assume that it will, we have to observe to find out, but that is super relieving to people to hear like enrichment doesn’t always mean stuff that I have to do. I can set it and forget it. And, and that is hugely helpful from an emotional or a morale point of view of the client or the shelter.

I’m going to get back on the topic of research, valuable little, side journey we just took, but let’s get back on topic. I know that you’ve worked with a lot of species, but among the species you’ve worked with, what special challenges have you encountered either in developing an enrichment program for them, or in designing the research you were doing with them, or in general care and interaction with them? What are the biggest challenges you’ve come across in your career?

[00:36:38] Eddie: I love quokkas okay. Quokkas by the way. If you don’t know what a quokka is, Q U O K K A Google it, your life will be better. You need to look it up. They just look like they are ready to hang out with anybody. They’re tiny, little macropods, they’re in that kangaroo family. There’s nothing that makes them necessarily happy, but they look delighted and they’re wonderful.

So, that said, that was all a segue to get to the point of one of my particular pet peeves is in describing animals as necessarily intelligent because it then suggests that there are animals that lack intelligence as well.

There are no dumb animals, just like there are no dumb people. Learning itself is an evolutionary adaptation, and the things that animals are good at, whether it’s learned or not are relevant to how they evolved. We can just get into all the problems of intelligence itself. Intelligence happens to be a term that a bunch of old white guys came up with, it has real problems from a whole host of levels.

But so that said, I’m about to just blast all that out of the water and say one of the challenges I, did for a little bit, I worked on a project with a couple ostriches and we just tried to even do a simple training, demonstration with ostriches.

And the ratites they’re amazing in general. I love ratites. They’re great, they’re wonderful animals. I cannot wait, I kid you not, I cannot wait to actually see a cassowary in the wild. That’s going to be one of my adventures that I plan on going on. So, it may be the last time you ever hear anything from me is when I’ve run into a cassowary in the wild, but I will see one in the wild eventually.

Right? Right. I’ll have to remind myself not to do the dumb things I tend to do around animals on hikes and things like that. Like, I can go, dive in the water with that crocodilian or whatever. So, telling you, the, the ten-year-old Eddie comes out. So, I need to make sure that that’s under proper, that’s managed properly, but, ostriches, which are the biggest of our current or our existing ratites, the biggest ones. They’re all great. If you’re not familiar with emu war that happened in Australia, I highly recommend don’t even Google it, go to YouTube, look up the cute little cartoon about the Emu war it’s amusing it’s fun.

I worked with a couple of female ostriches, so first off there’s two things in terms of the challenges that, that I encountered. And this part of it is this blasting out of the water, this whole point that I was trying to make, that I just spent way too long describing that the first part is, one of the ostriches for whatever reason, took a liking to me.

I don’t know, there’s been, there’s a long history of a lot of different birds and I kid you not so many different Chilean wigeons, megallenic penguins, rockhopper penguins, an Inca tern, this long list of birds that for whatever reason, it felt like I’m the thing they need to court.

And the scariest one I’ve had her experience was one of the two female ostriches took a liking to me and would court me. Now, if you’ve never been courted by an ostrich, which it’s often the female. This female ostrich would start just approaching me, coming at me and courting me.

So, we’re talking about, and for your listener. It’s I think relevant to point out that I am a tiny Latin guy. Okay, so, I am not a tall person by any means. I’m a tiny Cuban. So, and this is a six-foot bird that is coming at me with wings out dipping its head as it’s approaching, so it’s terrifying, especially for a tiny Latin man.

So, that was one of the challenges. The second is, and this is the part that I’ve been alluding to for far too long. I just took everyone on like an extended version of Lord of the Rings description of the story here to get to this point, we could not train these ostriches for anything.

We could not get them to engage in these. We had Frisbees that we were trying to do color discriminations, and they just wouldn’t do it. We were, w, I’m sure I still to this day say, I’m sure we could. We, we, it was our bad environmental set up. We didn’t have the correct, but, but nonetheless ostriches were incredibly difficult to try to get anything going, we even tried to create a contraption that allowed for grape to drop in a bucket, and the ostrich were like, this is not how I normally eat grapes and didn’t want, didn’t want to eat the grape either of the ostriches based on how we set it up.

So, it was like we magically change the grape in front of the ostrich. So, this is all to say blasting my entire point that I was making here. Ostriches have to be the dumbest animal I’ve ever worked with.

And I could give a specific operational definition of what I mean by dumb, but I’m just going to leave it at that. They were, they were incredibly difficult. They were incredibly, and aside, from the fact that it felt like it was like, closing time at the bar and one of the ostriches was trying to pick me up, literally and figuratively pick me up. That’s a challenge. That was an effective challenge.

[00:42:16] Emily: I deeply appreciate that story. Thank you very much for sharing. If you look back across your entire career, what are some of your biggest takeaways or actually let’s pick one. What is your biggest takeaway from your whole career?

[00:42:30] Eddie: When you’re working with any animals, you’ve got to listen to everybody that’s involved in that animal’s life. Absolutely, 100%. Especially from a researcher perspective. Dog trainers are amazing at this.

So, I really think, dog trainers that this was one lesson that dog trainers can really help so many other people with, especially scientists and researchers. Dog trainers are so good, I mean, your bread and butter exists on whether or not the owner is happy. So, you’re good at listening to the people involved and then also attending to all the other.

It’s like you go into a household and immediately you’re thinking about, not just the owner, but who are the other people that interact with this dog, and what’s happening, so you’re taking that full package, and that’s incredibly important. But now think about something like a zoo environment, and especially what I do, it’s so weird, the kind of stuff that I do. Because I have student researchers that will be collecting data, I often have graduate students that are training students, so I’m like levels at sometimes removed from some of the people that are involved in the research. I have managers that are mandating that things can happen, so these could be VPs, these can be, curators, assistant curators. I have keepers I’m interacting with, and the keepers often can feel like the lost voice in all of that, and they are the absolute only way that anything that you do is going to be effective because they are the people that are managing everything that’s happening.

So, the keepers have to be, I can’t tell you the amount of so many hard lessons learned in going, “Well, I’ve got this project and it’s going to get done, and we’re going to do that.” And the keepers had very little involvement and nothing lasts in that sense, and then the opposite happened as well, where the keepers are there from day.

This even comes down to listening to the voices around, so the visitors. It’s so easy to not even think about the visitors, and sometimes that means even the kids right there that are in front of the exhibit. Cause I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve been there, I’m doing some observation, and some kid shows up and says something amazing that I didn’t even think about that. I go, “Yeah. Okay. That’s an important reflection on how other people might think about this situation or what might even be relevant directly for the contingencies involved for that animal.”

I’ll give you one example. I had spent a lot of time observing polar bears in my doctorate, and there was this polar bear swimming around its pool, that was one of the circle swim patterns that this polar bear.

This is well-documented one of the most frequent, not just in, in one of my studies, but in other papers as well in comparisons to other captive animals, polar bears are like way top of the list for how much they engage in stereotypies at some level. So, any repetitive behavior pattern, and it’s not just randomly coincidental. They also have one of the largest, home ranges of any land carnivore out there. So, the largest home range, I think for any, certainly in North America, in fact, there’s a Club and Mason paper that, that shows some of this evidence. This polar bear in particular Tundra would go around, I think it was Tundra, it might’ve actually been Pasha, but anyway, it’s one of the polar bears that I had spent years observing. This polar bear was going around and doing the circle swim where it comes up, hits the top of the surface floats to one end of the water part of the exhibit, turns upside down, goes underwater swims with its belly facing up hits, another point turns around, puts a paw on, I’m talking in detail, the pattern would do. And this kid just shows up. I’m coding my behaviors, kid shows up and is watching this, and this is little kid’s just fascinated. Just looking at the Polander through this viewing glass, through the water area, absolutely fascinated. And I go, “Watch this. This polar bear is going to hit that spot, left paw is going to go up on that rock, then it’s going to dive down, then it’s going to turn over, its belly is going to go up, then it’s going to hit this part right here.” And I’m describing this like about one to two seconds ahead of the polar bear doing it. Like I’m turning science into magic in front of this child’s eyes.

That’s what I’m doing, right. So, I just know what’s going to happen, and this kid’s eyes are just like, you can see them widening as I’m foretelling the future of the entire actions that this polar bear takes. Like, I’ve just put this, this like six, seven-year-old in the middle of the matrix, polar bear matrix. I’m just describing what is going to happen. I mean, I described like a good minute and a half loop or something like that. It’s like, you know, 60, 90 second loop that this polar bear does, and the kid just looks at me just wide eye goes, “Wow. That polar bear is really smart.”

I went, “Okay. All right. So that’s that I not even, it never occurred to me to think. What does the, what does that mean for how much that polar bear remembers? So, what does that say about the remembering about that memory component? What does that say? Is that, what, what are we talking about there?”

And I it’s, it got my wheels turning in a completely different direction simply because that kid said that one thing after. My point was just to do a magic trick for the kid. He blew me away with that insight.

[00:48:15] Emily: One of the reasons that we both love working with kids is because they have these kinds of like unfiltered viewpoints. Right? I don’t think they have as much cultural conditioning as adults do. I think that’s, that’s a beautiful example of that. So, Eddie, what are some actionable items that people can take away from this discussion?

[00:48:35] Eddie: That’s really important. What are people going to do when they go around and think about how they can enrich the lives of the animals that they, are around. So, what does that mean? Well, there’s a couple simple things that I can think of. Think about what’s happening from the perspective of your animal, we don’t need to get anthropomorphic about that. In fact, Bill Timberlake, would use a term called theromorphism, theromorphic, which means taking the perspective of the animal rather than trying to put the animal in your life, it’s saying, “I wonder what that looks like, if I were a squirrel, like, what would it mean?”

It’s taking the perspective of the animal, that perspective taking it’s beautiful. I love that idea with animals. It’s just going, ” What would I do if I had wings, or I had those kind of eyes, or I had…” So, it really, makes you think about some of the particular topographical characteristics of the animal as well.

The claws, the sense of smell, the sense of hearing, thinking about those kinds of things. And I think that that’s really relevant, I put all of that under some of the species-typical components. And I think it’s really easy to forget about that, especially when you’ve worked with one species for a long, I have the benefit of working with so many different species that gets made obvious if I forget it. If I forget it, if I happen to show up to an exhibit and I’m still thinking in bear mode, and I show up to a pinniped exhibit, and the seal suddenly does this thing, and I’m like, yep, not a bear, not a bear.

So, I get that, that kind of response all the time. And I think it’s very easy for people that are constantly only working with people, or dogs, or vice versa to forget about thinking about.

And that means even the package, the size of the animal, what that’s like. So that theromorphic component, I think it is, is really relevant.

So, the second component, that I was going to say, that’s really, really relevant, really important, is since we’re talking about enrichment being evidence-based.

So, now you have a great way to think about coming up with enrichment. So, it’s that theromorphism that I’m talking about. Think about what it might mean if, for that dog in that package, with that particular, that dog topography of his outer shell. What does it mean for that dog? What kind of things might work? And thinking about that from a species-typical perspective, I think is really relevant to. What have dogs evolved to do? Why would things that are scent based maybe be really relevant from an enrichment perspective. Then the second part is test things and test things in a way that you can find some type of evidence. Because we’ve talked about the importance of being evidence-based, and that means any kind of data, any kind of data that you use, and as I like to say all the time, any data is better than no data.

Whether it’s I’ve recorded some differences via, I took some video on my phone, I showed some interactions, I think ideally, you’re writing down some numbers. So, you’re looking at, you’re quantifying that enrichment experience in some way.

And I have some simple ways that people can use to try to quantify the enrichment experience if they actually want to evaluate the effectiveness of enrichment. But regardless, look for ways to challenge yourself, to test the effects of enrichment. You know, don’t just go, I gave enrichment therefore enrichment worked.

Do things like, what does it look like on days with and without enrichment? Is it really a difference?

[00:52:22] Emily: I love it. Thank you. So, to wrap up, we gave the members of our groups, Pro Campus and the Mentorship Program, the option to submit questions for our podcasts guests. And I was wondering if you would be open to answering some of those questions.

[00:52:38] Eddie: Absolutely not. No, never.

[00:52:41] Emily: Alrighty, then I guess we’re done here.

[00:52:44] Eddie: Bye! No, that would be great. That would be wonderful.

[00:52:49] Emily: So, for the podcast episode, we’re going to, I’m going to ask you the most popular question, and then we’ll save the rest of the questions just for Pro Campus and the Mentorship Program. So, um, the, the most popular question by which, I mean, the one that was asked the most is, uh, what is the biggest change or improvement you’ve seen in an individual animal by adding or changing an enrichment plan?

[00:53:15] Eddie: Yeah. Oh, that’s, that’s super easy. It happened with the rockhopper penguins at Cincinnati Zoo. So, we completely changed not just the amount of time that they spent swimming, we’re talking about penguins that weren’t spending a ton of time in their pool.

And at least in terms of the immediate effects, we saw drastic increases in the amount of time they spend swimming just by interacting with these enrichment devices. But it’s not just the amount of time, but also if you want to talk about this as a quality versus quantity change, you can talk about it that way we changed the form of the way they interacted with the pool itself, how they were in the pool, how they interacted with these devices, how they interacted with their foraging time.

They started doing things like porpoising. Porpoising meaning diving out of the water, that’s a species-typical foraging response on penguins. And I can tell you, I had never seen a penguin porpoise before. So, I had never seen porpoising outside of this.

You see porpoising in most species of penguins. I’m not even sure that all 18 species will engage in porpoising, I’m pretty sure they all will, but you typically see it under two different conditions. It’s meant to increase speed, so you’ll see it in the process of foraging or escaping a predator. And in this sense, it’s increasing speed in relation to foraging. We produce a forging event that was contrived but ended up being natural enough that it produced porpoising as a foraging response in penguins. Absolutely amazing to see, and there’s video of that by the way, to on my YouTube channel and on my Research Gate profile. So, I’m happy to provide a link to those as well.

[00:55:01] Emily: We’ll add those to the show notes. Thank you.

We have a few kind of outro questions to wrap up that we ask everybody who, visits us on our podcast. So first, first question is what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession or enrichment in general?

[00:55:19] Eddie: A lot of animals are smelly, um, so that’s, that’s important. Penguins are really smelly. They really, anytime somebody says to me, oh, I want a penguin as a pet. I’m like, “No, you don’t. You really, really don’t.” Many animals have their own distinct smells and many of them can wear on you over time. There’s a lot of weird stuff just in general with animals, but it takes a long time to see that weird stuff. I’ll give my perfect example of that is people will often talk about reptiles being boring or just being inactive. I don’t know of any reptile that I would describe as sedentary. You just haven’t been around that, you don’t know that nuance the animal.

[00:56:03] Emily: Or you’ve only been around reptiles who haven’t been cared for, and so they’re not active because they’re sick.

[00:56:09] Eddie: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s absolutely that as well. So there, I don’t want to make it sound like you can’t produce a lethargic reptile, you absolutely can, but it’s probably because they’re on their way out, and that’s, that’s not good. Even the ambush predators it’s so amazing to see some of the nuances of their activity. Some of the pit vipers, some of the rattlesnakes are amazing to sit there. At the ambush predators and just watching some of the nuance of their activity is incredible.

[00:56:36] Emily: Yeah. Thank you. All right. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:56:40] Eddie: I’ll always say more science. I will always say more, more data. More data. Yeah. Yeah. More, more emphasis, more emphasis. So that the simplest way to say that is more emphasis on demonstrating evidence.

[00:56:55] Emily: Love it. What do you love about what you do?

[00:56:57] Eddie: I get to hang out with animals. that’s a big part, but I don’t spend as much time hanging out with animals these days so it’s not just that, but I will say this is a really important part too, because you hear that all the time from people who work from animals. Is it’s like, “Well, I just love animals and I don’t like people that much.” Or they say something like that. But what they really often mean is, “I only want to hang out with the people that also really love animals.” And that’s an important. I don’t know of anybody, maybe there might be some family that aren’t like, you know, because you can’t choose your family. Right. But my bubble is almost exclusively just people that are like really, really into animals.

[00:57:37] Emily: Yeah.

[00:57:37] Eddie: And I love all those people,

[00:57:40] Emily: Yeah. I worked in the music industry for 10 years and I never really talked about animals because I just sort of assumed that everybody loved them. And when I decided to leave the music industry in part to become a behavior consultant, and I told some people that I worked with, that I was doing, that they looked at me like, “W- what, w- what, why you’re leaving music to go work with animals?” And like, one of the jobs that I got was working with like a lot of various, like wild species, and I was really excited about it, and I just got some looks like, “Why would you even do that?” And I was like, “Oh, I, what, there are people on this planet who don’t immediately get how exciting it is that I get to work with the giraffe, like, what is wrong with you?”

[00:58:21] Eddie: I run into those people all the time that they’re like, “I love penguins!” Or they do something, right? Like the people that do that and it’s like, “No, no, no, no. You want to hug penguins.” That’s what you mean.

And, and that’s not, and I’m not saying that hugging penguins isn’t awesome, cause it is, but I’m saying like your whole emphasis is on how much love you can put on the animal, regardless of what that anima thinks, right? People that are like, “I love dogs!” And it’s like, “Yeah. Have you ever stopped to think whether the dog actually wants to be around you?” I’ve ever met a cockatoo that likes me. Oh, that’s one perfect example, I really don’t know that I’ve ever met a cockatoo that likes me, and I just give them their space. All of the cockatoos I think are amazing, I love them. But then I, I pretend to secretly hate them because they all hate me. But that’s really me about me just giving them their space. Cause I’m like, “You have clearly shown me, you don’t want to be around me and I’m not going to make you be around me. That’s selfish.”

[00:59:21] Emily: It’s the difference between people who love the idea of animals because of the warm, fuzzy as they get from it, versus people who really love getting to know an animal, and doing something to make that animal’s life better, regardless of whether or not that benefits you. Like talk to me when you spent four years living with a bird who wants nothing to do with you, and you have put in an extraordinary amount of work, and time, and effort, to take care of them, despite the fact that they want nothing to do with you.

All right. Final question. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you? How can they do that?

[01:00:01] Eddie: Oh boy. Okay. Long list. I’m going to try to keep it short. So, there are a few different research projects that I’m working on. There’s one with the San Diego Humane Society that we’re working on involving Pet Tutors. Wes Anderson is one of the people working on that, one of the investigators with that.

I’ve got some cat play and welfare stuff, as I already mentioned happening over in Australia. with, uh, Julia Henning, who’s the doctoral student. Who’s doing some of that stuff. I have a graduate student here at Seattle Pacific University who is getting ready to start a project with the Seattle Aquarium, working with their pinnipeds and potentially their otters. So northern fur seals, harbor seals and possibly sea otters, which sea otters are amazing.

I have another doctoral student that I co-supervise, who, is doing work with the Singapore Zoo, and we’re doing some animal visitor interaction work that we’re trying to get going out over there. That’s pretty exciting that will involve some behavioral and physiological measures of potential stress or, stress-related activity as a result of presence of visitors, things like that.

Otherwise, I’m doing a lot of presenting.

[01:01:18] Emily: Do you have a website that we can share on the show notes that will have like all this stuff that people can follow you or mailing list?

[01:01:27] Eddie: Sadly, I do not have my own website, but I have the, so we have the Animal Behavior, Welfare and Anthro Zoology Lab, ABWAL. So, that’s just ABWAL.com, A B W A L .com ABWAL, which is the lab. That’s the animal welfare lab out at University of Adelaide that I am part of.

[01:01:54] Emily: Cool. Thank you very much for joining us today. This is the end of the podcast episode, but we’re gonna see you over in Pro Campus in the Mentorship Program where our members submitted questions. We’ll continue, so we’ll see you over there in a little bit. Thanks, Eddie.

[01:02:10] Eddie: Perfect.

[01:02:11] Allie: There’s a lot to digest in there, right? This is going to be one of those interviews, I think, that you’ll want to listen to a few times to really pick out those meatier parts. Like I said, I love talking with Eddie because it reminds me that I’m not a scientist, I don’t know everything, and that there’s so much more that I get to learn on this journey. Next week, we’ll be talking about data tracking for enrichment.

 Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.


Thank you for listening and happy training.

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