#23 - Lisa Clifton-Bumpass: Compassion Meets Communication

[00:00:00] Lisa: It is all about interviewing the individual, and respecting who they are, and where they need to start. And traditional reinforcement training, from the way I’ve experienced it, and taught it in the past was, “I want to start to train this behavior this way, and I’m going to go that way.” And it’s very a hierarchical, human dominant perspective that doesn’t even begin to address, uh, where my learner is based on their experience, their life experience.

[00:00:31] 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…

[00:00:49] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:51] 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 Lisa Clifton-Bumpass. Lisa Clifton-Bumpass is a training systems analyst specializing in the constructional approach to building team building, and the process of building out training plans, which address the needs of an individual over their entire lifetime and evolving needs. Lisa is known for her work with giraffes but has worked with 70 different species in her work with zoos.

She’s a sought-after consultant for teaching and building training skill sets designed for animals with unique physical challenges. Over the arc of her career, Lisa served as an expert for various executive committees, board of directors for domestic animal training certification systems, as an advisor for ethics and diversity committees, and as a member of zoological animal welfare committees, and zoological animal acquisition committees.

 She has presented for a wide number of conferences, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, the International Marine Animal Trainers Association, Convergence of Human and Animal Training and Technology, international conferences for giraffe conservation and specialty professional groups, as well as the Shelter Playgroup Alliance, creating unique thought-provoking discussions.

She has won numerous awards for excellence in her expert contributions and creating and implementing training programs for various facilities. She recently guided the creation of a zoo training policy and procedures manual that is now considered an exemplar for other zoos and aquaria nationwide.

Lisa is a court certified expert in humane training methodology, providing expert testimony for governmental agencies, has been featured in multiple books, provided expertise in animal behavior for movies and documentaries, and has consulted for pet food and product advertising and branding companies.

Lisa values, the animals and their people involved in the deepening and expanded exploration of welfare through collaboration, and the advancement of training, methodology, enrichment, and behavior modification.

She believes that success is not the by-product of the species of animal being trained, but found in them training skill-set development, the design and implementation of a well-crafted behavior modification plan, and the fluency of training skillset competency. One of her current projects is the Changemakers Foundation, which acknowledges people for their selfless, long-term involvement in shaping future welfare of animals through shaping their knowledge, skills, and experience.

Lisa is deeply rooted in the values of compassion, mindfulness, kindness, science, and respect as is evidenced in her work and bringing reinforcement strategies to the world of law enforcement and mindfulness practices. Lisa and her life partner of almost 40 years are building out compassion and mindfulness training courses, specifically designed for the animal welfare communities.

 You know, we have this false dichotomy in our culture that science and compassion are opposing forces. That science is cold and clinical, and that compassion can be to, uh, kind of woo or hokey. I think Lisa is the epitome of that intersection between science and compassion with her constructional approach to enrichment.

And this approach can help everyone create a more effective enrichment strategy for their pet. In this episode, you’re going to hear Lisa and I talk about how a constructional approach can help you craft a bite-size training plan, the best story about a bat named Beethoven, and interviewing the animal in front of you.

All right, here it is. Today’s episode, Lisa Clifton-Bumpass: Compassion Meets Communication.

All right. Hello, Lisa, let’s start with tell us your name, pronouns, and your pets.

[00:04:42] Lisa: my name is Lisa Clifton-Bumpass, I am many things, but for the purpose of this conversation I’m a she, her, me. Meaning, I have two pets, uh, right now I have two dogs. One is named, Thay, T H A Y, which is Vietnamese for teacher, uh, and from the Buddha Buddhist culture, Vietnamese Buddhist culture.

And then I have Bru who is Creme Brulé, and she is, Thay’s a terrier, Chihuahua, beagle mix and Bru is a, uh, Mexican hairless from a hoarding situation, and a master’s case in all the bad things that happen to emotionally, and physically, to animals that are bred indiscriminately in hoarding situations.

[00:05:30] Allie: Thank you. And I know you have a really interesting story of how you ended up here. So, will you tell us your story and how you got to where you are today?

[00:05:39] Lisa: Yes, it’s a, the thumbnail sketch is that, um, I was in law enforcement. I was a street patrol officer for 10 years. Really early on in my career, I was in a fight for life, and was almost thrown off of a second story balcony during this fight.

And immediately after the fight I had complete and total numbness of my right arm, all the way up to my neck. And, um, it was originally diagnosed as just being bruised nerves from the fight. If you’ve ever seen a police officer’s badge, they are designed to withstand tremendous amounts of force.

They’re very heavy metal. Mine was actually bent over on itself as a result of how bad this fight was. And, fast forward, I ended up having very significant, post-traumatic stress as well as, brain damage, contrecoup from being shaken, and also nerve damage that started in my neck, and went into my arms and hands, and then I had nerve damage in my lower back, which, ended my career. And it was long before, PTSD was seen and understood as well as it is today. As a part of my psychological and physiological therapy, uh, and trying to get me back out on the streets, they wanted me to start working with dogs, and I had two rottweilers at the time.

And the nerve damage in my hands was so bad. I could barely hold a leash. And it was back in the time when the leash corrections were standard proforma, everybody did them, there was no alternatives, and I couldn’t even hold the leash. And if I gave a leash correction, my whole body was wracked with electrical pain that would actually knock me to my knees. So, I learned about shock callers from what it was like to have that kind of system overload from nerve pain. Never that I put a shock collar on my dogs, and that’s another story. I became a shut-in, and they wanted me to start getting outside and walking around, and I could only do that with my dogs, which meant then I had to find a way to be able to walk my dogs. And I met Trish King at the Marin Humane Society, and at that era in our culture, Trish King was one of the fore leaders of reinforcement training, which was then called cookie training. And it was the very beginning of the beginning.

I went through her dog training academy that was at the Marin Humane Society, and then, met Jean Donaldson and went through the San Francisco Academy for Dog Trainers is in the second class of graduates. Shortly thereafter again, because clicker training was such a, a distant thing to what it is as re realized as it is today, met Bob Bailey and Marian Breland Bailey at one of the first APDT conferences, and I met Steve White, and immediately became embraced and enfolded into this higher level of training skill development, and very science driven ideology. That began to separate me from what was standard quote unquote reinforcement training that by today’s standards, we would call blended training, but back then it wasn’t.

I was the first, completely reinforcement-based trainer and clicker trainer in the Bay Area at that time. A very lonely place to be, burned out really quickly because, I became a, an aggression, specialist, and it was just overwhelmed by the lack of management, and really thoughtful care of dogs that were suffering in homes, and people that were suffering cause their dogs were suffering because they didn’t understand what aggression was about.

And went to a zoo, which was the Oakland Zoo to hide. And as a way to rebuild my enjoyment of being around animals of all kinds. And I was, assigned to work with, the fruit bats in the fruit bat night house. And, to give your audience, an idea that fruit bats to me were like a standard sized chihuahuas hanging from the roof.

And because of my dog background, I could see all of the facial structure and, and body language communication that they were doing all the time with each other. They have this same kind of facial musculature in many ways that dogs have so that if they were getting ready to vocalize, I could see it long before, or if they were beginning to become frightened, I could see it really early on, or if aggression was being triggered, I could see it in their faces and then their body posture. And one day I was, I thought I was alone in the fruit bat night house doing my cleaning chores, and I had to go out a door that a specific, very aggressive fruit bat, again, the size of, a size of a Chihuahua hanging from the ceiling, was guarding that door.

And it’s the only door that, allowed for access to the outer door area, it was the only human door, and I had to go out that door to finish my duties. So, in a timeline, it was right after Kelly Sisson Snyder and Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz did their very, very, very first public, lecture on the CAT system, the Constructional Aggression Treatment system.

And, because again, I was really lucky, I was not a friend of Jesus but I knew, Jesus and Kelly, cause I was part of, their, before, there’s the Science of Animal Training system they have now, I would go to Texas once a year, and we would have these discussions, and I was in audience very lucky to be there with, all these luminaries.

And I had a better understanding of how the CAT protocol worked, and I started shaping this, fruit bat that was guarding the door, using the CAT. No food, just distances my reinforcer, giving him distance, and taking distance to shape behavior. Unbeknownst to me, as I am working with the bat named Beethoven, which I loved, was the keeper standing behind me, in another room watching what I was doing.

And again, this was the 1990s I think is when this was occurring, for Victor who is the lead keeper on the string of animals to see someone modifying behavior without using a marker signal, a bridge, whistle, and not delivering food, but seeing that I was modifying and shaping this, uh, very unhappy, well-known aggressive fruit bat that would charge people again, think of Chihuahua hanging from the ceiling, I never felt threatened. To get Beethoven, to move, not only away from the corner of the door, where he was blocking my access, but actually to leave the area by this day, was, really, really, really exciting for Victor. And he wanted to know all about it. And, I, it started to interview keepers at the time, I knew that they didn’t have all the educational tools that supported the CAT, and I didn’t want to teach the CAT at that time, but I started helping out, really quickly on, Amy Phelps, who was the senior keeper in charge of giraffe, heard about me and, um, wanted to get me as her partner in crime for modifying and shaping and building behavior.

You know, I fed my first giraffe and that was that I fell deeply in love. But to date, uh, I’ve worked with over 70, different species of animals, all in the reptile, bird, and mammal families. I’ve not yet gotten to work with some of my really want to work with animals, which people call insects, but that will come. I think so that’s it. It’s brought me too today.

[00:13:28] Emily: Shaping is a procedure in which a learner is taught a new skill in successive approximations. We start by reinforcing the behavior that the learner can do, which most closely resembles the goal behavior. Then reinforcing increased accuracy over time until the learner is able to proficiently perform the goal behavior.

A marker is a secondary reinforcer that is used to mark the exact moment in time when the learner did the desired behavior so that the teacher has time to deliver the primary reinforcer later. It is also called a bridge because it bridges the gap in time between the behavior and the reinforcer.

[00:14:16] Allie: You know, I’ve heard your story about Beethoven before and I, I don’t think I enjoy it any less every time I hear it. I always love hearing your story about Beethoven. So, today we’re talking about taking a constructional approach to enrichment. So will you, Lisa, first tell us what that means and then tell us why people should care about this topic for today.

[00:14:41] Lisa: The constructional approach, is a way of looking at building behavior or even observing behavior, whether natural, or behavior that’s under construction by people or the environment and recognizing that it is not a lump of things that occur.

But that it’s an, in my perspective, an exquisite set of small components of behavior that are linked together, and are in their being interlinked, are the gateway to many different ways of training, the same thing. So, traditionally the way we’re taught about reinforcement training is that it’s linear.

And we start at one point it’s like this shaping plan that’s stair-step, and Constructionism actually explains why there’s often a pause or delay as we shift criteria that stair-step idea, and says that the smaller, the components are that we teach, the more consumable or friendlier or learner accessible, they are.

So, it requires us as trainers, and observers of behaviors, is to look at how a behavior starts to occur, where in the environment it’s most likely going to occur that’s advantageous to our learners, and then start building a shaping plan from the smallest increment, or components, or as Mary Hunter calls them, molecules of behavior that then build into larger clusters.

I often think of, when you say grapes, people think of a cluster of grapes, and component, constructional components are often just each ovum, each single tiny grapes that then are clustered together to a greater being, a greater thing. in. A constructional work, the way I work with, my mentees in the zoo world, is that we’re working towards, from the very first contact with an animal, preparing for what they need in old age.

So, some animals age much faster than others, so we have less grace time to build those really key, important components that will allow us to access things, the more intensive the need is to put our hands on or affect them. So, an example would be, on opossum, American opossums lived to be about two years of age, uh, naturally, sometimes in the, in care, they can live longer than that, but they start getting all sorts of age-related diseases.

So, what we train or teach in an opossum, has less grace time for us to build all these things so that if we need to put eye drops in that individual’s eyes, that has to be trained really early on. Or the ability to put our hands on them so that we can take a look at wounds, or do medical assessments of welfare, or teach them how to take medication.

If we’re talking about an animal that lives to be 80 or 90 years old, that changes that grace time, or that arc of things that we need to build and gives us more latitude. But it, for me, it’s always very deliberately planned understanding that each behavior we’re shaping each tiny component unlocks and opens the doorway to much greater things in the plan later on.

[00:18:04] Allie: That was wonderful. I loved that at that explanation. And one of the things that I loved about what you were saying is preparing for what they need in old age, because I know a lot of our listeners have pets who, who, you know, are pretty good to go for right now, all of their current needs are met, but they’re still looking for things that they can do for their pet, and for their enrichment strategy with their pet.

And one of the things that, I’m especially talking to folks about right now, as I’m going through this with my own pet, Oso as he ages, is preparing for what they meet in old age. And I love what you were saying about the grace period for that. That, that is going to be different depending on the species that you’re working with, and perhaps depending on when, in your pet’s lifespan, you start working on this. You know, if you have a puppy versus you adopt a senior pet, that’s going to be very different for that grace period, and so I love taking into, into account those factors of it depends on lifespan, it depends on when you get your pet, and there’s always something that we can be doing to make this animal’s life better for the future.

And we can start that right now. And as you said, unlock that next piece.

[00:19:23] Lisa: Well, absolutely. And the thing that Constructionism does not do, from my perspective, it does not mean I’m right where I want to start. It is all about interviewing the individual and respecting who they are and where they need to start.

And traditional reinforcement training, from the way I’ve experienced it, and taught it in the past was, “I want to start to train this behavior this way, and I’m going to go that way. “And it’s very a hierarchical, human dominant perspective that doesn’t even begin to address, uh, where my learner is based on their experience, their life experience. Bru is a perfect example. And bear with me, I said her name, so reinforcement must go, because she looked at me with attention. Bru came from a situation, she came into our lives when she was about two to three years of age unknown. By that point in time, she had, had at least three litters of puppies, she was still heavy in milk, when we got her from the shelter.

In her hoarding situation, she lived in a room of a house, had never been outside and lived in that house with between 20 and 23 different dogs, all intact. So, breeding, fighting, access to resources, never being held by people. The traditional, you know, human to dog relationship, was beyond her. And starting where her life lessons needed to be, had to respect that I could not even touch her, and even looking at her, caused her to hide.

And so where do you begin? With those kinds of agreements of, it’s all about who she is right now, and I’m not going to push what I had planned for her. And I see a lot of, traditional reinforcement people in their relationships with animals, whether it’s domestic pet ownership, or in zoos, there’s a lot of reinforcement bullying, or pushing to get where people need that animal to be.

And, that doesn’t say, who are you at? What do you know how to do? What do you do well and what don’t you know how to do? And let’s take a look at those components, those basic components of behavior to build from.

[00:21:43] Allie: I love that. Lisa, you know, you’ve mentioned a couple of times already in this interview, and I know we were talking about it before we hit that record button, about communication. And how do you think communication, and being able to observe an animal’s body language comes into that?

[00:22:00] Lisa: So as, one of the things I think our community has not done well for professional animal people, as well as privately, private ownership of animals, is to talk about the value of body language, and respecting it. I can remember back in, really early nineties when I started saying, you know, if your dog’s growling, it means something, and you should thank them for letting you know that they have a need that we need to attend to.

I got all sorts of pushback because it was not popular at that time, but if you consider that behavior is always purposeful to that individual, whether or not we understand why it exists, or what the reinforcers are, or what the environmental triggers are for that behavior, it still has purpose and meaning to the individual we’re talking about.

So, um, before we hit the record button for our meeting, we were talking about, the fact that I’m looking at manned behaviors, uh, which are behaviors, request behaviors, by individuals for something. What we’re experiencing in our home is that both of our dogs have vocalizations and body language that is specific to each one of us, my life partner, and myself, and that those are purposeful attention seeking things like a name label, and a vocalization that’s very specific to me is never done to my partner and a vocalization that specific to her is never done to me.

And they, with that understanding, it opens this whole different world of understanding that each one of us, whether we’ve got scales or, fur, or are hairless, like my, my, my Brutini who’s watching me very carefully right now. She is always trying to communicate to me her need s. I may not understand them, but if I have intention to respect her needs as a whole sentient being, it changes how I respond to those things because they’re purposeful.

[00:23:53] Allie: So, what I’m hearing in that is that the ability to have this two way communication with our animals really is one of the foundation skills for an effective enrichment strategy. Would you agree with that?

[00:24:06] Lisa: Absolutely. So, in my lifetime, I’ve owned over 30 dogs, most of whom who’ve died of old age, some of them because of disease processes, and each one of them had their own preferences.

They’ve taught me, they have preferences about how they want to live in the world. Things that are more meaningful to them, places that are more meaningful to them, activities that are more meaningful to them. So, from an enrichment perspective, understanding and studying each one’s expressed preferences in the environment and how they’re interacting with the environment in a natural way is critical.

So, that I can then start opening a language with them that is individualized and individual specific, so that I don’t get into, the concept of all dogs want, or all cats want, or all birds want, or since I’ve talked about giraffe, giraffe want. Or, you know, the alligator that I worked with in the past had very specific preferences, and each one of those are important for us to facilitate, to enrich their lives throughout the arc of their lives.

So, who they are as young ones, does not mean that it’s going to be the same thing as when there are, you know, geriatric individuals in our care. That changes.

[00:25:31] Allie: One of the ways that, that I love how you incorporate this concept of communication, of preparing your pets for what they are going to, and for you preparing other animals beyond pets as well, for things that they’re going to experience in their life is your medical cue. Uh, we talked to people about this all of the time, always giving you credit of course, because it’s, it’s so brilliant. So, will you talk about your medical cue, and how important those kinds of safety cues are?

[00:26:07] Lisa: So, a, a medical cue is a human body language which response to, “I’m sorry, this has to happen.” And it often requires restraint of some sort, sometimes a little bit of restraint depending on the individual and what needs to be done, and sometimes it is, pretty heavy restraint because we absolutely need to get something done without training for it. We can have done all these beautiful training things have this delicious, deep, rich history of reinforcement, and understanding of body language, but then there’s a day when we show up, and there’s a gash, or a wound, or an illness that requires us to do things that we didn’t have time to plan for. And what I found is that, in working with, my zoo peeps, people, is, finding a way that suited the human needs because we often feel really bad when we have to restraint, heavy, use heavy restraint, because we know that it’s going to stress, uh, upset and frightened the animal.

So, attending to what the human side of that is, as well as having a very clear indicator for the animal, that something unpleasant is going to happen. And then on the other side of that, good things are gonna happen. So, it’s, you know, essentially, it’s a, it’s a conditioned, process of saying bad things are going to happen. And that those, the, there will still be sunshine on the other side of it, if you’ll allow me.

So, for people, I realized that one of the things that was happening is that often with the zookeepers I was working with was almost, kind of a shrug, you know, I’m sorry. So, if you’re sitting in your chair, square your spine a little bit and take your arms from your waist up, and gently hold them right above your shoulders, palms up, and shrug your shoulders.

I’m sorry. We do that with each other. I’m sorry. You know, I apologize, I did something that offended you, I apologize, I hurt your feelings. And in the American culture, at least where I’ve walked, that’s a fairly common trait. But essentially, it’s a way to use something we already do, that is natural for us, that then becomes a cue for the learners. And animals pick it up really quickly. They are exquisite in studying our behavior, and whether or not we’re safe, or whether or not we’re attentive and fully aware of what’s going on, so we started building that.

I’m sorry, it’s going to be nasty for a bit, afterwards comes really good hay, or the best produce I have, or your favorite cookies, or, you know, a toy that you really treasure. For Bru, one of her highest reinforcers is to let her go outside and lay in the sun, or to go on squirrel guarding duty, which she takes extremely seriously.

Before the thing happens, we do this, I’m sorry cue. And immediately after it’s a really, “Okay, go have fun.” And it it’s worked really well, and it helps people feel better about the fact that they’re going to have to be heavy-handed. And for me, that was something I hadn’t expected, was that the human component side, using human communication as a cue for the animals, which we do all the time, but this emotional side of, you know, I feel bad about what I’m about to do to you. It’s a real human thing, whether it’s a zookeeper, or a dog owner, or a cat owner, or a horse person. And to honor that as really important.

[00:29:32] Allie: I think you bring up a really great point about the human element of those safety cues, and how important that is. Because I, I’m sure this is true for you as well, but I know when I’m talking with a client, or a student, or a colleague, about cooperative care, one of the first questions I get is, “Well, what happens when…” The last time I had to use a medical cue was when Oso got skunked, and it was, you know, you are not coming into my house until we deal with this, and, and I have not trained you to be okay with me rubbing right around your eyes and, and in your nose, essentially with a baking soda solution. So, I think that’s one of the first questions that I get, is that true for you, too? Do you get a lot of those questions?

[00:30:17] Lisa: So, I’m going to plant this seed in our conversation, and I know this will come back, from the fact that I stand, I’m going to say equally in the animal, the domestic animal world and the zoological world, is that people are the same, and have the same worries about damaging the relationships. A lot of the zoo people I work with really worry about the relationships they have with animals, because they’re critical for doing welfare assessments and health assessments.

And there are people who become attached just like anybody else to the animals in their care, or the individuals in their care. I don’t, I want them to take it even away from animals to the individuals in their care. And I found that the most common question is will the relationship survive? And from my background, and because I’m very, constructional approach centric, if we have done a lot of good work with the, all these other baseline reinforcement opportunities, and that the real rate of reinforcement, and their history of reinforcement is deep and rich, relationships springboard really, really, really well, to allow for them to be either recovered or just to take a tiny bump in the road, or for some of us when we’re really lucky, there’s no change in the relationship. And that in having a conversation with a couple of my zoo people yesterday, we were talking about how that deep, deep, deep history of lots of behaviors taught, that are heavily reinforced and maintained, springboard when, “I’m sorry, but you know, the poop is going to hit the fan. It’s going to be ugly. You’re going to be uncomfortable. you might even actually be hurt while I’m holding you, but we’re going to be okay on the other side of that.” It is really powerful.

[00:32:00] Allie: Absolutely. And, uh, you mentioned you were talking with some of your zoo people yesterday, and I know that in preparation for our interview today, you, in true Lisa amazing mentor fashion, went to them and gave them opportunity to, to voice what they wanted people to know from this interview. So, I want to give you the space right now to talk about what they wanted everybody to know,

[00:32:31] Lisa: That they’re not bad guys. They’re just like you guys, out there who are, are in the domestic animal world. They love their animals and care deeply about their animals, they grieve and worry, uh, when an animal passes away from natural causes, or has come to a natural end of it’s, it’s a life.

It, it’s a very deeply affecting thing for them, just like it is for us because they have these long rich histories of caretaking. The difference for them, that they expressed that they wanted you guys to know about, or the, the domestic animal world to understand is that, their jobs are essentially to promote healthy, natural behaviors, that are in the environment, and normal, for that individual.

And we’ll talk about individual behaviors versus that species type behaviors, and that often people will go to, I’m going to draw a line here, accredited zoos, whether they’re AZA accredited or, or w what are known as roadside zoos, or mom and pop zoos, completely different worlds. AZA zoos, have a very rigid standard, where they’re inspected and held to a higher standard that, and that bar is always moving, and we could talk about that later or not. So, that if they’re doing the best science for their animals, they’re providing them with the environment for that group, or that individual to live their lives in a controlled and safe environment for them, and for us, doing whatever they want to do. So, a common thing that I hear, ” Why is that big cat fill in the blank?” Pacing, big cats walk long distances in their daily lives, in the wild to acquire food, and water, and shelter, and, and prime places of space of, rest or safety. And in zoos, which are usually landlocked, unfortunately, depending on how old the zoo is, cities may have grown around them, and neighborhoods with people living them, may have grown around them. Uh, so that they’re islands. But they’ll say, well, why, why is that animal? It’s a stereotypy that animals are always walking in the same way while they’re doing their daily, natural, budget for walking.

Or “Why are those lions just laying there? They look so bored.” No, if you’ve been to Africa, like I have, you know that lions literally are more active at sunset and at sunrise, in the coolest parts of the day, and the days, when people are zoos, they rest and you’ll see them sleeping, that kind of stuff. The higher, the level of care is in the zoos means that they’re spending a huge amount of their time building enrichment, researching enrichment, putting it out there, finding ways to feed the animals in a way that stimulates natural behavior, and all those things. And they would want you to know that they’re, most of them, have bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, and they’re not just some warehouseman person that doesn’t care about the animal. That may have been long ago, it’s not contemporaries zookeeping in accredited facilities.

[00:35:42] Allie: You touched on a couple of points that I want to dig a little deeper into. You mentioned that you went on a trip to Africa. I am so jealous, by the way. That is on my bucket list, but I would love to hear your observations of behavior in the wild and any insights that you got from that trip in terms of enrichment plans for the animals that you work with.

[00:36:04] Lisa: So, I’ve been to Africa three times, three different regions, primarily all giraffe centric, but once you’re out, it’s never just about the species, because they’re always interacting in their environments with many different kinds of, of animals. So, when, we’ll use the giraffe, as an example, when I first started working with giraffe in captivity, there were a lot of things that we were told they didn’t do.

I’m going to call that myth based it’s that hand-me down labeling of what behavior, what the purpose of behavior is. And somewhere along the line, again, let’s put a mark on this was a long time ago. This is not contemporary. although there are still people that hold this, the idea was that giraffe were too stupid to know where their feet were.

And because they’re feet were so far away for their brains and the information their feet needed, it just couldn’t possibly get to the brain in a timely manner, and then from the brain be processed, and go all the way back down those very long neuron, 16 to 20 feet. in some of them, and process that information in a timely manner.

Okay. I understand that because based on their limited observations, they didn’t understand that. So, I was given that piece of information. I went to Africa to study animals in the wild, and I saw giraffe doing things like walking up to a specific log and taking a specific foot and putting the back of that on the heel bulb, it’s like a horse’s hoof, the heel book or the back of the foot, right above the hoof and scratching it very gently.

And then watching their lips, and very much like horses and dogs, when you scratch, you know, or cats, they have an expression, “Oh, that feels good.” And you could see them doing that. And then they would take that foot and put it down and then they would do another foot, and scratch on that log in a very deliberate way.

And I went, ” Wait a minute. There’s a lot of synaptic information going on back and forth between that foot and that brain, and joy, or what we call joy or feeling good, about what they’re doing is a process.” So, it immediately stripped that from my mind. Another example would be watching groups of giraffe eat together.

And I’m going to tell a story on, on a researcher who will remain nameless, who we were watching a group of, uh, young adult males eat off of the same kind of tree. What was happening is that the same individuals were going to a specific area of the tree to eat, and they would eat a little bit and then move on and eat a little bit and move on.

And the researcher was saying, “I wonder, why are they doing it? Because they see the other giraffe doing it or why?” And I was thinking, ” Okay, I need to see what a brain looks like because their olfactory lobe has got to be really well developed.” And it is huge by the way, in a giraffe brain. So, they’re able to process really tiny bits of particle information that’s coming in through their nose, up into their brain.

And because I had worked with dogs and I had studied what Steve White was talking about and the tracking and trailing and scent detection work back in the day, was that they had actually discovered that vegetation when chewed or stepped on changes its chemical structure and that dog’s noses, well-trained dog’s noses, could detect that.

And then, with that bit of information, I’m married those two pieces together, and after all the giraffe left, I went and I looked at that part of the tree, and saw that that was where some really young vegetation was very sweet, easy to chew, and completely different than the rest of the tree that had older vegetation on it.

And it changed that. So, studying animals in a way that we are not imposing anything on them. And then taking that back, it shapes training plans, management plans, enrichment plans. It changes everything. The last time I was in Africa was with Anne Dagg, who is one of my life heroes, go see her movie it’s on YouTube, um, read her books, she’s amazing person. Predates Jane Goodall, I have to say this. In being the first woman to study animal, the very first person in the world to study wild animal behavior in situ in Africa.

But we were in an area that was being in the middle of the plague of locust, phenomenal human experience. And because giraffe have such excellent hearing, we knew that the swarms of, uh, locusts coming before we could see them because their behavior would tell us that they would hearing something, they would all orient, face the same way, we would turn and look, and we could see the sky turning yellow with these swarms of locusts coming that way.

And then giraffe would disappear and, and hide, or they would lower their heads because if you’re in a swarm of locus it’s pretty overwhelming. And it was phenomenal for me because often we don’t even think of enrichment being, uh, something as important as what they can hear. We often think of it as gustatory, or behavior that they do with their paws, or their hands, or whatever. However, you look at the bipeds, or the quadrupeds, but it is so much more detailed and rich.

[00:41:01] Allie: And you have another giraffe story that we love, and that is the one, the giraffe who is headbutting his own hip. Will you give us a snippet of that story?

[00:41:11] Lisa: Yeah, again. No names, no facility names, no people’s names to be used. I was at a conference speaking, a pretty high-level conference speaking, about constructional training of groups, and group behavior, training groups. And afterwards, since I used giraffes, a giraffe keeper asked me if I could come and take a look at this mystical behavior with their young bull giraffe who was wounding himself.

So, he was, from their perspective and from language people often understand stereotypically hitting, uh, his hip flank area so hard that he was ulcerating himself. Because they couldn’t see what was going on, or understand what was going on, I was asked to go and do observations. And what I saw was that it was a very specific to one place. It was very specific to a certain time of day, in this one place, from my observations, and that I could predict when it was going to happen based on what he was doing with his body. And as soon as I knew that it was predictable, that it was in a specific place at a specific time, I knew that there was some sort of operational or operant part of that.

I started looking at it completely different, in what were the trigger systems and I’ve, I, my comments were something that were so alien to that group because they were pathologizing or medicalizing it as this kind of psychotic behavior because they didn’t understand it. And I was seeing that it could very well be in the learned behavior, a habit behavior, or stimulus specific to that spot, as opposed to all these other things that they were describing.

[00:42:47] Allie: Thank you for sharing that now, what are some observable goals and the actionable items that people can take away from this discussion today?

[00:42:55] Lisa: Ooh, abandon your labels. If you find yourself using a label, stop and understand it, shorthand that may have been given to you by others, it might be outdated. It might be a way of, explaining a behavior without understanding the why. You know, I came up in his field under the umbrella of dominance theory. Uh, I’m real lucky that that, was, struck from my language really early on by people like Bob and Marian Bailey. I am so honored that I got to take chicken camp under the guidance of Bob and Marian together.

It’s a whole different, uh, experience. and I got to watch them actually change their, their lesson plans about the humans that were in the classes with their chickens, which was a treasure. But when you recognize that you have a label, that means to stop and examine that, uh, we might be depriving that individual that we’re working with, or living with, from the full understanding of why that behavior is occurring, what is the purpose of that behavior for them?

And that then drives how we’re going to attend to them on a daily basis, how we build our training plans and enrichment. Because all of us have, different ways to interact with enrichment. An example would be, uh, let’s say, um, you know how much I love black licorice. And, you know, you’ve heard through the grapevine, that if you want to reinforce me with something, you can give me black licorice, and you show up with your best intentions and you hand me Australian licorice.

That’s not in my suite. That’s not how I love licorice. I love old fashion, a European, Danish, uh, German licorice, from my childhood because I grew up being able to go to the candy stores where this stuff was actually made by the artisans. And, in your good intentions, you will be providing me with this thing that you heard

I liked. Labeling, right? Assumptions. And yet you have just given me a huge aversive. And now I’m in this struggle with, am I, do I say, “Oh, thank you!” Or do I say, ” Oh, thank you.” Or, you know, how does that happen? I think we often do that in our training and enrichment. We make these decisions without doing all the, what I call ferreting out.

I literally when I teach people, it’s, I call it interviewing. Perfect example would be, uh, when I worked, at six flags, in Vallejo, uh, and we started building their training program, again, long ago, I asked them to interview the giraffe to see what kinds of reinforcers they liked. And we found that they had, at that time, I think they had four giraffe, each one of them had different. food sources that they liked that were none of the provided standardized things. These guys liked dandelions, sweet grass, sour grass, they liked certain flowers, they liked many kinds of weeds like mallow, willow only when the willow trees were just beginning to leaf out again early in the spring, and that kind of stuff.

And that interview process tells us so much more about meeting the needs of an individual, as opposed to, when Kong’s first started making the day, everything was about a Kong, until I met a dog, one of my dogs, who did not like Kongs, no matter how beautifully stuffed they were. No matter how delicious, and how much hard work I put, she’d walk up to a Kong and go, ” Australian licorice? No, thank you.” Right? So, it’s a, it’s a process. I hope that helps.

[00:46:25] Allie: That was lovely, so many gems there. I, and I love, I love that you describe it as an interview process. I think that really captures the spirit of it, and perhaps makes it a little bit more palatable for people instead of, you know, we, we typically just say, observe your pets and people are like, “Yeah, that’s not as fun.” But when you phrase it as an interview, I’m totally going to steal that. I love that.

[00:46:52] Lisa: It’s investigative. So again, a word from my law enforcement side, but for me, when I’m talking to zookeepers or higher-level animal people that I work with, I say it’s a game we play, it’s an interviewing process where we say, ” What do you think about this? Oh, not so much. What do you think about that?

Oh, not so much. Do you like to be scratched here? Oh, you do. Oh, but that half an inch over to the right or the. Or that teeny bit harder or that teeny bit softer.” And it allows us to build up, again, my age an encyclopedia Britannica volumes of information, so that enrichment or reinforcer, we understand works here, but doesn’t work in another place under a different environmental setting.

Uh, again, with, using my dogs as an example who are highly enriched by the squirrels that come into my backyard, because I had bird feeders, for all kinds of birds, which then attract predator birds, and that’s a whole nother, funny story about how my dogs, love their environment. It was where do they like their beds to be in the sun?

And if I provide beds in the sun, do I also provide the exact opposite alternative beds outside in the shade? And do they like them over here or over there? Well, what times of days are they using this or that? Is really important to the relationship as well as, again, using another term, weaving a full life and a fully enriched life for them, which whether you’re a zookeeper, or a performance dressage horse person that I’m talking to, or Sally Citizen, who has a dog that they love, or a cat that they love, getting to know that individual.

And then I am accountable for that because I am accountable for the quality of relationships that I build with them. And if they don’t like me, and I’ve had dogs that haven’t, you know, have a preference where, uh, my life partner is the bee’s knees and I’m an Australian licorice. And respecting that and building on that.

[00:48:51] Allie: That’s beautiful. So, we ask, uh, members of our professional programs Pro Campus and our Mentorship Program to submit questions.

The most popular question that was submitted was what are some standard zoo practices that you’d like to see more of in the pet community? And what about standard pet practices you’d like to see in the zoological community?

[00:49:13] Lisa: First of all, I would like to say that every zookeeper that I’ve worked with also owns pets and our pet owners.

So, they’d bring that perspective in to their work. I will say that with all the prolific information that’s coming in from the domestic animal world about training, that zookeeping has been changed dramatically by the conversations we’re having about choice and control. And I will tell you, that I’m not at liberty to say which zoo facility, but one of the zoos I’m working with actually uses choice and control as the primary for everything they train.

So, their animals are really, really well attended to. Not all facilities are doing that yet, but the AZA is requiring that as a standard for the future, which is great. And when you start looking at choice and control, one of the things that pet owners haven’t yet embraced is that we often suppress behaviors we don’t like, barking as an example. Or scratching on something, talking about cats. Those are all purposeful, important behaviors, and we suppress them. Um, we find them annoying, and irritating because we don’t want them to happen unless they meet our needs, like barking at an intruder or barking at, you know, something that we need to attend to.

But all of the times animals, a good animal, a good dog is quiet. No, they’re not. Domestic dogs, if given the opportunity, do call report barking, they do investigative barking, they do, you know, I’m really comfortable growling kind of bark chipping sounds. And in zoos they do everything they can to allow those animals to do those things that private owners, the pet community, find it annoying.

And then the zoos, they do a lot of that. So, the bleed-over is there, often, in, the zoo training that I see either on YouTube, in conferences, or, in presentations, or behind the scenes, often mimics domestic animal training, without the full breadth of science and knowledge behind it.

That then would make it more purposeful. So often, both communities see training as a way of getting what they want from an animal, not about uplifting an animal and allowing an animal to get more of what they want. So, it’s human centric. I think that both communities need to evolve better together, but it’s people who love animals, both sides.

And it’s critically important for us to stop making either side the bad guy and embracing and uplifting how hard the work is for both sides. The domestic animal for the people who are invested in this whole life, whole way of, allowing their animals to thrive as well as on the zoo side.

[00:52:04] Allie: As you said, people are the same and we could throw it a lot more populations of people who care for animals into that.

[00:52:14] Lisa: Here’s an example, from yesterday. A rhino, that I was loving, watching interact with his acupuncturist.

Acupuncturist there for training, so we get greater access to acupressure points, and to start the training process, constructionally to build access to these other points for, also chiropractic work ‘cause she does acupuncture and chiropractic work with exotics. And at the end, the rhino somewhat put his head out of his enclosure, so that, the veterinarian could touch the jowls underneath the chin. And I have videotape of noodley, droopy, happy, slow eye blink. For people to see that rhinoceros who’s getting his lower lip, and underneath his chin, and along as jawline being massaged and, you know, we think of these heavily armored, scary animals cause they’re huge, and they could do huge amounts of damage, even accidentally to people. Just become this wet noodle, just completely relaxed, and controlling where this veterinarian was touching. And she, because she’s been a part of our constructional program for about a year, changing her behavior, as she saw this rhino express, what he was liking happening was very, very enriching for him because he was controlling the human being that he was interacting with.

It was delicious. Because I could see my life lessons and the things that I had been teaching for so long, actively being deployed both ways, but the rhino to the, to the, to the veterinarian, and the veterinarian back to the rhino. And that everybody who was there witnessing it could see it too.

It was just beautiful. I loved it.

[00:53:58] Allie: There are some questions that we ask everybody at the end of the interview. And the first one is, what is one thing you wish people knew about this topic, your profession, enrichment, all of the above, choose one. You have agency.

[00:54:12] Lisa: Yeah. Hm. Oh, I like the word agency.

Um, it’s really, really powerful, agency choice, consent or assent, are as dear to me, in my world, as they are to the animals that we work with. I think that we don’t spend enough time really trying to noodle that out. And that comes, that’s expressed to us from our animals through vocalizations, and body language.

I think that early enough in our careers, we’re not taught about how exquisite and micro communication can be in body language of the individual we’re working with, whether it’s a human being or someone from the animal side, of the world. Um, and I would love to see more and more time spent, regardless of who you are, just studying the expressions that animals use their body language for. For the earliest edge, that fine, fine line of change that expresses choice or expresses no.

Um, the, the training group that I work with, um, that I was just mentioning, we give full agency to “no”. We reinforce when an animal says no to what we’re asking, because it means something to them that we need to stop and pay attention to. So, agency is such a critical thing because it’s the gateway to really big things like unrestrained vaccinations to a bird in an important way where the bird has full agency to leave. They’re not being held.

[00:55:42] Allie: And I think this dived in a little bit into the next question which is, what is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:55:49] Lisa: I think that our education system, doesn’t matter which group, does not spend enough time with competent accountability, um, meaning we are so used to watching a conference, a clinic, a lecture, uh, read a book, or have someone tell us something without becoming the student of that topic and really delving deeply into it.

With understanding that competence comes from not regurgitating a word, we become too language, and it doesn’t matter who it is, the right word, the wrong word. Those are all really, really important, but we have to change how we understand those language pieces, and that they’re not as important as being able to fluently and fluidly change our behavior, our methodology to meet the needs of our learners.

And, and I think that, we often become attached to a way of training almost as though it was a cult, and anybody who does not do what we do the way we’ve been told it should be done, they become outsiders and bad guys. As opposed to, uh, having compassionate about it and understanding that that is at that expression, that moment of time, that that’s what that person has learned to do. And holding people accountable to, even our talking heads, of really being able to demonstrate high quality of skill sets. If we’re supposed to be professionals, we really need to dive deep into it. And sometimes our accreditation systems, or our education systems only address the top layer of it.

One of my favorite sayings, that I, uh, have from my sister who is an academic in, in human social psychology, who studies racial discrimination and the biological impact and the behavioral social impact on that. And she was a professor for many times, for many, many years, and she said, “I never taught people how to think. I never taught people how to problem solve. I only taught them what to think with the tools I wanted them to have.” And I think that speaks volumes to everything we’re doing, whether it’s animal training or animal behavior, mod, modification world, is that we have pared it down so much that we’re leaving our learners behind.

And that makes me sad. So, that when I’m interviewing a new keeper or a new trainer that wants to join the people that I mentor, something that’s so important to me is, “Tell me about the tools you have, and when you’ve trained behaviors in the past, or you’ve observed the training of behaviors in the past, what hasn’t worked, what are the things that have been your greatest disappointments?” So that we can start understanding without, you know, I use the CAT, and I actually had someone tell me that the other day, with a horse that is horrifically afraid of injections, ” Well, we’re doing, the CAT system.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I went to a clinic, and I spent eight hours in a chair learning, and I’ve watched these videos.”

“Well, what does CAT mean?”

“Well, I don’t know. It’s a CAT method.”

Well, it’s actually constructional approach in training. That’s what it’s about. and it, I think it really shortchanges our learners. Those that we love the most, whether they’re humanoid, or from the animal kingdom.

[00:59:09] Allie: I don’t think I can agree enough with that answer. It was perfection. What do you love about what you do?

[00:59:16] Lisa: I love the aha moments, whether they’re human or uh, are non-human animal learners. In that second of “Oh, is that what you are meaning? I got it. Now, I’m going to start proceeding forward.” Those are treasures to me. Since we’re talking about enrichment, a form of enrichment that had never been considered before, and then watching an animal, um, use it, and the person who’s designed it and put it out there has that aha moment of, “Oh, my goodness. I didn’t realize how much they would like that.”

Or the aha moment when we start looking at building a training plan where the human trainers have been taught this linear approach, it’s step A, then step B, and then step C, and yes, you’re going to be at step C a little bit longer because it’s going to take a while for them to understand, and then D.

When you break it down into small pieces, and you see how all of these components fit together, and weave together throughout the arc of the life of an individual. That aha moment of, ” Oh my gosh, you mean, if I train this simple thing, like target training, it’s going to unlock the door to an injection training without a target later on?”

Yes, it is. Let’s play. And I, I think the idea of let’s play helps a lot.

[01:00:30] Allie: And those are my favorite things about what I do too, with the aha or the light bulb moment.

[01:00:34] Lisa: Um, they’re revelatory. As well as, equally important is as an observer of my human students, or my non-human students that when there’s that again, what I call the edge, that very beginning of stress and anxiety, means that that’s where I need to change whatever the training plan and reconstruction is and giving people permission to say, “I don’t understand.”

And with animals, when the humans see that an animal is not acting disrespectful, or disobedient, or fill in the blank with those, that classification of labels, but they don’t understand like, ” Wow, you mean I can do this or you’re giving me permission to do this?” And then that relief that happens for both the learner and the human being as they explore this process that we call training or enrichment.

So, cool stuff.

[01:01:29] Allie: Absolutely. What are you currently working on if people want to learn from you, or work with you, where can they find you?

[01:01:36] Lisa: Well, I don’t have a big public facing. I’m a very private individual and, I mean, just the idea of giving a headshot to anybody sends me in a tailspin. But the projects that I have right now, that are under construction, is bringing compassion into our work.

There are so many of us, whether we’re veterinarians, or trainers, or we’re zookeepers, or businesspeople that are suffering from burnout. And, my business partner and life partner, and I have built a whole program around teaching compassion. And we see really wonderful, big changes going on with that.

Another thing that I’m working on, that’s not open, for comment is, a book about the way I approach training. And that comes from someone where writing is extremely painful. Cause I have, I don’t want to call it disabilities, but differences in that process that makes it a much more excruciating process.

So, those things are going on. In the near future, I’m going to be speaking at ABAI the Association Behavior Analysts International. And I got at the things like that, so it’s cool. And know, I’m reachable by email or Facebook, uh, I do a lot of pro bono work for people, but that is only based on what I have time and energy available for.

[01:02:51] Allie: Fantastic, and we’ll have that information in the show notes for those of you interested, Lisa can use stick around for another minute or two, I have some other questions from folks in our Pro Campus and Mentorship Program that are exclusively for them to hear. Uh, but otherwise thank you so much, Lisa.

This has been such a fantastic talk; I always learn so much from you and thank you for sharing all of your knowledge and experiences with everybody today.

[01:03:19] Lisa: My pleasure, and a promo for you guys is that you’re a delight, from someone who does public speaking, and who gets interviewed from time to time, very thoughtful, very kind, and wonderful. I’ve really loved this. So, thank you so much for the opportunity.

[01:03:33] Allie: Thank you. You’re so kind.

What did I say about Lisa being the intersection of science and compassion? We can truly get to know the animal in front of us, I love her phrase of interviewing them, and also take a systematic approach to meet their needs so that we’re not just throwing spaghetti against the wall. The best of both worlds. Next week we’ll be talking about when agency isn’t an option.

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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