#2 - Nathan Andrews:

Problem-Solving in Zoos

[00:00:00] Nathan: Enrichment is not about boredom. There’s so much function and value to enrichment and boredom as a construct doesn’t capture the breadth of experience that it is to be a living being.

[00:00:20] 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…

[00:00:30] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:31] 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 the first interview 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 is Nathan Andrews.

Nathan Andrews is one of two senior zookeepers at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo in San Jose, California. He has worked in animal care and welfare for over 15 years. Over this time, he has worked with dozens of species of many taxa, and has co-published two peer reviewed articles on ursid behavior under human care and management, and maintains a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner designation. He’s busy.

In this episode, Emily and Nathan talked about why enrichment isn’t about boredom, a bear poo-splosion, why data collection is a game changer, and the cutest monkey social enrichment solution that I have ever heard. And I have to say, Nathan is such a great storyteller. So, I think that you are going to love this episode. Let’s dive in.

[00:01:50] Emily: Okay. So, if you will please tell us your name, your pronouns, and your pets.

[00:01:57] Nathan: My name is Nathan Andrews. My pronouns are he, him, and his. I currently live with two dogs. One is a she’s a little Jack Russell terrier mix. We think maybe Chinese Crested. And the second is Griffey. He’s a hound, uh, he’s ears, and he’s got legs as well.

[00:02:15] Emily: He has ears and legs. Is that what you said?

[00:02:17] Nathan: He is ears, and he also has legs.

[00:02:20] Emily: Oh, okay! Yes!

[00:02:22] Nathan: We were told to hound, I don’t know.

[00:02:23] Emily: Yeah. Griffey is famous for his gigantic bat ears. For sure.

[00:02:28] Nathan: Yeah. I’m sure a lot of the folks, especially those already associated with Pet Harmony, definitely know of these two through Ellen.

[00:02:36] Emily: I know them as the Scruff and the ears. That’s how I know your dogs. All right. So, tell us how you got to where you are.

[00:02:44] Nathan: Initially, I started out wanting to study philosophy and I had a philosophy teacher who was wonderful. And he was like, “do you intend to teach philosophy, or do you intend to drive taxis?”

And I was like, “I don’t want to do either of those.”

And he was like, then go and maybe explore something else. And so got me into thinking about studying behavior and the brain and stuff. I met a really wonderful psychology teacher who got the ball rolling there and got me interested, especially in behavior stuff. And so went from doing behavioral neurosciencey focus, and then I got bored with that and I lost interest in the idea of running subjects, like human subjects. So, I was about to jump ships again.

 Then I met Eddie Fernandez, Dr. Eduardo Fernandez over at University of Washington at the time, and he was like, “yeah, I do this cool work in the zoo.” And I was like, “wait a sec. psychology and science in the zoo? I’m all about this.” So, hopped on board with him and it’s been no-holds-barred since then. I did some research under his BEAR lab, my own behavioral welfare paper with the grizzly bears out at Northwest Trek Zoo and did another bear paper with Eddie and Ellen.

Did a bunch of work with zoos and dog training, and then got a job as a zookeeper and moved up the chains and zookeeping, and now I’m a Senior Zookeeper out at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo and doing all the welfare stuff, doing all the human stuff. Now it’s all blended together and it’s actually quite useful. And here I am.

[00:04:09] Emily: And here you are! So, I would like to start off by bridging a touchy but important subject. And that is the anti-zoo sentiment that is somewhat popular among pet lovers. I acknowledge and honor the intentions of people who carry those sentiments because it comes from a place of loving animals and wanting what is best for them. But ironically, the very welfare standards that the pet community cares about, like enrichment, for example, and uses as the basis for their objection to zoos, comes from zoos. Can we take a moment to discuss this, to help any listeners who might feel this way be more at ease as we move through the interview?

[00:04:45] Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s worth giving a additional credence to the argument that not all zoos are created equal. So, when we’re talking about zoos, we’re not talking about exceptional zoos, but we aren’t talking about the other end of the spectrum either. So, within the zoo community, the zoos who are doing their best by the animals that are in their care, they have continuously been since the nineties, since Forthman and Ogden, and even before that, Hal Markowitz days and all that, have been pushing for greater capacity and agency for the animals in their care.

 It didn’t always start out in those terms. It used to just be a lot about, kind of the way that the pet community approaches enrichment now, used to be a lot about “well these animals are bored, so give them something to do.” Or it was about, we’re doing research on these animals, so we’re studying their behavior and we’re finding out what’s important to them, and then later that can be applied. But as that information accumulated and it became clear behavior can be used as an indicator of welfare.

And as I said, Forthman and Ogden came in and they started doing research with Behavior Analysis in the zoos and started applying that to welfare stuff. Then that really spearheaded this approach to using behavior as part of your whole animal welfare plan. So, that includes medical health, that includes physical wellbeing, and those things. All aspects of that animal’s life are in your hands.

That’s the same for pet care as well. So, all aspects of that animal’s life are in your hands, and it started to become more prevalent of an idea within zoos that we should really be thoughtful in our approaches. And that started to really push into the pet care as well as the lab care. I mean, labs had a really big role in this too. And I know we’re not discussing that ethical aspects of laboratory animals or any of that stuff here, but laboratories did have a really big part in this too, because they’re, like I said, in zoos, they were doing research already on behavior and stuff, and they were looking at the difficulties and challenges of keeping animals in captivity, which we’re all on the same page on that, that is a challenge.

And within your means, you rise to meet that challenge. And so, labs and zoos together, agricultural communities were getting into its somewhat, I mean, it less, because obviously with thousands of acres of pasture, there’s a lot less focused on getting jolly balls to the animal.

[00:06:59] Emily: Right, right.

[00:06:59] Nathan: Their welfare still started to become a lot more important than the animal welfare act and all that came together.

So, the USDA and, the U S government were then pushing for using these same kinds of metrics that, zoos and, laboratories were already spearheading. So, that pushed the culture really into now we have to start considering these animals for more than just entertainment or food or whatever it might be.

[00:07:23] Emily: Right.

[00:07:23] Nathan: We started to really think about their psychological wellbeing, and enrichment became that tool.

[00:07:28] Emily: Right? Yeah. I think that’s a really important point is that this isn’t just an issue in zoos, but anywhere, that humans are keeping animals, there’s a shift. I think in some areas like you, you kind of touched on it, some more so than others.

Some are farther along this journey than others, but overall, there is a shift in the perspective of animals having kind of a utilitarian purpose to us, learning more about animals as a species and as individuals, so that we can take their experience into consideration and meet their needs better, right?

And I, I think that’s super important shift that’s happening. Thank you so much for taking time to talk about that. Can you talk a little bit more about what specifically you do in your job? What are your primary tasks?

[00:08:14] Nathan: Me, along with another senior keeper, we do all of the kinds of administrative stuff regarding our staff, scheduling, and supplies, and inventory, and ordering and all that stuff.

So, we get the pleasure of getting to work with them on developing their skills, both as keepers and as well as trainers. We empower our staff a lot through various committees and things to let them take control of what the development of our animal care program looks like.

They’re in there every day doing the job, and so we look to them to find answers for efficiency for them, and how to make them more successful at their jobs. And the industry is notoriously, low-paid, and understaffed, so my job, the part that I love most about my job is just trying to find creative ways to support my crew while they accomplish their goals and stuff.

As a manager now, I feel like my priority is turning anybody else who wants to be a manager, giving them those skills necessary to be so, and helping them move beyond where I’ve gone. That’s where I focus a lot of my time and joyfully because it’s zoos and animal care. A lot of that has to do with welfare and training. I’m working with one of our keepers, who’s the head of our enrichment committee. We’re working on changing up our enrichment program to be more data bases, obviously thoroughly behavior-based, but really data-driven and empirical. Working with a ton of different keepers, we’re finally at a point now where we’ve got all of our keeper staff is included into our training program.

We’re not everybody’s training quite yet, but there’s kind of a tier system, to get into our training program. We have to know that we’re all on the same page coming in. We’re not just going to turn you loose with these animals, who, as I said, we control every aspect of their life, and it’s really important to us that anybody who’s given that control has the tools to make sure that the animals are going to be successful.

 We work with Lisa Clifton-Bumpass, who’s absolutely amazing, and she has helped design this training program at the zoo. She worked with our curator, Heather, Heather Vrzal, who’s also amazing. They’ve worked together to build a training program that we’re graduating people through. And so, I get to work on helping people build their skills there and, helping people once they’ve graduated through actually work on training stuff, and occasionally get the time to get in and do some training myself. It’s a lot of everything kind of Jack of all trades at this level. It’s, it’s wonderful.

[00:10:31] Emily: Awesome. I was actually going to ask you about working with Lisa Clifton-Bumpass and the work that you do together. So, since you brought her up, let’s talk about that now.

[00:10:40] Nathan: Yeah.

[00:10:40] Emily: Tell me a little bit more about some of those programs that y’all are working on together.

[00:10:44] Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. So, for those of you who don’t know, Lisa Clifton-Bumpass, she has been a part of the animal care and welfare and compassion and just amazingness industry for quite a while. I’m hoping that sometime you guys are going to have her on here and she…

[00:11:00] Emily: Oh, we are. She’s already on the list.

[00:11:03] Nathan: Oh, excellent. Okay. So I’m not going, I’m not going to give her intro, but I will say that, um, she’s, she’s absolutely someone that is, uh, worth investing in and that she works very closely with our zoo and has worked for a really long time on, as I said, developing that the step based training program that allows people and kind of opens the doors up to them to train all these exotic animals.

The work that I get to do specifically with her is we get a lot of time to have. in-depth, wonderful discussions about what choice, and agency, and control, and welfare look like on a measurable level. She’ll come in a couple of times a week and consults with us on a few different behaviors or some training sessions or some things that might be breaking down in husbandry scenarios and stuff like that.

And so, we just get to brainstorm awesome solutions and it’s just a time to kind of free think and be creative with her. And then she’s also an excellent observer of behavior. I get to bring her in and she gets to watch me do training sessions as well, and give me feedback on how to improve my mechanics, or my timing, treat placement, or any of that stuff.

And I get to, as I said, brainstorm with her, but I get to leech information about how she understands behavior, and welfare, and compassion. Because it’s really amazing. And so, I just get to hang out and absorb things.

[00:12:22] Emily: That sounds amazing. I love her so much. I learned so much from her when Allie and I were speaking at a conference, and she also was speaking at the same conference.

And so, we got to see her present and it was just like fireworks going off in my brain. Like all of the things that she was talking about just resonated so hard and some of her ideas about implementation and how we approach. Not just nonhuman learning, but human learning, were just really beautiful and influential to me.

I think one of the things that I, in hearing you talk about the work that you do with her and in her, I think one of the things that I appreciate and love about both of you is that you are at your core compassionate problem-solvers. Right. And that to me is such an important part of a competency in our fields, in animal behavior that when something isn’t working, we don’t just immediately go, ah, reinforcement didn’t work.

This animal needs corrections, or we need more restrictions in place or whatever. That problem solving, and the brainstorming that you talked about is such an important component because you really delve deeply into why isn’t this working and what do we need to, what do we need to change in order to, or what do we need to figure out about the animal that in order to help everybody be more successful?

So, I absolutely love to hear that. Can you give some examples of specific animals that you have gone through this process with? Some of the brainstorming that’s happened and the solutions that have come out of those brainstorming sessions?

[00:13:56] Nathan: So, a lot of our staff, because we’re a tiny little zoo, but we get a lot of new staff and stuff coming in, and the push towards really, really choice-based training is kind of new to a lot of them. It’s new to a lot of the animals. Most of our collection is very senior, like very senior, well beyond a hundred percent of, of life expectancy. A lot of the times, the work that we get to do with the animals is about exploring what having that agency would look like. And I love that my staff is so wonderful for this. One of the things that we have is a retired Capuchin…

[00:14:31] Emily: For those of you who don’t know Capuchins are a species of monkey.

[00:14:35] Nathan: …who is very, very old and she’s got a bunch of allergies and stuff she’s otherwise very healthy, but she’s old, and she’s a solo house now because we don’t have a second Capuchin for her. And she’s very old. So, it wouldn’t be in her best welfare to introduce a, a partner or anything at this point. We had her in a back building and the keepers, this was one of the first things that happened when I started there, the keepers were talking about, she needs more social opportunity because it’s important for her as a species. We were like, okay, let’s, let’s figure out some solutions here. And one of the keepers suggested knocking out like a vent and cutting a hole in the wall and building a run-through tunnel out to an outdoor cage where all of us are typically working because she’s, she’s very social with us. Like she loves our company.

[00:15:19] Emily: Yeah.

[00:15:19] Nathan: Our zoo manager at the time, is like, “is that’s something you can do?” And I’m like, “let me draw up the plans.’ And so, in a few days’ time, we had cut a hole in a wall and we were building outdoor runs and essentially an awesome catio space for her. And she comes out through this runway and, and hangs out and gets to socialize with all of us in her training got ramped way up, so she would get to do more socialization and stuff.

So, a lot of the cool stuff that I get to work on right now is stuff like that. Trying to figure out how, without being too involved with the animals, how to allow them choice and freedom and allow them to understand that that’s a part that they’re going to have in their lives now. And they’re going to have that longterm, you know, as long as they’re going to be with us.

And so, that’s kind of that favorite work of the trading that I get to do for some of the other stuff. It’s more like training animals for a shifting or for crating or veterinary care stuff. So, the standard husbandry training, those sorts of things. But like I said, the real meat and potatoes for me is getting to figure out environmental solutions to fix behavioral problems and provide more opportunities for animals to be themselves. That’s where I get real into it.

[00:16:28] Emily: Yeah, I also get really into that aspect as well.

[00:16:36] Nathan: Of course, you do.

[00:16:36] Emily: I, I love it. How do you develop your enrichment plans for the species in your care?

[00:16:41] Nathan: I mean much the same as, as developing it for any individual. You start with kind of an understanding of what their ecological niche is as a species, as an order, as a class, as a phylum, however you want to measure it. You start broad and then work your way into a more concentrated focus.

Talk about Misty again, our Capuchin. If I was working on a Capuchin and I was saying, you know, what are the things that this animal does in the wild? How does, how do these animals spend their time? And so, it starts at well, what do mammals need? What do primates need? What do monkeys need? What do Capuchins need? And then what does Misty need?

We start general and start looking at, are we meeting all the needs of this animal in terms of this really broad idea? Do they have choice and control over like thermal regulation? Do they have choice and control over access to socialization or sound or basic stimuli? And then start looking more at what are the primates?

What are the differences really between what this species or this class might need, or excuse me, order it might need versus a different species within the same order or a different order? And so, start looking at those differences and say, you know, well obviously primates are a lot more social, uh, than pretty much any other species.

So, we’re going to encourage more sociality. And then, what does sociality look like within this species specifically? What are the behaviors that show us pro-social interaction within the species of what are the behaviors that look like stress? What are the behaviors that look like aggression and what percentage of the time should they be engaged in these various behaviors? Just based on in the wild.

And then we then further boil that down and say, well, how is she spending her time now? And what opportunities, what stimuli in the environment elicit the kinds of behaviors that we’re looking for. And so, as I said, we’re now transitioning over to having a more empirical system.

So, we’ll be able to actually say to a reasonable degree, it’s not going to be for publication or anything. So, we’re not being that stringent about it, but we can now say to a reasonable degree, how much of their time are they spending engaged in what stuff and how much of their time should they be spending engaged in what stuff, what can we do to make that happen?

And then start really developing those kinds of environmental things or even those toys or whatever it might be to, you know, it could be more scheduled training sessions if we find that, you know, as, as we increase time in training sessions and the important stuff that we’re going to be looking at here is not what happens during the training session, but what happens to the activity budget outside of that training session.

And so, if she spends more time, more frequently in training sessions throughout the day, then is she less likely to engage in coprophagy? Is she less likely to engage in destructive behaviors? You know, within reason because she’s a Capuchin and I don’t know if you know this, but there’s actually some really cool research out there about two different cultures of Capuchins.

One of them is a smashing behavior, to, to get to their food in the wild. And there’s a second that uses a kind of a dragging like smearing behavior to get to their food in the wild. And so, and there’s a strong cultural difference and the two don’t really overlap, but in a laboratory setting either can be taught.

It just takes some time introduction while they’re still kind of malleable and plastic. But so, we kind of look at those kinds of things like, would she do more of whatever the behavior that she chooses to do in those foraging settings, through the training sessions effect does increasing this change, any other subset of behavior that gives us a clue into what the functions of those behaviors might be.

And as we keep going, we can just gather more data and start understanding more about the relationship for her, between her environment and her behavior. And I’m really stressing her because it’s all about her perception of that. And that’s not something that we can ask or really easily measure. So, we’re diving deep into the behavior.

[00:20:23] Emily: I love that so much. I love that you emphasized that we start broad. We have to start with what do animals need, and then what does the species need, and then we narrow our focus. But ultimately at the end of the day, we have to look at the animal in front of us and observe their behavior. And I just love that you articulated that approach because it is so important to do that process in that way, so that we’re covering all the bases, but really at the end, we’re looking at the animals in front of us. And that is just so important.

And also, I was not familiar with that research about the different cultures. And that is super fascinating. I get really excited when I read about like different primate cultures and how those cultures can change, you know, given different environmental changes and influences.

It is just really fascinating. So, thank you for sharing that.

[00:21:19] Nathan: Absolutely.

[00:21:20] Emily: Speaking of research, I know that you have participated in some research about enrichment. Can you talk a little bit more about the research you’ve participated in?

[00:21:29] Nathan: I did a study with grizzly bears. James Ha, Dr. Ha at University of Washington was my co-author on that, my supervising author on that. Did some research out at Northwest Trek, looking at their grizzly bears. So, we’re looking at increasing frequency of feeds, but without introducing more keeper interactions. So, we set up automated scatter feeders. If I can kind of paint the picture of their exhibit for you.

It’s one acre kind of rectangular shape their night houses on one end of it, off to the side, kind of at one corner and then their exhibit as you come out from their night house, there’s a river and a little pond. And then there’s, as you go over the little river, there’s a bunch of bushes. And then off to your right side, there are like a bunch of fallen down trees and like all this natural dense forest and stuff.

So, we hung up three scatter feeders out there and set them up to scatter dog food, which was their regular diet and, in small amounts, especially this time of year. The reason why we set up the study this way at this time, bears transition between going from it’s time to eat, to its time, to breed, to it’s time to sleep.

And like, if you don’t catch them, when it’s time to eat, then they’re not, at least the males aren’t really paying attention for food. And like, all that they care about is access to females at that point. And so, because we were looking at a food study, we obviously wanted to time that during the times that the male would be interested in food, I would assume if we did this study a month later, then the data would have suggested that bears don’t eat and that’s not at all true.

What we ended up doing, we set up these three feeders to scatter food total of six times a day, twice per feeder at fairly random intervals. I say fairly random because I had to set the times. I just kind of random like held down a button and then let it stop when it stopped, they would scatter food at fairly random times.

I like tested the feeders and this is adorable, too. I tested the feeders of my dogs at home, and they scatter food and about a 35 foot radius, it’s these deer feeders that we use. And they scattered kibble in about a 35 foot radius. And my dogs would spend hours out there just foraging, like dogs should be doing. And then they sleep wonderfully. And like, I was seeing the effects on my dogs.

Anyhow, we ran the feeders for my dogs and then, uh, brought them in, hung them up empty so that way they still smelled like the dog food that the bears would be getting and everything to try and control for all of that. And the bears didn’t really care that they were there. The first time they came out, they were looking around and they were like, yeah, whatever, those are things in the tree, it’s not a big deal.

They were spending, I think it was about 18% of the time at that point, engaged in stereotypic behavior…

[00:24:02] Emily: When we talk about stereotypic behavior, what we’re referring to is behaviors that are performed repetitively to the point of being detrimental.

[00:24:12] Nathan: We left those up for two weeks. Over the course of that two weeks, it was about 18% of the time they were engaged in stereotypic behavior. It was pacing and a head sway that the male would pace more, the female, had head sway.

And then we activated the feeders. The first day that we filled the feeders up, the male climbed a tree. So, he’s about a thousand pounds at the time, maybe like right around 960 pounds at the time. And it was a behavior that in the 20 years of his life, he has never been seen to do. Adult male, grizzly bears, typically don’t climb trees. Like females will with cubs, sows, they will with cubs and stuff to protect them and all that.

Typically, don’t do a whole lot of tree climbing once you’re, you know, a thousand pound alpha predator, like there’s not a lot of reason for you to climb. But he climbed up and it was absolutely incredible. And he delicately grabbed the bottom of the feeder and pulled it out of the tree. And there was an eight inch screw, a eight inch lag bolt holding it in and he pulled the entire bolt just out of the tree, like it was nothing.

And then ate 15 pounds of dog food in maybe like an hour or something like that, just sitting on top of it, eating it. And then, uh, their poor keeper, Angela, who is bless her heart, she had to clean up after that mess.

[00:25:27] Emily: Ohhh, ho, ho!

[00:25:28] Nathan: If any of you guys ever had a puppy who got into the bag of food? It was like that, but like, you know, a bear that can stand 12 feet high, so it goes higher up on the walls and your puppy might have and uh, so. But then we worked out that situation for the poo-splosion.

There was, we were actually able to start taking data on that and what we were able to find it was, and we didn’t get to take data on this part, but in a practical sense, it was really cool to see, and their caretaker noted it as well, and the other keepers did as well. That they were using more space and engaged in new behaviors that they hadn’t engaged in before.

So, male was doing a lot more of walking across the fallen trees on the one side of exhibit. The female was doing more of digging into the bushes and, uh, kind of foraging that way, which are absolutely things that bears should be doing. And in a kind of physiological sense, they’re very healthy for the bears to be doing. Walking across those, those fallen logs and things are helping to build stabilizer muscles and getting them to exercise things that they typically wouldn’t be doing in that space.

I mean, they get opportunities, uh, in their night house to do different behaviors than they do outside. But in that space, they weren’t really able to engage in that before they never had the motivation or that the stimulus, the antecedents weren’t arranged properly for them to engage in those behaviors.

So, through those, we were able to elicit those new behaviors. But on the side that we actually took data on, we also saw stereotypic behavior decreased from, uh, that that 16 or 18% down to close to zero. The only time that we saw stereotypic behavior from either of them, and Ellen and I were there for eight hours a day, six days a week for six weeks collecting the data, the only time that we saw any of the like pacing behavior would happen would be anticipatory.

So, Angela, their keeper was working in the back about the shift them inside and they would go back and shift by the night house. And I struggle to say that that is a compromise to welfare, because if you’ve ever seen me like waiting in a line, or if there’s dinner about to be done and, you know, I’ve been working all day, then I’m very hungry, I’d be pacing as well. So, the data was without a doubt, phenomenal.

When we turn the feeders back off and returned to our baseline, we saw stereotypic behavior kicked back up to, I think it was around seven or 8%. You could argue that there’s probably some lagging effect carry over effect from the feeder stuff. But as I said, the timing of it was really, really important. So, it could have been that he was also that we would have seen that decrease in behavior, not to zero and then back up to seven, but would have seen a slower decrease in that behavior over time anyhow, as he transitions between the seasons that he’s in.

Allowing for a little bit of error there to put it in layman’s terms, the data was fantastic. Like we kick that study’s ass, and so they’re able to keep that going for quite a while thereafter, and you know, it was a, it was an easy system for the keeper to maintain its deer feeders.

So, they’re made to be cleaned easily and you can change the settings on it on a fly because they’re supposed to be out there in the woods. Like you’re not supposed to take it to, to your home and work on it in the light. So, everything was easy to handle when it was rugged enough, the crows in the area figured out some ways to exploit it some, but they weren’t taking too much out of it and it turned out that the crows were pretty fun for the bears to watch as well.

We saw a little bit initially when we turned the feeders on, we saw our female would sit and kind of look at the feeders and hopefully. She would wait for the food to rain out of them, and then over time we saw a decrease in that behavior, and it started seeing her doing more exploring throughout the day and just waiting for the cue. The feeders start going and it’s hitting bushes and trees and all that stuff, so you know exactly what’s going on and roughly where it’s happening.

You know, all of that’s good too, because when animals are out in the wild and they’re looking for their food. Bears, not like, oh, I’m going to go out and search for a blueberry. It’s like, I’m going to go out and search for food cause I’m hungry. There are signs that blueberries are ripe. I’m going to change the way that I’m searching to look now for blueberries and find ripe blueberries. The search behavior changes as they get each cue. Having that, that precursor of the audible sound of the food and smell and all of that stuff is just like they would be experiencing in the wild, giving them, these setting events that lead to this behavior.

The data was outstanding. They did excellently well, the feeders were super easy to use. So it was, it turned out to be a really nice system.

[00:30:07] Emily: That was a fascinating and hilarious story. Thank you for sharing it. One of the things that you kind of mentioned that I, I think is really important to kind of discuss is that a lot of times the things that in the wild animals do that we’re trying to mimic with our enrichment strategies is that process of problem solving and identification or seeking, I should say, and then identification. Right. And a lot of times the ways that we can or need to mimic that in captivity doesn’t look exactly like it looks in the wild, but it’s serving the same function as what, you know, the stimuli that they would receive in the wild.

So, I really kind of want to latch on to that for a little bit, because I love to hear you talk about that specific aspect of the feeders making the sound. And that’s not the same thing as signs that blueberries are present, but it serves the same function, right?

[00:31:06] Nathan: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:31:07] Emily: Can you talk about some other things like that because I’m sure you can imagine a lot of our listeners are coming from the dog world. Right. And so, a lot of the enrichment stuff that gets presented to people it’s actually built to do that, but people don’t necessarily recognize that that’s why an enrichment strategy is structured or built the way it is. So, can you give our listeners some more examples of the analogs that serve a natural function in an unnatural way?

[00:31:36] Nathan: Things that are as simple as the brightly colored feeders and stuff like that, that’s not necessarily how your dogs, not your dogs specifically, but how the species has evolved to find their food or anything like that.

We’re teaching them communication every step of the way. So, we’re whether or not we’re doing it intentionally and at least, hopefully at times we are thoughtfully doing it intentionally because it’s creating cues. You’re building this communication into your dog’s repertoire. When they see you walk to the cupboard or walk to the freezer, then that’s the indication for them that food’s about to occur. Food that you keep in the cupboard is very different than the food that you keep in the freezer.

And so, the behaviors that that’s going to elicit immediately are going to be different. In the case of Griffey that might be jumping next to the freezer as you’re pulling out the Kongs. Or, if we’re opening up the cupboard, he knows that we typically spill our kibble, and because we’re not very good at our jobs, but he’ll start sniffing around the floor.

And those visual cues that are really overt, but not really intentionally taught function as that way to change that search behavior from “I’m looking for food” to “this is how I need to look for food.” And then when we fill up a Kong or something like that, that visual cue, the appearance of a Kong versus the appearance of a shreddable item, those are telling them these are the behaviors that you need to engage in to get to your food.

So, this is what foraging strategy is going to be successful. At this time, a lot of dogs have different approaches, and this is the same for species across the board. Griffey for instance, his first tactic, no matter what you give him is to take it up on top of the bed and drop it onto the ground to see if it busts open, because if it busts open, he can get everything for free right now.

And so, he’ll try that first with pretty much any toy that you give him, but when it’s frozen toy, he’ll leave it on the ground for a little while. He’ll let it sit. You know, this is all speculative, but we think he lets it thaw for a little while and then he comes back and he’s able to do that licking behavior to get it all out.

But if we give him a kibble feeder, then he brings it up on top of the bed, drops it on the ground. Sometimes it busts open, which is reinforcing this behavior and it’s, you know, intermittently reinforcing it, so it’s a very strong behavior at this point. Sometimes it busts open, but when it doesn’t, he’ll hop down and he’ll go into the kind of rooting behavior that, that sort of forging toy is meant for.

And he knows that visually, he sees like, oh, this is this type of toy. And there’s auditory cues involved in that too. The rattle of kibble inside of a toy tells them that, you know, this is the way that I’m going to be getting this food out because nosing and pawing at these things is how kibble comes out of these.

Whether we intentionally do it or not, there are a lot of salient stimuli that exists in the environment that tell the dogs that this is how you’re going to be successful.

[00:34:14] Emily: Yeah. Yeah! Wonderful examples. Thank you for that. You mentioned that you tried out your bear feeders with your dogs first and it was a smash hit, right? Can you talk about some other enrichment strategies that you implement in the zoo that have brought applicability across species and particularly to companion animal species?

[00:34:36] Nathan: Oh, yeah! Absolutely. I mean, a lot of the stuff that I know, I lurk in, in y’all’s group there, a lot of the stuff that you guys touch on in there, that gets into the shredding behavior, that gets into the rooting behavior, that gets into even just the choice and control elements, we’re trying to tackle the same things at the zoo.

Newspaper. Anything wrapped in newspaper is a hit universally across species, I feel like. It gets you a shredding behavior in primates. It might get you that more delicate opening behavior in a certain Capuchin. It might elicit a smashing behavior. That’s absolutely a tool that we use. Food hiding just that in a general sense is something that we do a lot of. The movement to get away from bowls as a whole is something that zoos are not taking lightly.

And so, there’s a big focus on just trying to figure out novel presentations. If I don’t want, like to use the word novel there. Presentations of food that give us the behaviors that we need. And a lot of the times there’s overlap between the behaviors that we need in the behaviors that dog owners or even cat owners or bird owners need.

So, as someone with birds at home, Emily, you know, that shreddables work for everybody and you can pretty much give your dog shreddables and then give your leftovers to your birds, and then they will continue to shred them, and they will make missing material. And that’s something that we do a lot of in the zoo too, is going from species to species.

And that’s something that pet owners could do as well. So, if you’ve got dogs and cats and you know, they don’t interact a whole lot, or even if they do once your cat is done with something, then you can, you know, kind of reassemble it for your dog to use. And that changes the picture of that enrichment. Take bedding that might, you know, have the scent of, of, a lemur on it and give that bedding to a fossa, which is, for those of you who have not seen Madagascar, the lemurs are a food item for fossa, and so get some cool searching behaviors and stuff out of that.

You can go the other way, but I, do it thoughtfully because you don’t want to see an increase in stress behaviors. At least you don’t wanna see an increase in stress behaviors without the ability for them to control the valence of that stressor. Right?

[00:36:44] Emily: Right.

[00:36:44] Nathan: So, stress is not necessarily a bad thing, but if they can’t control the power of that stress if they can’t escape that, then that’s absolutely a bad thing. But yeah, switching those things around between animals, even, you know, if you’ve got a couple of different dogs at home, we, we switched stuff between our dogs regularly and it changes the value for those things. And it changes what that item is, essentially.

The way that they perceive their world is very different from the way that we perceive our world. So, something that comes across to us as being like, on the face value, this is the same thing. Their experience of it is entirely different. Be kind of mindful of those things and the zoo stuff crosses over very well into the, into the dog stuff.

[00:37:23] Emily: For sure. I think it’s funny that you mentioned that like dogs can kind of negotiate they’re taking turns with items, and it increases the value, because I definitely see that with my dogs. When we adopted Brie, Brie was feral for the first year of her life and she was a pretty serious resource guarder. And so, one of the strategies that we use to help her be more successful in our home and have more trust of her family is teaching her trades.

I taught Copper, our other dog trades as well, just because he was, my interpretation of his sad face, was that he was feeling left out that we were doing this game with Brie and he didn’t get to play the game. So, even though Copper, wasn’t a resource birder played trades with him. What the unexpected outcome of that was is that the dogs started trading with each other. And they started trading with us.

If Chuck and I are sitting down to a meal and the dogs are like, “whoa! That smells good!” They’ll go like, find their favorite toy and drop it in our lap and be like, I traded like, are you going to give it like follow-through, but the cutest thing is watching them do that with each other.

They’ll like, Brie will watch Copper chewing on a cardboard box. And suddenly that is the most important cardboard box. Right? So, she has to go find another toy and she’ll bring it to Copper and be like, “don’t you want to play with this ball? Isn’t this ball amazing?” And he’ll be like, “yeah, that’s an amazing ball.”

And she’s like, “cool, I’m going to take this cardboard box now.” And he’s like, “that’s fine because I’ve got this ball.” That to me, so many owners, dog owners, I think feel, or express fear or frustration about the fact that the dogs value something more because another dog has it. And I think the source of that fear is that in many cases that can lead to conflict. But what is important about that is you can actually turn it into a game so that it’s an negotiation. That course it has more value, it has this other animals slobber all over it, and that’s interesting. They were playing with it, so that’s fun. So instead of making it this point of conflict, you can actually teach that as a game and then they can just enrich each other and you just have a lot less work to do because all day long, they’re just trading toys with each other.

And like, it saves me an enormous amount of work, Brie and Copper do a lot of their own enrichment for me. And I just don’t have to do as much of it. I think it’s great. I love.

[00:39:39] Nathan: I love that idea. Actually, I really like that you touched using this little training session or this new found behavior, this exploit that they got of being able to trade things, and seeing how that has minimized some of the resource guarding behavior. You know, the work that you’re doing directly with Brie was about minimizing the resource guarding behavior relative to you.

The fallout of that was not so much the I’m going to trade everything for everything, but I’m going to trade things to everyone. And so, you got this wonderful, like reduction and resource guarding behavior across the board. Fantastic. That’s awesome.

[00:40:16] Emily: Yeah, it delights me so much, especially because with dogs who have a history of resource guarding, there’s always the in the back of your head, like “if I give them these resources and make it available, is this going to be a point of conflict?” And seeing them generalize those trading skills with each other is just such a relief because then, “okay, I still need to pay attention to it. I still need to watch it, but this has become such a well-established game”, now they’ve been playing this for six years. That there’s a lot more trust involved now in our, in our family unit, because I feel comfortable leaving stuff out with them now that I know that they have the tool to trade with each other to negotiate instead of fight. Right?

[00:40:59] Nathan: Absolutely.

[00:41:00] Emily: Uh, yeah, it’s been great. So, what are some observable goals and actionable items people can take away from this discussion.

[00:41:07] Nathan: Use some element of data collection on your behavior. And it doesn’t have to be like spreadsheeting data or anything like that. It can be more anecdotal, like our work at the zoo. You guys aren’t going to be publishing what you’re putting together. So, go ahead and just say like, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of stretchables lately and my dog is spending a lot less time destroying the sofa. Or every time that I come in, I drop a Kong for my dog, and it goes, he goes in and licks and does this thing or whatever, and I’ve noticed that greetings are less jumpy now. Or, I’ve noticed that they’re spending less time just licking while I’m trying to sleep.

Really important stuff like that, but stuff that you will notice. And so, you can just look at those kinds of things and take note of that in your mind and, see how anecdotally the enrichment attempts that you’re engaging at are having some sort of desirable effect. If you just start with acknowledging these changes in a really small way, then you will absolutely become more fluent in reading your dog’s behavior and measuring these effects subconsciously. As you become more fluent in those, you’ll start to realize more and more about how the, the enrichment is affecting the total activity budget. And it’s extremely important and eye-opening work, once you start to understand how their behavior interacts with the environment that you’re creating.

I mean, you’re, you’re their behavior managers. So, you’re building this environment and setting them up for success, ideally. Measure your successes. It’s super helpful for you to know that the things that you’re doing, I know everybody’s busy, so to know that the things that you’re doing are having the desired effect, even if it’s a minuscule effect, seeing progress is huge.

it’s important and reinforcing for us to continue engaging in our animals well-being, to take a moment and appreciate those successes by just observing the change. It’ll make a world of difference for your, for the animals in your care and for your own wellbeing. So, I think that’s probably the most important thing to do and just keep at it.

[00:43:05] Emily: Excellent. I love that. So, we allow our members of Pro Campus Program and our Mentorship Program to submit questions to our podcast guests. So, I was wondering if you’d be willing to answer some of those questions for us.

[00:43:18] Nathan: I would love to.

[00:43:19] Emily: Great! So, this is the most popular question that we received. We’ll ask this one and discuss this one in this interview, and then the rest of the questions we’ll discuss for our Pro Campus and Mentorship Program members later on. Ellen mentioned in one of our Facebook groups, the, about like a study that you had done. And she said, she wants you to tell us about the descriptives of your meta years ago, your super cool findings related to multi-species enrichment in different housing conditions, and your conference shenanigans where you presented the data. And that was well liked by our members. So, everybody votes that you tell them the story.

[00:43:57] Nathan: I think the conference shenanigans that was for the grizzly bear paper.

[00:44:02] Emily: I believe so.

[00:44:02] Nathan: The meta is a story on its own. That was, I was going to, I was going to touch on the meta during the regular podcast and I kind of forgot about it, but…

[00:44:09] Emily: So, there are a lot of terms that we throw around in this segment that I feel like we should probably define. So, as I said earlier, stereotypic behaviors refer to behaviors that are performed repetitively to the point of being detrimental. When we mentioned descriptive, what we were referring to there is descriptive research, which is a type of research used to describe characteristics of a population without necessarily trying to figure out how, when or why those characteristics occur. Meta analysis is when researchers look at multiple studies on the same topic and compile that information to kind of get a bigger picture of what all of those studies tell us in combination.

[00:44:52] Nathan: So, the meta actually had incredible results. We looked at, it was 168 different papers and 250 different studies, I believe. To make sense of that, because it’s important, papers would be like one publication, but within one publication you could have several different studies. Right? So, one of the papers looked at the same enrichment across six different species of cat, and so that would count as six studies.

We had 250 studies and we combined all of their data and looked at type of enrichment, and the species, as well as class, order, and family. We also looked at, I think it was nine different classes of behaviors, like time spent engaged in stereotypic or self-injurious behavior, time spent in active versus inactive, forging or search behaviors, abnormal as defined by the researchers was one, I believe, and then the, social behaviors, agonistic and antagonistic.

Looked at all these different types of enrichment. So, was it a forging based enrichment? Was a social-based enrichment? Was it a permanent housing change or a semi-permanent structural change in the housing, like the addition of a climbing structure or something like that?

And we looked at how each of these affected each of the classes of behaviors and compared them across species order, class and family. That is a lot of words to say, like we looked at, is it more effective to use food and foraging enrichment to decrease aggression in primates? Or is it more effective to use social enrichment for that? And what was that effect? And then we were also able to then compare what is the effect of, we’ll use stereotypic behavior as an example here, what was the effect of social enrichment on stereotypic behavior, for this species of primates and how does that compare to the same type of enrichment used with even-toed or odd-toed ungulates? Or, how does that compare with, for birds or something like that?

We were able to ask a lot of questions. The data out there is challenging though. So. the way that data is typically written up for papers, is not as standardized as you would expect it to be considering that it is science. But the data reporting is oftentimes like they give you means and how the behavior changed over time or whatever. but they don’t give you measures of error. I don’t know, bunch of technical jargon.

The important thing is we’re able to ask a lot of questions. We were able to get a few really, really valuable answers though. And some of those suggested that things like food and foraging behavior was great for increasing exploration behavior in carnivores, but it didn’t work for increasing exploration and foraging behavior in ungulates. For ungulates, providing them with more space or providing them with more complex space, seemed to work better for reducing those kinds of the same class of behaviors.

From those kinds of questions, you can extrapolate that there is an evolutionary reason, that there is an actual, like ingrained purpose for these differences, right? We assumed, and this is all kind of discussion-based this isn’t, what we were researching, but you would assume that for a prey animal, having a feeling of safety is more important than being able to have access to food. Because you are prey animal. So, if you’re not feeling safe, then you’re not feeling safe enough to eat. Anxiety and appetite are incompatible, as we say, so if you’re feeling like you can’t eat, then you cannot eat. So, allowing them those opportunities are more important when you’re talking about for carnivores, which are for the most part elusive predators who are not really on the bottom of any sort of feed chain.

So, them being able to access food, being able to engage in this wide variety of behaviors that they’ve evolved to exploit the niche that they’ve evolved in turned out to be more important in terms of reducing stereotypy which seems to imply that stereotypic behavior then, in carnivores might be rooted in kind of frustrated, forging motivation versus an ungulates, it might be rooted more in a safety and security motivation.

And so, again, that’s not specifically what the, our study was asking. So, I can’t really draw those conclusions, but it stands to reason that, like I said, there’s a different function to the behavior for each of these species. As I said, we weren’t able to answer a whole lot of questions, but that was one.

One of our classes of enrichment was just called “other” because it was this weird catch all of, studies that did really creative types of enrichment, but they weren’t things that were typically done. I mean, hence they were creative. Other enrichment seemed to be what worked best for pretty much all classes of behaviors for all primates. Throwing food at your monkey might not be the best way to get it, to engage in behaviors.

These are extremely intelligent and social and capacitive animals, like they have a wider breadth of needs, not to say that, any other animal was more simple or anything because that’s absolutely not the case.

The tools that they have in their toolbox are greater. And so, it’s more of a challenge to come up with things that get them to use all of those tools. That’s not to take away from the capacity of any other species, because I love all of them, and they’re all outstanding and amazing at doing the job that they’ve evolved to do.

Primates though have really, really, really wide job and have had a interesting evolutionary journey. You introduced thumbs into it, and forebrains into it, and suddenly, you know, throwing food is not the solution.

[00:50:25] Emily: Right. Great. I love that. One of the things I love as we’ve been interviewing people for this, the first season of the podcast, the common theme that we have not asked any of our questions, but that has come up with everybody so far is the discussion of intelligence and how intelligence is really a problematic construct because every species has evolved to do what it does really well. And this notion of like, yes, there are species that certainly have more complexities to their behaviors because of things like thumbs and forebrain, but every species is, does what it’s supposed to do really, really well.

Right. And that’s kind of delightful to me that that is an unexpected, a recurring theme that is happening in all of these interviews, I love it.

[00:51:19] Nathan: It’s true though. Intelligence is very problematic idea. And trying to explain a wide range of behaviors across a bunch of different species, lends people to start thinking about intelligence and you have to be really cautious not to go down that route because yeah, we’re, we’re all equipped exactly well enough to do the job that we need to do.

[00:51:39] Emily: Right. Right. Exactly. I love that.

[00:51:42] Nathan: I didn’t, I didn’t get to the conference shenanigans.

[00:51:44] Emily: OH! We didn’t get to the conference shenanigans. Oh my gosh.

[00:51:48] Nathan: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t want to miss that part.

[00:51:51] Emily: Okay, no! Neither do I! Please tell us about the conference shenanigan.

[00:51:55] Nathan: This was at, ABAI for those that don’t know it it’s the Behavior Analysts’ big conference yearly.

And we were doing a panel discussion on enrichment and zoological behavior and training. I was covering some of the research that I did with the grizzly bears. So, I went over all the data and stuff and was asked by one of the attendees, cause I was trying to describe what a head sway looked like.

 One of the attendees was like, which just show us. And so, I got, I got to in front of a room that was standing room only in this conference. So, it’s a bunch of Behavior Analysts who are typically working with children and stuff like that. So, the opportunity for them to go to a zoo symposium was a big draw.

So, there was standing room only in this auditorium, and I was acting out a head sway, which looks like, uh, it looks like, I don’t know, like an eighties hairband kinda headbanging, right? Like the swinging headbanging. So, like, I feel like it’s more of like a Megadeath headbanging and less of than a, like a Pantera headbanging, if you get what I’m saying.

[00:53:04] Emily: Amazing.

[00:53:05] Nathan: Yeah. It was, it was a good time. I feel like it’s needless to say that the room was full of laughter.

[00:53:10] Emily: Yes. I, I would, I would pay money to see you re-enact that, Nathan. So, we like to end all of our interviews asking our guests the same set of questions. So, I’m going to launch into those now, first of all, what was the one thing or what is one thing you wish people knew about this topic, your profession, or enrichment?

[00:53:31] Nathan: Enrichment is not about boredom.

[00:53:34] Emily: Yes.

[00:53:35] Nathan: There’s so much function and value to enrichment and boredom as a construct, doesn’t capture the breadth of experience that it is to be a living being. Getting rid of that construct. Do that, please.

[00:53:47] Emily: Beautiful. Love it. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:53:50] Nathan: Pay? Because I work in a field that is so passionate about the field and about the profession itself, I’d love to see more of a focus on selfcare and and our own wellbeing. I firmly believe that we can only take the best care of our animals when we’re at our best, and that’s really hard to do when you’re giving yourself entirely to your profession. The thing I’d like to see change, and it goes for dog training as well is, seeing the professionals take some more time out for themselves.

[00:54:24] Emily: What do you love about what you do?

[00:54:26] Nathan: It’s going to sound really contradictory, but I love the passion. I love the people that are so invested in this, that for very little money and with very little resources, they’re willing to give their all to these animals every single day. And I think about that, especially during the pandemic and the lockdown zookeepers got up every day, rain or shine, or, you know, in the case of, of our zoo, a couple of years back, at least there was a massive flood and keepers were staying overnight to, to make sure that their animals are safe and secure and happy and providing as best of welfare as possible under any conditions. And it’s, it’s admirable, it’s outstanding, but conversely, like I said, taking some time for yourself is really important.

[00:55:08] Emily: Yes. Yes. Right. I mean, I think those two things aren’t contradictory. I think they go hand in hand, like you should not be in this field unless you are actually incredibly passionate about it, unless it is like a piece of your soul. But also, in order to do that, you need to take care of yourself.

[00:55:28] Nathan: You can’t give the last piece of your soul.

[00:55:30] Emily: Exactly. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you? How can they do that?

[00:55:38] Nathan: Currently, I’m working on AZA accreditation or reaccreditation at our facility, but, out in sunny, San Jose, California, we also have volunteer opportunities there. I’m working with the lead of the enrichment committee, working on writing up our data collection plan and stuff like that. So, we’ll have volunteers in there taking behavioral data, so, essentially if you’re in the area and you’ve got a few hours to free up and you can go through the sign up for it, and come and just walk around the zoo and look at animal behavior for a few hours, which is about the best job that you could possibly have.

I am fairly involved with Karen Pryor Academy and Karen Pryor Clicker Training. One thing that I’ve, really taken to as a BIPOC professional in this field, and someone who has worked with a lot of really incredible people who are, who are leaders in this field, if you find me and you want to connect with any of those people, they’re all extremely inviting and I’m happy to help them network and create those opportunities for other BIPOC people in the field, especially because we do need more representation there.

[00:56:39] Emily: Yes, we do.

[00:56:39] Nathan: I work with Associations of Minority Zoo and Aquarium Professionals. It’s also another wonderful organization. If you’re involved in the zoo world and you’d like mentorship, getting into kind of navigating the zoo world as a person of color and building your career, then that’s a wonderful place that I’d be happy to work with you on.

There are a few ways to work with me and, you know, you can always find me on Facebook whenever I show up or whatever, if you just want to chat.

[00:57:05] Emily: That wraps up all of our questions for this episode, Nathan, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate you being here, and I will, I’ll see you around.

[00:57:14] Nathan: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure and looking forward to talking with you all and some of you listeners here in the future.

[00:57:22] Emily: Likewise, likewise.

[00:57:23] Nathan: Be well. Take care of yourselves and your animals.

[00:57:26] Allie: Okay, how good was that episode? I told you that Nathan is such a good storyteller. I know I was thoroughly entertained when I was listening to Emily and Nathan talk and it was not only a joy to hear his experience, but also it’s so clear that he’s a great contributor to the field of animal welfare, and I’m so excited to see what he does with the next 15 years of his career.

Next week, we will be talking about measuring agency and what agency looks like on a measurable level. That’s something that Nathan talked quite a bit about in this episode. So, we are going to talk next week about how to implement that with the pets in our lives.

 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 behavior 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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