Dog Meets Dolphin
It's a training classic - come to life!
I love dogs.
I also love dolphins.
The two come together in the ground-breaking training manual "A Dog And A Dolphin" by the guru of positive-reinforcement training, Karen Pryor.
And so we decided, with a little help from all our friends at the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) in Grassy Key, Florida, to make it a reality!
Teddy, my now-four-year-old French Bulldog, met Kibby, who was an elder-statesman of the dolphin pod at DRC. Fran, my sister pictured in the photo, had known Kibby for many years - he was her favorite gray-faced friend at the Center. Unfortunately, Kibby died early this year from old age - he was well into his forties. Fortunately, we'll always have the memories of this and many other wonderful days to remember him.
Checking each other outClick thumbnail to view full-size
We weren't sure how it would go
Animals do the darnedest things!
Dogs are familiar and welcome guests at DRC.
Visitors are encouraged to bring their dogs into the facility and not leave them in hot cars in the Florida weather.
Some dogs are fascinated by the dolphins, others pay no attention, and still others get a bit "freaked out." Of course no one really knows why any animal does what it does, but the speculation is that some dogs rely so heavily on their sense of smell that they don't know what to do about dolphins. Dolphins have no scent at all!
He likes him - hey Mikey!!
Our "dolphin encounter" with Teddy was under very controlled circumstances, with a dolphin we know very well and trainers all around. I know how special this opportunity was, and cherish the memory.
Dolphins in the wild should not be approached by either people or dogs. Beautiful, wild animals should be admired from a distance, and if they choose to come near, be extremely cautious in any interaction. These intelligent mammals are not generally aggressive, but they are large and powerful animals.
Many people, in drafting their "bucket lists," include meeting a dolphin as one of the things they'd love to do before they die. Everyone who wants to, should! There are facilities, like the Dolphin Research Center, that offer many opportunities to meet dolphins, from a simple "hand shake" to a full-immersion experience, complete with a dorsal-pull swim, a la Flipper!
The Dolphin Research Center has many programs, including working with handicapped and disabled children and veterans. Dolphins seem to know the limits and capabilities of the people and adjust their behavior accordingly. Once you've met a dolphin, "up close and personal," most people are forever impressed with their intelligence and beauty.
Teddy and KibbyClick thumbnail to view full-size
All of the dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center were either born at the facility, retired from either the military or another facility, or were rescued and unable to be returned to the wild due to injury.
It is the original home of the "Flipper" dolphins and the dolphins live in natural lagoons in the Gulf of Mexico. It is a research facility and the studies being conducted with the dolphins include cognition (concepts such as "less," and "object permanence" (i.e. "where's the toy?)), behavior (how and when calves become independent from their mothers), and husbandry. All of the studies are non-invasive and research is conducted in full view of the public, who are welcome to observe and ask questions during most sessions.
Visit the Dolphin Research Center
Same training methods for very different animals!
With positive reinforcement training, you reward for behaviors you "like" and ignore the ones you're not interested in. There is no "punishment" or "correction."
There's really no other way to train dolphins - they can simply swim away if they're not interested! It would be impossible to "make" an animal that weighs over 400 pounds and lives in the water do anything.
The dolphins "perform" behaviors because they are rewarded for them - including behaviors that enable the trainers to perform medical check-ups and make sure the dolphins in the DRC family are healthy and happy.
We've adopted many similar methods for training our dogs and we practice all the time, on our own, as members of the North Shore Dog Training Club in Obedience and Rally competition, and in Agility as members of the All Fours Dog Training team.