Tuesday, June 2, 2015

May I Have Your Attention Please?

This is Week 3 at Duke Lemur Center. I had big things planned for this week in my "Things Raymond Wants To Accomplish" list. In reality, it is far more mundane. Not an animal trainer myself (not applied, anyway), but I had thought that training lemurs would be a much quicker endeavor than teaching snails to spell out "YASSS MAMA". Apparently not.

Within the subjects that I am working with, it seems that most of them will take a long time to train. I have lucked out that a pair of lemurs I am working with learned really fast and had gotten a grasp of what I want them to do in my trials. Most of them, not so much. There is a pair of lemurs that I have been training for 2 weeks and they are still learning that the black box inside the enclosure gives them a delicious treat. They still hiss and growl at the box though, and often times will mind their business before returning to the box expecting to find treats.

I wouldn't say I am frustrated because frustration is a useless emotion and useless things are, well, useless. I'll have to say that I sorta expected this and I have already drafted a back up plan before I even fly down here. Back up plan aside, I notice that most of the downtime when I'm training these lemurs is to get them to pay attention.

My initial fear with this experiment was that the lemurs will not be interested in apparatus. However, it isn't so. Each subject's first session with the apparatus was them running towards the box to investigate. Getting them to sustain their attention to the task at hand is the problem. Some of these lemurs would sniff around the box, sit on top of it, run up and around the enclosure before sitting in front of the box for a few seconds (that's the time when I have to positively reinforce them) before moving away again. Training them to associate looking at the box for a food reward seems to be hard enough, let alone reinforcing them that eventually they have to touch the box for a food reward. I find myself oftentimes dispensing food reward just to attract them to come back to the box. But if you want your food reward, you HAVE TO ACTUALLY DO THINGS!

Back to the grind tomorrow ... with hope.

No comments: