The S.P.I.D.E.R. Framework
In order to develop and maintain a successful animal training program, we created and implemented a framework for all training and enrichment as a tool to set goals for the animals and maintain consistent processes. The S.P.I.D.E.R. model has been utilized by all animal care staff since 1998 and it allows institutions to review, refine, and modify to fit their own needs. We call this the S.P.I.D.E.R. model or framework because the first letter of each component spells out the word “spider” (Sevenich Macphee and Mellen, 2002).
Setting goals has two key components:
Learning the natural and individual history of the species
Clearly identifying the behaviors we want to train
Decisions about which behaviors should be trained are based on a combination of needs. We first look at medical and husbandry needs. Setting behavioral goals for an animal begins when the animal first arrives under our care, but does not end there. Behavioral goals should be evaluated and adjusted throughout the animal’s life. Many considerations may influence training goals for our animals, including husbandry, medical, nutrition, scientific, and guest-experience factors. Here is an example of our goal setting questions.
Planning specifically involves the creation of a training plan. Many times, the ultimate training path may actually look very different than the initial plan that was developed. However, the process of creating a training plan helps a trainer think through the steps prior to starting the training, and can be modified according to how the animal responds and progresses.
Developing the plan involves many important decisions, including:
Which shaping techniques will be used?
What resources are needed to implement the training?
Will a bridge be used and if so, which one?
What reinforcers will be used?
What cues will be used?
Are there any safety concerns?
A formal or written training plan has many additional benefits, including creating a historical document, sharing information with other team members, and providing an opportunity for communication and approval from zoological managers ad other partners. Here is an example of our training plans.
Implementing a training plan is the execution of the training plan to shape the animal’s behavior towards the desired goal.
Documentation of the training can be accomplished in many ways. Video recording, written logs, and computerized tracking programs are excellent tools. The documentation of training can provide a means of examining trends and training strategies. Documentation also provides a method to share information about how the training sessions are progressing.
Evaluation can take many forms and is an essential step in the process that is often overlooked. Observations, meetings, conversations, and individual evaluation of training sessions happen on a regular basis. Evaluation of trends and patterns in session logs can help trainers to make decisions whether to continue with a particular strategy or change course. Video recording, whether for an individual trainer or a group of trainers, is highly beneficial. The footage can provide an opportunity to watch a session and note behaviors from the animal, timing and consistency of the trainers cues and bridging stimulus. For an individual trainer, viewing video footage of a session can provide an opportunity to look for missed opportunities to reinforce, timing of the bridge, the animal’s response to the bridge, and any overall animal behavior the trainer may have missed during the session. If an animal is trained by multiple people, watching video footage of the sessions together can provide the group an opportunity to look for inconsistencies between trainers. This can be critical to the maintenance of behaviors.
The re-adjustment component of the model happens throughout the process. Adjustments happen during training sessions, after evaluation of documentation, and even in the process of setting goals.