Training, using positive reinforcement techniques which reward desired behaviour, is a valuable tool for the humane and effective use and management of laboratory animals, especially when combined with appropriate socialisation, habituation and desensitisation. Accordingly, training is recommended as good practice by legislative and professional guidelines on laboratory animal use and care.
Non-human primates, dogs, cats, pigs, rodents, farm species and birds can be trained in a variety of situations and for a variety of purposes. The larger laboratory animal species, such as non-human primates, can be trained to co-operate voluntarily in scientific or veterinary procedures, which reduces the need for physical restraint and/or anaesthesia and thus the accompanying risks associated with those events. Experience has shown that trained animals maintain a high degree of reliability in participating in such events and are less stressed while doing so. Such refinement not only benefits animal welfare, but can also enhance the quality of research. Suffering in animals can result in physiological changes that are, at least, likely to increase variability in experimental data and, at worst, may invalidate the research. Techniques that reduce sources of variability also have the potential of reducing the number of animals required in a given protocol.
Training also provides the means to:
The principle cost with training is the initial time investment involved with educating staff and implementing the behaviour modification process, but this is often less than anticipated and can be recouped later since training can improve the ease, speed and safety with which procedures can be performed.
Although there is a need for resources to help laboratory personnel develop and implement appropriate training programmes, there is some guidance available (see References), in particular for non-human primates and dogs. The NC3Rs is active in developing further guidance on training of non-human primates, including guidance on refining the use of food or fluid control as motivational tool for macaques used in behavioural neuroscience (see Non-Human Primates).
A primate that is trained to follow a target can be requested to sit on a weighing scale in the home cage, thereby avoiding capture, restraint and removal from the cage which can be stressful. Here a female common marmoset sits on a weighing scale holding her (white) target, whilst her mate waits until his (black) target is presented.
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