Trick Training Run Amok

I don’t want to sound like an ambulance chaser by delving into a discussion of the recent fatal attack by a killer whale against its trainer at Sea World, but I feel compelled to comment because this tragedy speaks to the rise in aggression, in dogs as well, and has direct bearing on how NDT views the nature of dogs in particular, but also animals in general. In fact, everything about the incident at Sea World runs in parallel to what’s going on in the dog world.

The first thing to say of course is compassion for the unspeakable horror the victim must have endured, as well as for the suffering of her family. The trainer was obviously full of life, she loved her work, and the world needs more people like her who fearlessly pursue their life’s dream. And I’m also not going to drum away on the obvious point that keeping a highly social animal, adapted to the vastness of the open ocean, in a small tank might be a bad idea. As one Orca advocate put it, “We don’t belong in their world and they don’t belong in ours.” And finally in cases such as these, for any of us that work with animals, humility rather than sanctimony is always in order. On a much smaller scale I’ve been through my share of training disasters, like the time a dog bolted from me, sunk its teeth into a cow, and started a stampede that drove over twenty tons of cattle back and forth across a quiet country lane (and this was during the pre-SUV era of tiny cars such as the Pinto and Honda Civic) and it was only sheer luck that no one was killed. So I know all too well that sinking feeling of helplessness and morbid dread when everything goes south in one split second, accompanied by the futile feeling of desperation that can so clearly be seen in the trainers at poolside, frantically slapping the water and trying to entice the Orca to them for a “cookie”. My sympathies are with them as well.

But there does unfortunately remain an important lesson to be drawn. As we all know there’s usually more to be learned from failure than success. One motivational speaker put it this way: it’s okay to fall, just make sure you always fall forward. And over the course of my career in dogs I’ve learned to always “fail” forward by never indulging in the luxury of telling myself a dog story. So one of the main reasons I’m writing this commentary is because it seems to me that in the aftermath of this incident, the PR machine at Sea World is hard at work crafting a whopper of a fish story.

The usual spin on these kinds of animal acts gone awry is a poly-sided bromide, one side being a dose of hard cold wild animal realism: “These (bears/Orcas/tigers) are wild animals and wild animals are unpredictable.” Therefore we should view trainers of dangerous predators such as Orcas as if they are aquanauts, the theme park equivalent of astronauts; and as such they knowingly assume the risk and understand the danger, all of which is in service to advancing the general public’s awareness and appreciation of the animals of the deep, just as astronauts quicken the public’s awareness and appreciation of space exploration.

And then another side of the spin is the romanticized version, as in: “That tiger wasn’t attacking Roy; it was trying to stop him from falling and hurting himself.” (I want to point out just how precise a control of its body an animal can have. I once took care of a large, overweight border collie/cross “Columbo” that would run across the yard and if I wasn’t paying attention, leap from the ground and delicately “buss” me on my eyeball. All I felt was a little smudge of wetness on my eye being that he was so gentle at the moment of making contact. And if it happened when I was wearing sunglasses he would slightly knock my glasses askew because the point of impact apparently remained perfectly calibrated for the lens of my eye. It was annoying, but I couldn’t help but marvel at the kind of physical dexterity Columbo manifested that an NFL wide receiver or principal dancer in the Russian Ballet would envy. So needless to say I don’t think a tiger would try to break someone’s fall by crushing their skull and I don’t think the Orca was playing with the trainer either.)

Eventually, the third side of damage-control, PR spin will end up being “pilot error”, although the reports seem to be conflicting. Was the trainer violating prescribed policy by being in the water with the Orca, or in the shallow pool, or was she outside the pool and on the coping when the attack occurred? I’m not sure what actually happened. However, the official version from Sea World seems to be in: the Orca seized the trainer by her hair and then violently thrashed her around and dragged her under because it was “curious” about her pony tail.

So does injecting the energy perspective into all of this shed any light? Yes I believe it does.

What strikes me the most when I watch the videos of Sea World performances, is the incredible degree of sensory stimulation to which these animals are exposed. In the audience’s mind the trainers are just dancing, – entertaining. But to the Orcas, arching out of the water and facing them on the fantail, it might seem that the trainers are writhing provocatively in black and white shiny wetsuits (if I’m not mistaken a human being is about the size of a seal). Perhaps the input isn’t being absorbed as simply good theater that it’s intended to be. Just as I always advise dog owners not to let their children wave their hands in a dog’s face or run past the puppy’s crate, I know I’d feel very uneasy sashaying around in the face of a killer whale. So the question is: since sensory input energizes the nervous system, and Orcas are bombarded with huge doses of it, where does all this energy go? I do know that in the deepest most primal recess of animal consciousness, when there is a high rate of sensory input, it means either danger or dinner; predator or prey; and either way the “computer” commands BITE.

The other thing that strikes me from watching the performances is what might the Orcas be experiencing as they perform their various routines. In the trainers mind they are conditioning the Orca to perform tricks, simple conditioned responses. The “cue” is the input, the behavior is the output. And in the trainer’s mind the output of behavior, no matter how complex the linked chain of behaviors, it nonetheless merely equals the input: in short the animal mind is basically a learning machine. But behavior is fundamentally about the transmission of energy, and energy has a quantity as well as a QUALITY to it, and so the relevant question becomes: what is the Orca FEELING when the trainer riding on its back points at people in the audience and then it flicks water in their faces by a sudden swoosh of its powerful tail? For example, if I were to condition my cat to flick its tail at a dog, I would worry if I’m inciting the cat toward feeling “aggressive” toward that dog.

Of course, the vast majority of times, with the greatest percentage of Orcas, the performance routines go off beautifully, and so this supposed primal command to bite by computer apparently isn’t being given. Or is it?

It’s my contention that the question, ‘why are Orcas the stars of aquatic amusement parks’ – – is also the answer to the question a to why most Orcas don’t maul their trainers while some do. Killer whales excel at these performances for the reason some attack, and most don’t. In other words, so far “Tilikum” has been characterized as a 12,000 pound Orca with a big problem; this may be his third victim, whereas an energy theory characterizes Tilikum as a big Orca with a 12,000 volt problem.

THE ANIMAL MIND IS AN ENERGY CIRCUIT; it absorbs sensory input and converts it into physical and psychic energy. Physical and psychic energy evolved to do work, to overcome resistance so as to move energy throughout an ecosystem. This is what truly drives evolution. It is more fundamental than the matter of gene replication or even survival. If an organism can capture, harness and move energy through an ecosystem, it thrives.

And in order for an energy circuit to reliably repeat itself, there must be an “emotional battery”, its purpose being as a reservoir for the sublimation of simple, pure emotion (pure emotion is attracted to a preyful essence) so as to be converted into unresolved emotion and stored as stress, with this stored energy being a built-up degree of force that can do work, but it is simultaneously information on how to align with others in order to do such work. (I.E. synchronize with others so as to overcome more complex and stronger forms of resistance.) This means that the purpose of sociability isn’t for companionship and for the pleasures of affection, as wonderful derivatives of sociability as these indeed are. Rather, the purpose of emotion, affection, love and its first cousin stress, is to do the work of evolution.

Meanwhile Sea World is peddling a Disney story that “love makes the world go round,” “We are one with the Killer Whales”, and “Orcas just want to be friends”. “We’re really good to these animals, we love them.” However, the fact remains that because Orcas are predators, this is how they are equipped to perform as they do. I’m no fan of the circus but at least old time Lion tamers cracking the whip, brandishing the chair (and we all knew there was a sniper off stage with a high power rifle) were selling honesty.

When animals are emotionally bonded, such as Killer Whales living in their pod, two, three, four or more synced up into a complex energy circuit, their many emotional batteries become one emotional battery, with this collectivized energy being for the purpose of overcoming more and more complex objects of resistance, – which is really what a complex routine of tricks represents. And interestingly as alluded to above, the featured star players at parks like Sea World are the oceanic equivalents of wolves, i.e. group hunters, such as dolphins and killer whales, and they evolved to herd schools of fish for efficient killing or disorient huge whales that are much larger than they are.

The emotional battery is “ionized” by environmental/sensory inputs so that the body/mind becomes “polarized” in a complementary manner. Thus the animal can align and synchronize with its peers in order to hunt collectively. I would guess that killer whales love synchronized activity for the same reason that dogs love car rides. And the higher the capacity of the emotional battery, the more adaptable the organism because its capacity for synchronization is higher. This then means all stimulation, be it gently petting and stroking the Orca’s tactile sensory regions; visual arousal; audio inputs such as blaring guitar solos and driving bass rhythms, is – in the final analysis – emotional energy. Neurons fire, bio-chemical energy is generated and so we return to the fundamental question: what is this energy “designed” to do? In my view, it is designed to do work, and the work that Orcas evolved to do is to pool their collective batteries in order to hunt.

I’m reminded here of an impromptu experiment Dr. Mech conducted when filming the “White Wolves of Ellesmere Island” with Jim Brandenburg. One can see this for oneself on the National Geographic video of that title. Mech and Brandenburg were set up above the wolf’s den and one afternoon while the wolves seemed fast asleep, Dr. Mech whispered to Jim that he was going to sneak down wind a couple of hundred yards and then let out a howl. Jim got excited; this was going to be an interesting field experiment.

When Mech got into position he began to howl, and he was very good at it because the wolves arose and became very excited. But then to Jim’s amazement, they began to fight, several of them biting and locking up and then tumbling into an alder thicket before they came to their senses. When Mech returned, Jim filled him in and recounted blow by blow what had just happened. And then he turned to Mech expectantly and waited for the interpretation of the results to the experiment. Oddly, Mech had nothing much to say. We had just observed an experiment, the results had been tabulated, and yet no interpretation was forthcoming.

So then, what happened? In my view, the wolves were summoned to a hunt that wasn’t. They got all dressed up but had nowhere to go. Their prey-making impulse, which in social interactions is sublimated into emotionally deflected behaviors via the emotional battery (i.e. mounting, posturing, rub-a-dubbing, rolling, flipping polarity, chase-and-be-chased, deflection  onto a common bite object), was in this context not available because they had been suddenly energized for the hunt and yet no prey was available to absorb this sudden arousal of energy. This meant that the only way out for the “charge”, – which is made of compressed prey-making arousal and normally reserved for the large, dangerous prey animal, – was each other, which is why they ended up fighting, or making-prey on each other. Between wolves, this not too big of a problem given that as canines they are endowed with the reflexes of a ninja and can avoid tooth to sensitive body parts, and then even when bitten their tough hide and thick pelt can virtually resist a leather punch. So no harm no foul. Whereas when a dog “flashes” a human, we can’t get out of the way, our soft skin easily tears and a relatively harmless pinch and twist of the incisors can need 20 stitches to close. In other words, over-stimulation can fry the circuitry and cause the batteries to violently dump energy as a survival response.

Currently in dogdom, everyone’s on the lookout for the abusive dog owner, – animal rescue 911 is all the rage on TV. Everyone thinks that the remarkable increase in aggression in dogs is due to abuse, but I believe it’s primarily due to over-stimulation of the emotional battery in conjunction with a romanticized version of what it is to be “one with an animal”. Dogs used to be tied to dog houses in the back yard, and now they’re invited on the bed if not under the covers. And yet the purpose of sociability is not companionship; it’s to move energy, and when no outlet for synchronized group action that can channel all this energy, stored up in the battery, is provided, instinct finds its own way out.

A further clue to what’s going on with the Orcas might prove to be the curled-over dorsal fin that is characteristic of a killer whale in captivity. It has been suggested that this is a physical condition of deterioration, however in a number of videos on-line where the Orca is actually making prey, the fin appears to be firmly upright. One clip shows three Orcas taking out a hapless Pelican that alighted in their pool, and then the videos of the various attacks on people that have been captured, in particular the scene of the Orca taking a “victory” lap with the trainer in its jaws being held by his ankle (2006), – again the fins appear to be perfectly upright. My hunch is that the disposition of this fin might very well correlate to a dog’s tail, with its set and action being configured around a dog’s physical (as well as its emotional) center of gravity: the core of the body/mind as an emotional battery. This would then suggest that being in a small enclosure, especially a hard reflective surface such as a concrete or metal pool brightly painted, would make the Orca feel compressed and curl the tail over, much like a dog with a tucked tail. It doesn’t feel “grounded” but then after the tumultuous download of its battery, just like a dog with the prey in its mouth and trotting along with an unmistakable bounce in its stride, the fin rises as does the dog’s tail. In all these cases, the emotional circuitry, which evolved in service to the fundamental purpose not of sociability, but of moving energy through an ecosystem (which in Orcas as in canines means the hunt), has run to ground. In the Orca’s mind, all that stimulation finally arrived at its energetic endpoint; the hunt has finally hit the stop signal.

I believe that the synchronized actions mimics for Orcas the experience of hunting, just as playing fetch with a dog, or taking a dog for a car ride, does for canines. Group synchronization is the basis of Orca motivation and why they enjoy performing their tricks. But apparently it must prove to be an exercise in frustration, like always praising a dog and getting it worked up and excited so that one day, seemingly out of nowhere, it bites. This is why I stress the concept of an emotional battery, as you can only fill it up so much with energy before it has to start downloading or crash. All input that can’t be conducted through the pure channel then goes into the emotional battery and is stored, – it doesn’t just go away after the lights dim and the crowd goes home. I’m suggesting that performing a back flip for a fish doesn’t constitute resolution of a 12,000 volt problem.

Sea World and learning theorists characterizes the system of training they do as being purely positive, but in the animal mind, the negative equals access to the positive. So even when we’re being 100% motivational (from our point of view), our dog is giving our “eyes,” i.e. our predatory aspect, credit. We are becoming increasingly negative, and if this isn’t grounded in purposeful work from an evolutionary point of view, things can run aground. (If I were to design the costumes at Sea World I would appropriate my design from the rubber workers in Burma. I would outfit the trainers in a garish wet suit with harsh right angles as the design pattern, and shockingly bright colors that hold in graphic relief two menacing eyes prominently featured on the trainers’ back. This might more effectively reflect the energy they project onto the trainers, back at the Orca’s and keep their energies on track and deflected toward the fish in trainer’s hand.)

Over-stimulation, rather than abuse, is why I believe there is a rising rate of aggression in domestic dogs. Owners are pouring so much energy into the relationship, and it’s got nowhere to go. The fact that most dogs can sublimate the energy and become even more intensely friendly is what confuses the real picture of what’s going on. If being positive could stand on its own, if it were possible to be purely positive in a way that meant something to the animal mind, then dolphin training as practiced at Sea World would work in the wide open ocean on free Willy. But the animals must be constrained so that they can perceive the trainer as the negative-as-access-to-the-positive. This is why the social hunters such as dolphins and killer whales are so readily motivated and able to perform amazingly synchronized activities. The hunt is what makes it worth it to an Orca to rocket out of the water, spin three times and then dive back in through a hoop for a fish. This is as close to hunting as it’s ever going to get, unless another unlucky Pelican wanders into its pool.

Orcas are constantly being summoned to a hunt that is never to materialize. And sadly, in some tragic instances, it becomes trick training run amok.

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Published March 2, 2010 by Kevin Behan
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32 responses to “Trick Training Run Amok”

  1. christine randolph says:

    I did a lot of research on this incident online.

    the trainer that was killed by Tilly and 2 female orcae (apparently this is the plural of orca) in British Columbia in 1999 or thereabouts, fell into the water by accident

    when she wanted to climb out, one of the females grabbed her foot and then all 3 did stuff like dunking etc. to the trainer

    so she drowned.

    these orcae had never been with a person in the water

    so it appeared to the witnesses that this was a great new game for them.

    Tilly apparently is not a leader. It is reported that he got bossed around lots by these 2 females.

    so he probably just joined into the “fun”…

    the next incident, in San Antonio in 2001 I think.

    a naked guy was found dead on Tilly’s back in the morning when the park opened.

    apparently he had climbed into the pool after hours (hid in the park until closing) and died of drowing and hypothermia so…

    maybe he was drunk/drugged. Tilly may have gotten to him when he was already dead. i am not saying he would not have killed the man if given the chance

    the body showed hardly any signs of roughhousing except it appeared as though Tilly had taken the guy’s swim trunks off…talk about precision movement…

    (why do some dogs like to lick eyeballs ????)

    in the final analysis, there are no witnesses and the cause of death is not conclusively Tilly.

    The 2010 incident apparently unfolded as follows,

    the last show of the day had just concluded, (dinner with shamu)
    about 20 people in the audience,

    Dawn was lying prone on the submerged platform (which is against protocol, since it is known that an Orca would interpret this as a vulnerable position)

    She was petting and feeding Tilly and moving her head back and forth.

    This may have enticed Tilly to grab at the long hair, since he is habitually introduced to new toys which are similarly presented.

    the nitty gritty details on Dawn’s accident are mostly from Karen Pryor’s blog who has commented via a San Diego newspaper, that she thinks it is the toy drive that led to this incident. which is actually the same as prey.hunting drive I think.

    which to me indicates that Tilly’s behaviour was predictable. i.e. wag something in front of his mouth, and he will grab onto it and play with it. even if not overstimulated- which I am sure he was.

    there is also a theory that Tilly may have had a bit of a hormone imbalance.. I think and/or maybe Dawn had her period, see attacks on menstruating women by bears…

    I think Dawn was romantic about her relationship with the orcae as I would be too

    she “romantically” trusted where trust was impossible to do.

    instead of being careful as the situation commanded…

    I think the trainers do a lot of extra hours and get tired and do not think straight.

    …this is pure assumption on my part…

    I think they are very dedicated and that sometimes results in self-exploitation by putting in too many hours.

    I agree that the trainer’s outfit for the direct interaction with the orcae should be different.

    we know bottle nose dolphins sometimes kill their babies. they also kill porpoises, a smaller kind of dolphin.

    they do not eat them, just smash them about, really hard on the water, break all their bones, and do not let up until they are dead…to the amazement of the scientists, who did not think dolphins to be violent.

    (dolphins also like to grab people’s feet if they get overstimulated. apparently they have sharp teeth !)

    scientists do not know why dolphins do this infanticide, nor the “genocide” of these porpoises


    they are genetically so closely related to orcas that they can interbreed. (like wolves and dogs)


    False Killer whales, battleship grey extraLARGE dolphin-look alikes.

    Tilly was also kept away from his “firstborn” in British Columbia because handlers were concerned with his potential aggression towards this male baby

    conclusion,I do not think it is a good idea to look like a baby orca or a seal as Kevin said whilst in close proximity to an orca.

    they should have more explicit emergency protocols, such as compressed air tanks and regulators available to throw in,and/or built into the side of the pool, or even a little tank that can be carried on the body while working with the animals, so if someone accidentally gets into the pool they can swim or drop to the bottom of the pool, grab a regulator and hide there, (maybe a little shark cage ?), while the other trainers guide the orca to another basin.

    I think there should be lots of practice sessions with the orcas, where people or people sized dolls get in the pool with the orcae so they get used to it.

    that way it will be easier to predict what they might do with a person in their pool so counter measures can be designed to counteract the typical behaviour.

    a tranq gun with strong sedatives also comes to mind.

    If the orcae (this is silly, orcas is better) are used to seeing people in the pool they will not be so totally overstimulated when someone accidentally gets in.

    Kevin is right, the orcas should get together for play sessions where they can hunt some kind of a decoy together etc. blow off some steam.

    maybe they already do…who knows what a day in the life of a SeaWorld celebrity Orca looks like…

    about the Ellesmere wolves, it could also be that the howl meant something else to the wolves, such as : danger in your midst so they would go after movement in their close proximity, but only found each other.

    Shaun Ellis, the brit who lived with young wolves, figured out the generic wolf distress call.

    he advised farmers around a national park in Poland to play via large speakers, recordings of this distress howl which helped keep the wolves away from the livestock.

    the wolves were known to come at certain times of the day to hunt, so this is when the farmers would play that tape.

    also used with farmers around Yellowstone.
    so they did not have to shoot the wolves.

    (i think that might have changed after wolves were taken off the endangered species list in 2009…sadly)

    i think the recorded communication principle could also be used to influence, calm down orcas

    or make them back off when they are in an incident with a person.

    vocal coomunication seems to be a big deal with orcas…maybe a recording of an orca distress signal could drive an overstimulated orca to drop whatever they are doing and go to their smaller tank…

  2. Ben says:

    Or we could stop keeping Orcas in small tanks performing tricks for the amusement of man.

    How could an animal that in the wild has a range that can exceed 800 miles ever lead a fulfilling life in a small tank? These animals aren’t there for their own protection, or because they have nowhere else to go. They’re specifically there to provide amusement and entertainment for man. In other words, it’s simply another case of enslavement.. not unlike a circus.

    The only humane and ethical solution in my opinion is to radically rethink their approach, or to shutdown completely.

  3. kbehan says:

    Great comments Christine and thanks for the added details. To clarify, my point isn’t the specific meaning of the howl, although I do indeed believe in that context it constitutes a summoning to the hunt, simply that a big input of energy out of context with the wolves’ natural evolutionary mandate, i.e. hunt large, dangerous prey, overloaded their circuits and thus the fighting.

  4. Heather says:

    I went to the Miami Seaquarium with my family a couple of years ago. My feeling was one of sadness for their orca, who has been living 40 years in a tank that is about the size of- alone – some people’s backyard pools. It is just commerce, no matter how they dress it up, and capturing and training any wild animals to do tricks for people seems like a very bad idea. I agree that they are now telling “fish stories” to justify the keeping of orcas, and continue to do the same things. To me it seems like the height of arrogance and completely wrong to have a 12000 pound magnificent creature doing tricks in a pool (even if he’s never drowned anyone). In the case where for some reason an animal could not live successfully in the open ocean, it makes sense to provide a sanctuary for it (tho not a small concrete pool painted blue with a built-in stage), and raise money by allowing people to visit – it is the “training” aspect that is troubling to me – just exploitation in my opinion. Upon thinking about it more, this is one of the reasons I’m more attracted to NDT than to the behavioral science approaches to dog training – recognizing a responsibility to provide a dog with what he needs, while also helping him feel good in the framework of a human home, so everyone’s needs are met. It’s not even remotely possible to meet the needs of an orca.

  5. kbehan says:

    Indeed, but just to be clear, my article isn’t addressing the ethics of captive killer whales as entertainment, rather what we can glean from this in terms of our dogs. To wit, training isn’t fundamentally about the conditioning of behaviors as behavioral science postulates, but rather about the emotion involved and the quality of the feeling. And when the feelings of the animal aren’t taken into account, we can end up with training run amok. The next question is what is the evolutionary point of emotion and feelings? My argument is that it is for the transmission of energy throughout the ecosystem and in the case of killer whales and canines this has to do with group synchronization for the purpose of the hunt. In fact, there is one documented instance of killer whales and humans synchronizing for the hunt and this occurred in the Bay of Eden in New Zealand, first with aboriginal whalers, but then later picked up by Western whalers who drove the whales into extinction and also broke the covenant with the killer whales. The killer whales drove the whales that were too large for them to kill, into the bay for the aboriginal whalers who couldn’t go out to sea on their small boats far enough to kill the migrating whales, and then they left their kill in the bay overnight so the Orcas could eat the tongue. The next morning the carcasses were hauled on the beach and butchered for their own consumption. The Discovery Channel has documented the symbiotic relationship complete with eyewitness accounts from the children of the Western Whalers who accompanied their fathers on these hunts. So at Sea World, I believe they are getting killer whales to perform by tapping into this group synchronizing phenomenon but then not giving the energy an acceptable outlet, and from time to time it comes out on its own when things run amok.

  6. Heather says:

    I don’t fault the trainers, per se. Perhaps some experts are philosophically or morally opposed to the notion of wild animal training, and would not consider that profession for themselves. But generally the trainers are animal lovers who believe in what they are doing as being of benefit to both humans and the animals. Certainly it’s got to be pretty amazing to interact with orcas. Sea World is more of the extreme “entertainment” venue – I think the public should be encouraged to question the activities they support with the price of admission. There are public aquariums doing a lot with rehabilitation and release of animals, providing the least restrictive environments possible, and very minimally focusing on tricks and shows to raise money – usually with a few dolphins and coupled with education – not with whales.

  7. Heather says:

    Very interesting! Yes, I see the point regarding our dogs. I went off on a tangent remembering our vacation and how horrified I was after seeing the “show.”

  8. christine randolph says:

    i think, just like dogs, orcas can be “domesticated” and could be happy in captivity.

    I think by and large they actually are happy-ish, otherwise I think we would see very different behaviour. such as, sinking to the bottom of the tank, pissed off, depressed, and not wanting to come up etcetc.

    Like Kevin, I think they could be much better managed, better understood emotionally, and more could be learned about them, if the focus were not so much on tricks and shows, more on a simulated hunt together etc.

    this of course applies to our dogs also. most of them are sort of happy with their owners, but they could be happi-ER.

  9. kbehan says:

    The only way Orcas could be domesticated is if man and Orca can have same passion-in-common, as dogs can with man. This almost happened in Bay of Eden until they ran out of whales. At any rate I’m quite content to read about them and watch the nature shows for my quotient of Orca wonderment. But you’re right that dogs could be happier if their owners were to recreate the hunt for them because dogs are far more plastic than Orcas as to what can constitute a hunt.

  10. Heather says:

    I thought I’d post some very good stuff re: Happy. Awhile back Kevin had said that it seemed like I was trying to fill up Happy’s day, and although I think he gets his needed rest, I got to thinking about our schedule. I walk him every morning, and my hub takes him out to play after dinner. He hasn’t been mouthy with my husband for quite a few weeks now.

    I had been also taking him out for a few minutes before the kids got home from school, but for most of last week I was just too busy with work to take him out at that time, and I noticed that he got up for a few minutes, but right away settled back down and slept until about 5:30.

    So I stopped taking him out in the afternoon, he doesn’t really want to be active until evening anyway. He hasn’t grabbed my arm since I stopped taking him out – it is not a coincidence – all the arm grabbing was happening at that time.

    Maybe I just had the mistaken notion that he needed to get more activity and wanted to make sure I wasn’t being neglectful – but in reality he’s active from about 7am-10am, wants to sleep from 10am-5:30pm, play and eat dinner, and relax with a bone until bed. A few times a week we go somewhere in the car, and in that case he is not interested in more activity, he goes to bed after dinner.

    Not very intense, but his behavior is fantastic – relaxed, sweet, go-with-the-flow, easy guy.

  11. Since it wasn’t just Tillie who was agitated that day – all the Orcas were behaving strangely (and by the way, so were many of the dogs I know) – I’m curious to know if anyone else thinks there might be a connection between this incident and the subsequent earthquake in Chile? If the killer whales were feeling the energy of the tectonic plates shifting prior to the actual quake (as I think the dogs were), that would probably have been enough of a shock to throw them all off balance, and the poor trainer was caught in the vortex, all silly and nonsensical explanations by Sea World, Karen Pryor, et al, to the contrary.


  12. Donnie_O says:

    From what I understand there was some construction going on nearby which some people blame for the orcae’s agitation. It would be interesting to see if the orcae and dolphins in other aquariums on the West Coast were similarly agitated around the same time.

  13. christine randolph says:

    I think orcas (…do you all like “orcae”? i seems a bit “Learned” to me in a bad way) could become more plastic about what constitutes a hunt.

    especially now aquariums are no longer allowed to take an orca from the ocean to the tank, but only use those that are born in captivity, that will make them more dog-like in plasticity perhaps.

    i read that the trainers are SOOOO SUPER GOOD at reading the animals’ level of agitation and act accordingly.

    so, when push comes to shove what choices does a trainer really have ? can they go to the manager before the Dinner with Shamu show and say,

    “send those 20 people home, all our orca-E are agitated as they have never been before.”

    each dinner guest paid 40 $, (20 for kids), and they will probably ask for the entrance fee back also if the dinner is cancelled.

    53 dollars per person. so that is up to 93 x 20 that is almost 2000 dollars.

    I’d say, no the trainer will NOT go to management to say the show should be cancelled because, strangely, NONE of the 40 or so orcas is in the right frame of mind for doing it.

    the idea that the animals were able to feel the tectonic shift makes a lot of sense.

    this quake was the 7th strongest in recorded history and was located ideally for shifting the earth’s axis to shortened earth days by 1.26 milliseconds.

    so if ALL orcas were agitated and this was observed and talked about amongst the trainers, is this a good day for a trainer to go against protocol and move into the prone position close to the orca’s mouth ?

    let me think. i would not even do it on a good day. but that is just me. they do not call me Worst-Case Scenario-Chris for nothing.

    an example from another field where “cancelling” does not seem to be an option when it is abundantly clear to the onlooker that it will protect lives:
    pilots of these super expensive private jets who do NOT advise their rich bitch passengers that they will be landing in an airport 100 miles away from their destination because of a snow storm at destination airport, and then they can bus it….

    “me, bus it? heck no. i am multibillionaire mucketymuck and i am paying you lots of money to GET me to there, so get with it”

    See gulfstream III accident in Aspen 2001.
    pilot to tower communication: ” runway in sight ” except it was not a runway, but a ditch, not even close to the runway.

    willing oneself to see a runway makes a runway not.

    it’s this “I can do this, I KNOW what I am doing, I HAVE to do this” mentality. which is a good attitude to have in many instances (math test at school?)

    but NOT when going around in a plane or with an orca and other heavy, inherently deadly equipment.

    there has got to be a “better safe than sorry” awareness permeating every single decision “all day every day” that MUST go with these kinds of jobs.

  14. Alec says:

    Re: LCK

    I too have been mentioning and wondering what effect the crazy weather and earthquakes may be having on animals. There was a zebra running away from the circus in Atlanta. A bison fell from a truck on the highway here as well. And, it seems like there have been a large number of dog attacks mentioned in the news. There was even an attack by a customs dog at the airport. It seems like a lot to just be a coincidence.

  15. Heather says:

    Perhaps sensing the changes leading up to the earthquake, ie, sensing an imminent danger, and being in a closed space with no where to go and nothing to do, creates the same problem as being summoned to a hunt that can’t ever discharge the “12000 volts” that a true orca hunt should. Put those things in temporal proximity and you may have a 24000 volt problem or even more. The fundamental problem of not being able to satisfy the need for orcae to hunt like orcae is still there, and in those individuals who don’t internalize the stress, any additional energy from earthquakes, people entering the water, etc., can be expected to come out somehow.

  16. How do I find Karen Pryor’s blog, where she says that the orca’s “toy drive” was to blame?


  17. Christine Randolph wrote: “the nitty gritty details on Dawn’s accident are mostly from Karen Pryor’s blog who has commented via a San Diego newspaper, that she thinks it is the toy drive that led to this incident.”

    Where did you read this? I’ve looked at Karen Pryor’s blog, as well as the generic blog from her website (which is written by one of her staff members), and haven’t found anything close to this.


  18. christine randolph says:

    i got this on facebook as a reluctant but interested “FAN” of the karen pryor facebook community….i was at the clicker expo last month so i cannot be too against her.

    i posted a question on facebook to the karen pryor thing to see if they can keep posting updates about this story (they had 2 stories total related to the indicent with tilly) but they said they are done and no longer following this story (too controversial i am sure)

    someone else said i should look at the seaworld facebook fan community. which i am too stupid to find… haha !

    this is the trouble with facebook it runs and runs and you have to jump through hoops to see anything 2 days old or older. it is designed for the 2 second attention span generation !!!!

  19. christine randolph says:

    another take on the incident with Tilly.
    by a dolphin trainer
    interesting, i thought. (probably because it supports my point of view haha)

  20. christine randolph says:

    oh no.
    this one posted by a person named abby on michael seller’s site.
    totally gross weird bizarre human behaviour.
    if true.
    definitely darwin award material.

    this is about the guy who stayed in the park after hours in 1999 in orlando (i got date and place wrong in my earlier contribution)

    “I’m pretty sure that you would all see Tili’s point of view had the truth about the incident with Daniel Dukes had been released to the news.

    1. There WERE no “swim trunks”. Don’t assume. Mr. Dukes got into the tank naked intentionally.
    2. A whale has the ability to open and close a blow hole at will. That is how they breathe, and stop from drowning when they submerge.
    3. A law suit impending, filed by Mr. Duke’s parents was suddenly dropped.
    4. How was Mr. Dukes still attached to Tili’s back when he was found?

    If you still can’t figure it out…the Sunshine State Laws allow you to get a police report.

    If you have figured it out, I’m certain if you were Tili…you would have closed your blowhole and submerged too.” end of quote

  21. christine randolph says:


    karen pryor clicker training. the 2 stories are called

    “what sea world has taught us” feb 26
    “Karen discusses Sea World tragedy with the San Diego Tribune”. on feb 27

  22. Thanks, CR,

    However, the KPCT blog was written by one of Pryor’s staff, not by Pryor herself, and there is no mention in the San Diego Tribune article of Karen Pryor referring to the orca’s “toy drive.”

    Thanks for providing the links, though.


  23. christine randolph says:

    oh good you found it.
    true, technically, i am wrong to say that karen said it is toy drive. i should have said her facebook page copied a newspaper article where it is stated that Thad Lacinak said that it was toy drive.

    anyway, here’s the mentions of the toy drive stuff, if others want to know what this is about and do not want to have to look it up.

    the headline…
    “whale may have seen ponytail as toy”,

    this is from the text of the article in the san diego union tribune

    “A theory emerged yesterday among some orca experts: The whale mistook Dawn Brancheau’s ponytail for a toy and grabbed it.”

    “It was a novel item in the water, and he grabbed hold of it, not necessarily in an aggressive way,” said Thad Lacinak, who once taught Brancheau while serving as head of animal training for SeaWorld until 2008.

    He and others said trainers routinely use toys and novelties in working with the animals as rewards to keep them interested and active.”

  24. christine randolph says:

    2004 !!!!! SAN ANTONIO — A killer whale performance at SeaWorld came to an abrupt end Friday when one of the giant marine mammals slammed his trainer underwater repeatedly.

    No one was injured in the incident involving the killer whale, named Ky, and his trainer, Steve Aibel.

    “It looked like Ky lost a little bit of focus,” Aibel said in an exclusive interview with KSAT 12 News.

    Aibel has trained with Ky for the past 10 years, and said he was caught off guard by Ky’s behavior.

    “Seventeen years of training with animals and I’ve never had an experience like that,” he said.

    At first, it seemed like part of the show, but then Ky began diving right over Aibel. As soon as Aibel would come up for air, he was slammed back underwater.

    Trainers rushed to the side of the tank, there was little they could do.

    “I wasn’t frightened,” Aibel said. “I think that by being calm throughout the process — that helped to calm (Ky) down.”

    Aibel went back to work with Ky Monday, and credited patience and training with helping to resolve the situation.

    He wasn’t sure what set Ky off, but said that the killer whale was near breeding age, which might be to blame for the erratic behavior.

  25. Alec says:

    Kevin – You mention the increase in dog aggression. I haven’t had time to research this but is there really an increase in dog aggression or is the word spread more now with the internet? In the city of Atlanta that has close to 5M people and is as dog friendly as can be, only has a small amount of attacks (from what I’ve noticed, maybe 1 of note every couple years). Add to that the media infatuation with “pit bulls” and I just get the feeling that the incidences are just covered more. I understand your point about dogs being over indulged and not given and outlet but I’m just not so sure they have ever been give that outlet. I guess I would think that tying a dog up without an outlet is not really better than loving one up without an outlet. It seems that they are getting frustrated either way.

    Your experience and knowledge is much greater than mine so don’t beat me up too much. 🙂

  26. kbehan says:

    Don’t worry, you caught me before the double espresso. The pit bull phenomenon is a sociological/demographic question, but my personal experience is that we’re seeing aggression at younger and younger ages in dogs, and in breeds unheard of before, and then Stephen Budiansky in the “Truth About Dogs” maintains that scientifically/statistically speaking there is indeed a rise in the rates of aggression. So from every angle it seems to me “the animals are getting restless” (Killer Whale attacks, elephant attacks, circus acts gone mad, black bear attacks, coyote, sting ray, and then the domestic dog freaking out.) We can parse it every which way about displaced habitat, more people in the wilderness areas and so on, but all of that is symptomatic of an underlying restlessness and energy vacuum as well and which becomes most vivid in the domestic dog. We’re training them younger and younger, universal neutering earlier and earlier. Basically, all of the above reflects a judgment against aggression and wildness that has entered “network consciousness” so that what is being repressed in humans is being expressed via the animals. Energy’s got to go somewhere.

  27. christine randolph says:

    i guess the breeder’s focus is no longer on emotionally stable animals,

    aggression is what gets people’s attention in the media etc.

    us dog owners just have to cope with fear, aggression, and any difficult emotion in between that requires us to learn more about doing whatever we can to stabilize our dogs’ temperament.

    not even talking about hip displasia,exercise induced collapse, chronic fatigue syndrome etc in dogs, all problems that current breeding practices seem to cause.

    with killer whales, Tigers, elephants etc breeding in captivity, also, the natural selection process will no longer apply

    zoo owners will want to keep ALL offspring because these animals are so expensive and can make them so much money.

    emotionally unstable animals will continue having offspring predestined to be emotionally unstable.

    so these animals will become more like us!

    flawed, manic, overstimulated, heavily medicated, predators falling off the deep end, dangerous to themselves and others…

  28. kbehan says:

    The problem with breeding is that the notion of “friendliness” became confused with temperament, so that when stock is selected for friendliness, it’s really selecting for nervousness and this ultimately produces the hyper-active temperament and the overloading syndrome of phobic to defensive aggressiveness. Also, breeders trying to reinvigorate their stock began to aim for the working market which turned into highly stylized formats for competition. The breeders gamed the system and because the trials are so controlled, turned all the breeds into terriers, compulsive about the stereotypical behaviors that are going to win points. So the old world rugged notion of temperament, i.e. syncopated drive, wasn’t being selected for as it once was. If you look at that Dobie in the picture of me as a kid, it is remarkably hardy and very high threshold by modern Dobie standards. Those dogs lived in unheated kennels on top of Macy’s department store at Herald Square and they weren’t hyper like they are today. Then in the sixties, trying to make them more palatable, breeders bred the heart out of them.

  29. christine randolph says:

    you meant, the breeders began to aim for the SHOW DOG market, right ???

    that german GSD breeder saliently said in his interview, there are “ernsthafte Zuechter”, that means serious breeders, and “show dog Spinner”, that means “show dog crazies”.

    .. and..there are also puppy mills now…

    there’s no hope in hell now to get a hardy, high treshold doggie any more…

    ..anyway, some people seem to delve into the challenge of an unstable dog, a “normal” dog by old world standards would perhaps not be enough of a challenge ?

    …like some people get married to an alcoholic so they can help them get better…

    …helper syndrome…

    can be very exhausting…

    human falls off the wagon all the time, doggie reverts back to original behaviour whenever stressed…

    …I suppose we can learn a lot about variances of dog behaviour that way…

  30. kbehan says:

    The show dog breeder is an old boogey man that’s been dealt with, the new problem are breeders aiming for the working market. They’re turning all the breeds into terriers so that they’re compulsively obsessed with the highly stylized behaviors that win points. I once did a little Karate and had to go to a tournament to support the Sensei and dojo. I was hoping for an early elimination but I actually beat a guy on points and then qualified for the double elimination. This guy was a street fighter that could have killed me, but I got lucky (or unlucky from my point of view) and beat him. There ended up being two kinds of fighters, the guys that were great on points, and then the guys who were great at knockout. In competition there’s so much emphasis on style, and the level of training is so good, that these little things become the determining factor and the main focus and which can interfere with the messy reality of the outside working world. Breeders have figured out what works and select accordingly and the family dog owner is ending up with a dog with too low a threshold that’s hard to live with.

  31. christine randolph says:

    i just went to see the wolf sanctuary in Golden B.C.

    i learned that coyotes and wolves interbreed in the wild and so, this causes another problem when someone wants to protect wolves:

    it is not easy to tell a coyotes apart from a wolf and a coyote-wolf hybrid

    (or dingo jackal etc. hybrid)

    I also had an idea: that humans should re-do the wolf-to-dog breeding experiment and make a new set of dogs from wolf babies like our neanderthal or whatever ancestors did…

    just to see what kind of dogs we get in a do-over, maybe very different dogs !!!

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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