Conditioned Emotional Response (Tap Training) in Snakes.
Ever since I was a child I had been using “Conditioned Emotional Response” ( I shall call it CER from now on) with many of my animals but I never realised the true potential behind it, or that it is an actual psychiatric method used in many cases to train Animals and Even to assist Humans to get over an Irrational Fear.
It was my Father that introduced me to the CER method when I was a Child (although we didn't call it CER at the time).
He kept Koi Carp, every time he went to feed them they would all come to him, but they never bothered if he was just working around the pond, or if he was just dreamily staring into the water (as he often did).
He used to say to me,
“Watch this boy, They know when I’m going to feed them”
I was fascinated because it was always a different time in the day that he used to feed them, but they still knew the difference between feeding time or not.
How did the Crafty old git do it????
Believe it or not, it is very simple, and you probably already use a similar method one way or another with your Animals without you realising.
I honestly believe that any Animal can be trained to a degree by CER.
All my father did was tap in quick repetitions three times, with his foot, on the floor next to the feed bin of his Koi Carp. He only did this if he was going to feed them. The fish related these taps to being fed. So there fore if he was just watching them, or working around the pond and he didn’t tap on the floor they didn't bother to rush towards him.
Basically CER is conditioning an animal to respond in a certain way by using stimuli.
These stimuli can be a sound, touch and even a colour.
I have seen Komodo Dragons being trained. By using a stick with a White Ball on the end, these incredible beast's have learned that this White Ball means food. Their whole demeanour changes from a generally placid docile beast to hungry, aggressive predators, as soon as this White ball is shown to them. To prove it is the Colour that they respond to, go into the enclosure with White shoes on and see how long you will last before you receive a nasty bite or worse.
In training Dogs, different commands can mean different manoeuvres. For example I use two short Whistles for my dogs to enter or exit our car, or leave my side when I'm walking them. I use one long loud Whistle to make them return to me. The command “bed” said in a short/ quick loud way and they instantly return to their Bed. The same goes for the command to “Sit”, except I raise my fingers to my chest at the same time. They have been “Conditioned” to recognise these commands from me, and each command they hear or see means for them to respond in a certain manor.
So now I believe that you understand what CER is after my short explanations, I’m certain you have used it, to an extent with some of your animals already.
How can this be used to your advantage with Reptiles?
If you use some of the reptile forums on the internet you may have come across someone asking about “Tap Training” or “I’m Tap Training my Snake” in my opinion the name “Tap Training” is a very misleading term used.
What it means is that the snake is trained to realise that when they are touched by a Hook they are not to expect to be fed, but handled instead.
It is a method used by many keepers and Breeders, to reduce the chance of receiving a feeding response bite.
It is especially useful with Large or defensive/aggressive species of snakes.
This is achieved by rubbing or gently touching your Snake, with a snake hook before each time you enter the viv, whether it be for handling or just general maintenance.
The only time you do not touch them with a hook is when you are going to feed them.
After a period of time (length depending on species) the Snake will be conditioned in such a way that they will realise that if they have been touched/rubbed then no food is available, thus (hopefully) will not strike out as a feeding response.
This method is not 100%, but I have used it with many different species, in my honest opinion it has worked very well with the majority the animals I have kept.