Dr. Fortier is a professor at DelVal in the Animal Biotechnology and Conservation department. He teaches two classes, Animal Behavior and Animal Training and Enrichment. He also helped to develop the Zoo Science program at DelVal. I sat down with him to talk about the training lab that accompanies the Animal Training and Enrichment class as well as his personal experiences with training.
Jenny: When did you first become seriously interested in training animals?
*Dr. Fortier: I have been interested in behavior since high school. Training started to become a focus once at DelVal. I started to learn about it more as I developed the Zoo Science program.
J: What were your undergrad/ grad/ and PhD degrees in?
Dr. F: Undergrad was in neurobiology and behavior. PhD was in behavior ecology.
J: What is the most interesting training project you’ve personally ever been a part of?
Dr. F: Many farm animals have to go through a process called flooding. This is when an animal is tied to a post in order to halter break it. This process can be very taxing and stressful for the animal. While first at DelVal, I wanted to see if sheep could be clicker-trained to be halter broken instead of flooded. The hope was the make the process quicker and less stressful. Unfortunately, clicker training was not faster. This test was done at the farm on campus.
J: What other field-related jobs did you have prior to this one?
Dr. F: Mostly academic. I worked as a lecturer at Boston University. I was then a visiting professor at Indiana University in Bloomington. After that, I was the Director of Behavioral Enrichment at Elmwood Park Zoo.
J: What made you come to DelVal?
Dr. F: DelVal is a teaching college so that is the primary focus. Professors don’t also have to do research or apply for grants. I also wanted to move back East. DelVal also gave me the opportunity to build the Zoo Science program.
J: How long have you been at DelVal?
Dr. F: I have been here since 1998, so about 18 years.
J: What is the most personally interesting class you’ve ever taught?
Dr. F: The Animal Training and Enrichment course.
J: Did you come up with the Training/Enrichment class?
Dr. F: Yes, as a part of the Zoo Science program.
J: Can you give a brief description of the Training class?
Dr. F: The class is structured so students learn how to train animals in the least invasive way. The goal is for the animal to no longer need to be restrained. All of this improves the welfare of the animal which is always the end goal in animal care.
J: Why did you choose to have your students train chicken/fish?
Dr. F: I chose chickens because you are able to house a larger number of animals. That way, there are more animals per students and each pair is able to have their own chicken. Chickens are also more affordable. As far as training goes, they learn well and are visual learners, as are people. Fish require a different training strategy because you can’t use a clicker so students must think about the training skills they’ve learned and apply them in a different way.
J: How do you come up with new training tasks for lab each year? (Example, **size discrimination)
Dr. F: I mostly find new training ideas from reading and journal studies. For size discrimination, I was helping a student with an independent training study and came across it in one of the articles we were looking at.
J: What do you feel is the most important lesson for students to take from the training/enrichment lab?
Dr. F: It is important for students to apply principles of training to improving welfare. The end goal for animals in captivity is welfare over use.
J: Why should students in the ABC department consider taking your class(es)?
Dr. F: It’s really just a fun subject. It’s very engaging and it’s a topic that people like to learn about.
*Dr. Fortier’s answered were paraphrased for clarity.
**Size discrimination is where the chickens are presented with different sized circles and must be trained to only peck a certain sized circle.