All animals, regardless of species, deserve to be treated with respect, kindness and understanding. Force free training isn’t just not using force, it’s teaching an animal without pain, intimidation, threats, or coercion as well. It’s allowing animals the choice to work with us, as opposed to for us.
I’m a firm believer that this is the way forward to achieve the best results when working with animals of all kinds.
Force Free training has really started to take hold of the pet training world, and is used commonly when working with dogs, cats and horses, and more and more often we see wild animals in zoos and wildlife parks being trained using these modern methods too. Even small animals and rodents get to enjoy the benefits of this ethical training style. But very rarely are reptiles given the same hand.
Reptiles are arguably among the most coerced animals in the pet trade. They’re rarely given choice when it comes to handling and interactions, often their body language is massively disregarded or ignored, and they get referred to as brainless and void of sentient abilities frequently. This is mostly as a result of misinformation being rife within the industry and many of the current keeping practices we go off being severely outdated.
While many are embracing these kinder methods and working hard to do right by their reptiles, some continue to argue force and intimidation are a necessity.
Trust is key
The word ‘dominance’ is still thrown around a fair bit within the reptile community, especially when it comes to taming. The quickest and most commonly used technique to get an animal to tolerate you – ‘dominate’ it. Force it to be handled, even when the animal is clearly showing signs of stress, and only put it back once it’s ‘calmed’ down and submitted. Very soon the animal is unlikely to resist handling when you approach, but not because they trust you, because they know they won’t be listened to anyway.
This may be the quickest, but is it the kindest and most effective way to tame an animal? Definitely not.
The biggest successes I’ve achieved alongside all my animals have been ones built on the back of trust. Trust is vital when working with animals – if they can’t trust you, they won’t work with you. I have found this especially true when working with my reptiles.
What’s the only way to gain trust? Prove you’re trustworthy and never give anyone a reason to believe that you aren’t. The same applies when working with reptiles – show them they have no reason to distrust you, and they won’t.
Respect is a two way street
Respect relies on trust.
Respect based relationships built on understanding and compassion will give you and your animal a bond built like no other.
So many people want a pet reptile who will behave how they see fit and show them ‘respect’, but go about trying to earn it in completely the wrong way. Using intimidation and power to coerce the animal into submission. But all that achieves is an animal that’ll bend to your every will due to fear of the consequences if they don’t.
The vital step people usually miss? Showing their animal respect in return. Mutual respect is the foundation for a strong partnership with your pet.
A lot of the issues come from people still believing reptiles aren’t in need of respect, or don’t have the ability to understand it anyway. But if nearly all domesticated pets and wild animals are capable of giving and receiving respect, then why not reptiles too? They don’t need to be able to understand love to be able be capable of understanding respect.
So how do you utilise trust and respect to work with your reptile?
Personally I believe the best way to earn the trust of your reptile is by giving them all the power and control when it comes to interactions. Allow them to approach you and never force handling. Basically give their choices some respect.
Learn to listen to the body language your reptile shows you in different situations.
Find out what stresses them out and what brings them joy.
Work with them on cooperative handling and care, so if a situation arises where you need to use it stress can be kept to a minimum for you both.
Begin working with your animal and you’ll soon realise they’re capable of so much more than is commonly believed. And once you have that kind of relationship with one another, you’ll never want to go back.
It’s entirely possible to work with all types of reptile using this modern and ethical style of training, so why would you choose to use force and fear instead?