African servals, exotic cats as pets

Big Cat Behavior
Big Cat Safety, Handling, and Training, by Dr. Bhagavan Antle
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Training is bridging the gap between what you want the animal to do and getting him to do it.

Trained cats will sit, come, stay, steady, back up, lay down, go to, get on etc... just like a trained obedience dog will.

A cat that you fool around with in a cage or through a cage is not trained.

Without solid behaviors that are regular and repeatable you are at risk.

Only 1 in 8 cats will ever be trained enough to have a contact relationship with you, when it's an adult of 7 years or more.

Trained big cats are rare; 99.9% of all big cats are not trained.

Most stop being interested in the first 3 years and become aggressive when asked to work.

The time it takes and commitment to train a big cat is huge and goes on for years.

Do not expect to understand Tigerese half as fast as you would Chinese.

Raising a cat from birth or from young has very little to do if anything with it growing up and having a relationship of trust and contact with you.













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These are just some of my observations over the last 24 years as I have trained some 400 big cats and met hundreds more. By big cats, I only mean the Panthera family (lions, tigers, leopard, jaguars and hybrids) all the rest are in a different category and the small cats (including cheetah and pumas) are in a different class. They will kill you, but it is not with the same intent and aggressive behavior. Male lions are 100 times harder to train than tigers.

What is training?

Training is bridging the gap between what you want the animal to do and getting him to do it. It is the language that you use to talk to animals if you want them to do something. A animal is not trained unless it will do basic behaviors regularly and repeatedly without trouble.

Behavior in response to command is a language you create. This language allows you to communicate with big cats. Without this language put in place, you have random communication with the cat and safety is precarious.

Many people try to "train" cats with food. This type of reward system creates a food drive that if used improperly can lead to and create a dangerous response. If you are working a cat outside of a cage like this, when no food is available, you are no longer in control. You can bridge certain behaviors with food, but you must then do them without, to assure the behavior is solid. A trained cat will walk into a strange place and do what you want when you want because you ask it, not because you feed it.

What constiutes a trained big cat?

Being able to have a cat walk over to you after you open the door and lay down at your feet and then allow you to make contact is the beginning of a safe relationship. Having the cat stay in the cage with the door open until you request it to exit is essential to safety.

Trained cats will sit, come, stay, steady, back up, lay down, go to, get on etc... just like a trained obedience dog will. Trained cats will do this regularly and repeatedly, inside or outside of the cage without food rewards. A trained cat will climb onto a seat or table 5 to 10 times in a row without breaking down.

One of the first things our more than 50 lions, tigers, leopards, liger's and jaguars are trained to do, is come out of a door or gate, in response to us calling their name. These animals are in groups of up to 10 or more, they have to wait their turn, and not push past any opening. Most of them have to do this 2 x a day as they are taken in from multi acre habitats, and brought into the main house for care, observation and feeding with full contact with the trainers the whole time.

A cat that you fool around with in a cage or through a cage is not trained. Without solid behaviors that are regular and repeatable you are at risk. The only sure way you know what the animal will do is when it does what you ask repeatedly.

Will I be able to train my own big cat?

Real animal trainers who work big cats (the couple dozen + or - that exist), very rarely if ever have accidents with members of the public. Trainers are bitten and even sometimes killed, while working and always by making stupid mistakes. Trained big cats are rare; 99.9% of all big cats are not trained.

In my experience, only 1 in 8 cats will ever be trained enough to have a contact relationship with you, when it's an adult of 7 years or more. Most stop being interested in the first 3 years and become aggressive when asked to work, many within a year. It takes a lot of time, many many hours a week to start training that will usually end in disappointment after a few years and a few thousand hours but to have real trained cats that is the only way: try and try again.

The time it takes and commitment to train a big cat is huge and goes on for years. I have meet no one who understands and practices it who is not doing it professionally i.e. being paid on a regular basis to have cats out of cage and who has no other job and does only animal training full time. Everyone else is generally fooling around and is a hazard to them self and any who come in contact with their cats.

Do not expect to understand Tigerese half as fast as you would Chinese. It takes ten years + of full time big cat experienced with many different animals under the guidance of a trainer to begin to understand big cat training. Animal training is a set of experiences that must be had in order to understand it.

A single person or a pair of people cannot work a big cat outside of a cage. It takes a team of highly trained people to walk and work with a big cat. 3 to 4 or more people with years of experience are needed to make it happen safely.

Will my big cat be safe to handle if I raise it properly?

So many people are caught up in what I call the" Born Free Myth" thinking that if they care for an infant cat it will bond to them and have a less dangerous relationship with them. Raising a cat from birth or from young has very little to do if anything with it growing up and having a relationship of trust and contact with it throughout its life. Most pro trainers prefer to start cats training at 1 year old this prevents many of the juvenile behaviors of testing and aggressive play from being a part of the trainers relationship. Many cats are very nice when they are young, but may become killers as they mature, no matter how you treat them.

Of course their are exceptions to every rule and many a cub, the keeper/handler/pet owner thinks they have the perfect one, but they are 1 in a thousand and you cannot tell you have one until it is seven to ten years old and by that time it's usually too late and someone has paid the price.

As I hear over and %^*#@ OVER Roy's tiger attacked him! As one news article says, "Roy, who has taken medication for high blood pressure for years, says he had recently begun to suffer dizzy spells." This one spell, unfortunately, occurred in the presence of a very large tiger. "I started feeling kind of weak," says Roy, who still speaks slowly but has recovered most of his German-accented speech. "I fell over."

If you fall over even the best of cats will give you a bite. Trainers need to stay on their feet and be in top physical shape. Roy was not in top shape; he had heart trouble. However, just add a sense of perspective, if he was driving on the highway it could have been much worse.

In conclusion

I still think this is your right to have your own tiger and to be killed by your own tiger; just keep it in a cage forever and don't let anyone else near you or watch you have it happen.

I often say that as a MD, I can talk you trough taking out someone's kidney but I cannot talk you through tiger training. You have to live it to understand it.


This article is copyrighted 2005 by Dr. Bhagavan Antle, Director of T.I.G.E.R.S. www.tigerfriends.com All rights are reserved.




 

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© Jessi Clark-White, 2005
Big Cat Safety, Handling, and Training