Lady is a character. She’s only been at Sanctuary for a few months, so she is still figuring out who she is. We can see Lady growing into more of herself as she feels more comfortable and learns who she is for the first time. We are continuing to fall in love with who she is showing herself becoming each day.
She has become a bit of a pleaser, as in, she wants to please her people and make them happy. She seems to enjoy her verbal praise as much as she enjoys her treats – which is saying a lot because she LOVES her treats.
As part of her desire for us to constantly tell her what a good girl she is, she has now decided she doesn’t like it when her training sessions finish. We aren’t extending her sessions – we don’t want to push her, and we need to acknowledge that she may not know her limitations. Besides, she is here to be an elephant, and that remains our top priority.
Some days, her training sessions are just off and don’t go particularly well. It may be that she doesn’t quite understand what we are asking for, maybe we aren’t asking correctly, or she doesn’t really feel like giving us what we are asking for. It’s not a big deal when they don’t go ‘well’ – not every session can be a “rockstar session.” We understand that, but it seems Lady may not fully grasp that concept.
On “off” days, we try to stop before she gets frustrated- we would do this with any elephant. In general, training sessions are always short, no matter the species. One of the goals is to end on a good note and a big reward. We try to set her up for success by asking for things she already knows if she is struggling. Even if things aren’t going well, she doesn’t want us to stop. She wants us to keep going until she earns a jackpot and a “Lady party.” (If we give a “jackpot” reward of food and praise when she doesn’t earn it, it undermines the entire reward system.) She still gets plenty of treats and praise, but she knows and wants the jackpot.
Days that she’s having a great session, we are also seeing that she doesn’t want the session to end. Lady will have a rockstar break-through and will get a whole bucket of fruit and heaps of praise, and we will end the session on that positive note. She will stand there, look at the bucket of fruit, and then look at us as if to say, “….but I’m not done- I can give you more?”
We’ve never seen an elephant not want training sessions to end in this way and this consistently. Other elephants we have worked with are thrilled with their jackpot and are content with that. It’s strange and cute and charming, and another way that Lady is stealing our hearts and earning all the love, praise, and treats we have.
Photo of a very happy Lady, getting a drink along the fence.