Our human team has been working hard to train Lady to present her feet for medically necessary footwork. It’s beginning to feel a little repetitive to just ask for her feet over and over again, but we also know that repetition is what solidifies the behavior and she isn’t 100% yet, so she still needs it.
To try to void things becoming boring, and for needed future behaviors, we have started training her to present her ear and allow us to touch it. As many of you know, an elephant’s large ears have blood vessels very close to the surface. Flapping their ears is one of an elephant’s natural cooling methods – as well as a way of communicating emotions and bug control. The blood vessel location evolved for cooling, but also makes the ears one of the best places to draw blood from an elephant. While her feet remain our focus, we have started the preliminary steps to work towards drawing her blood.
We always tell her what we are going to do before we do it. Even if she doesn’t understand our exact words, she recognizes the tone we use when we announce we are going to touch a part of her body. We tell her that we are going to touch her ear, and then we touch her ear with our hands. The first time she always looks at us in surprise like, “you touched it!” and all we can do is laugh and say, “I just told you I would touch it!” She doesn’t get frustrated or angry, but she makes a face every time, which cracks us up. At this point, we can’t help but wonder if she continues to make that face each time because it gets a reaction out of us.
We’ve also introduced her to a scrub brush on her face – it helps us clean her abscess more thoroughly each day. When we initially approached with the scrub brush, she made her stink face (which is one of our favorites). The first time, we just touched it to her face and gave her verbal praise (and treats!). The next time, we started moving it around a tiny bit – and then a little more each time. Now we can actually scrub her face. She still sometimes gives it a different look than the rest of her abscess cleaning, but as soon as we touch the brush to her face, she relaxes into it and leans towards the scrub brush, so it must feel somewhat good.
Photo of Lady, prepared for anything.