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How to Train Your Rhea: In Conversation with Alex Cooper

Spring Lane is our brand new site dedicated to all things Animal and Land studies. We caught up with one of the site's leading lecturers to talk about her journey, as well as what makes Spring Lane so special.

What is your current role and what does that involve? 

I am currently the Animal Management Team Leader and Spring Lane. I manage the animal management lecturers as well as teach on the courses we run. I am also the course manager for the Level 2 Diploma in Animal Care.

 

Can you tell us more about your journey in Animal Management and what your Master’s is about?

I studied a BSc Hons degree in Animal Behaviour Science at the University of Lincoln. After this I worked at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer for 5 years. I have been at Spring Lane for 8 years. I started at Spring Lane as a Technical Instructor, teaching practical animal care and looking after the animals, I then moved into a lecturer role and finally the team leader role.

I started my Master’s in September in Clinical Animal Behaviour at The Royal School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

 

Can you tell us more specifically about the clicker and target training (pictured in article thumbnail)?

Clicker training is a positive training method which is based on rewarding the animal for the behaviour. The animal, or indeed human, that is being trained learns to understand that the sound of the click means they have performed the desired behaviour and that a food reward is on its way.

The clicker gives a clear, quick and consistent signal to the animal you are training. The food reward must be given instantly, it is recommended this is less then 2 seconds after the click. In time the food reward can be reduced and just the click used to reinforce the behaviour.  

Animals are usually handfed their treat reward, but in this case a shallow bowl was used as Cosmos has a rather strong peck!

Cosmos (the Rhea) was target trained so he can be easily health checked by both staff and students. Cosmos was trained to touch the target - he knows he will get a food reward when this is done. This allows a health check to be completed while he is standing close and also any routine treatments he may need. This in turn will increase his welfare as he does not need to be handled to complete the checks needed.

 

Is there anything else you might think readers would like to know about Spring Lane that they might not know?

Spring Lane is a small friendly site which has been purposed built to teach land based courses. The campus provides a caring, nurturing and welcoming environment to students and staff alike.

 

Thank you Alex! We couldn't be happier to have such a dedicated site and staff team under our wing (pun fully intended) and we wish you and the best of luck. If you're interested in finding out about our specialist Animal and Landbased Studies site and the study options available, you can find out more here.