Aug 192011

Some of you might enjoy this video of a young grizzly bear playing, socializing, and training:


 August 19, 2011  Posted by at 11:09 pm Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

  4 Responses to “Sufi the Grizzly Bear”

  1. What a lovely, lovely video! =D Watching it made me smile and laugh. =) (I especially loved the shots with the Hose Monster.)

    It also provoked some questions! It looked to me that Sufi acts very dog-like. Is that because his primary playmates are dogs, or is that normal grizzly behavior? Second, do you keep your exotic animals intact? Third, when you introduced Sufi to your other critters, how did you prevent, uh, bad things from happening? How did s/he learn to play gently with the dogs — was it how dogs usually learn (hurt me and the game is over)?

    My last question is closer to home… how do you train multiple animals at once? In a scene with Sufi and the goat, the goat seemed very interested in the training — enough to come over to investigate.

    Thanks for such a good clip. =)

    • @Julie–sorry for taking so long to respond, have been very busy! And your questions are excellent, which means they will take a few minutes to answer… Glad you enjoyed the video.

      1. Sufi does have a very canine style of play, certainly in part because she has spent many, many hours playing with several dogs. But there are also differences, like she uses her front feet much more than most dogs. But I think there is a pretty high degree of commonality in how most predatory mammals play. Bears seem to be most similar to raccoons in my experience–lots of wrestling, and an insatiable desire to play nonstop and a very high degree of physical contact.

      2. Whether or not we keep a particular animal intact is always a decision based on many factors. Primarily the individual animal’s health and temperament and the current best available data about the ramifications of these surgeries. Certainly in the case of more endangered species there is a strong added species-wide reason to keep the animal intact, but most of the animals we have are sufficiently common that the decision can be based almost entirely on what is best for the individual. But if we had a snow leopard or other animal that is seriously endangered, we would keep it intact unless there were compelling reasons not to do so.

      3. We have several dogs that are very reliably gentle, and we started there, and developed a sense for her personality and moods, and an ability to read her body language. (It helps to have spent a lot of hours with a huge variety of animals) And then we made all introductions gradually and carefully. The biggest challenge with Sufi was gauging her appetite. Not that she wanted to eat any of the animals, but if she was hungry she tended to get cranky… We also were careful to introduce in spaces that were large enough and distracting enough that nobody was too pressured, but small enough and boring enough that then noticed one another. That balancing act can be tricky, but pays off…

      3b. Yes, the basic process of gentling was similar to the way it works in dogs. She did have a tendency to bite a little hard at first, and the dogs would leave, and pretty much every dog she met she swiped once in the face the very first time, which surprised the dogs and made them not want to play with her at first. We also did many of her early play sessions in a room with a bed that the dogs could jump up on and she could not, so whenever she got too rough they would hop onto the bed for a minute and then come back and try again. She learned quickly that if she wanted to play she had to be gentle.

      4. I think the key to working multiple animals at once lies in making it really fun when you work them individually. If they really love the game, and know they are going to get treats and play and praise and have fun, they are very eager to train, and would rather come play with you than anything else. Once this is the case, you can have several animals present and each is more focused on you than on each other. I always find it interesting how happy goats are to come do tricks in order to get a treat when the entire world is edible to them and the could just as easily walk over to a bush and eat it without doing any work–it really shows that the process of being reinforced is intrinsically pleasurable.

  2. Hello Roland,

    Awesome video. Bear hugs to adorable Sufi- looks like one happy healthy playful grizzly! Three questions:

    1) What’s the story of Sufi? Was she abondoned by her mother? An orphan due to hunting? Or did you get to know Sufi under completely different conditions?

    2) What’s to become of Sufi when she grows into a mature adult bear? Asking only to understand as I’m not familiar with the training of wild animals. Is she to find a place in show business? A new home in some zoo? Circus? Or will you guys remain to be her main care-giver during and between entertainment jobs of hers?

    3) Is she and will she be, locked or let free roam during the nights? Especially when she grows up up up- which I’m sure, is what she’s busy with these days 🙂

    Again, asking only to understand more about your expertise and the training of animals, especially of those wild & highly unpredictable ones.

    Thanks for sharing this video.

  3. Delightful!

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