Swine as a species are particularly sensitive to the stresses of shipping, changes in environment, and changes in feed. In response to the need to reduce these stressors and the desire to replace them with positive interactions, Sinclair Bio Resources developed and instituted the proprietary Behavior Enhancement System™ (BES), an integral approach to miniature swine behavior modification designed to minimize stress and fear responses and make human interaction a positive experience, including routine husbandry, veterinary care, or research procedures, thus providing well-conditioned and easily-trained miniature swine to clients.
The BES is implemented from birth as an imprinting tool to overshadow natural fear responses in miniature swine. Training based on basic leading exercises provides predictability and controllability which instills confidence into the miniature swine. This confidence redirects the reactions of the trained pig from fear and anxiety to a choice-making process. The pig becomes a willing partner who wants to learn new actions in order to earn desired consequences. Once habitual responses to training cues have been created, the developed habits can be used to overshadow potentially frightening or stressful situations and encourage learning of new behaviors.
For example, Sinclair Bio Resources uses targeting as part of our BES to overshadow fear responses in miniature swine; this approach replaces a stress-based behavior such as a fear response with a positive behavior in response to the same stimulus. The handler first finds highly prized reinforcers, often a food reward, and gradually teaches the miniature swine to desire interaction with people. In this case the miniature swine is taught to “touch” a target (a stick) for a reward (food). A miniature swine is walked a short way following the target stick and asked to “touch” the target, then it receives a reward. Once a miniature swine can predict that a reward is coming when interacting with people, it can then be conditioned to cooperate for standard operating procedures such as loading onto a cart. Every week, technicians participate in a POC (Performance On-Cue) tournament with a miniature swine they have trained, in which the miniature swine follow targeting cues to navigate through a maze of obstacles. Fears and anxiety are eliminated because the miniature swine is taught another behavior (touch) that is more enjoyable or pleasant to exhibit in the presence of the stimulus (human interactions, obstacles, and cart) that had originally elicited the fear response.
This training is also how we acclimate miniature swine to cooperate with procedures; wearing jackets is a specific example. The process begins by acclimatizing the miniature swine to the procedure area, such as a loading cart or in a pen. The animals are fed immediately as a reward for standing still and the jacket is placed on and manipulated. Sugar water or other palatable treats are also used during wear, reinforcing the “reward” portion of the activity. This process is repeated daily, increasing the time the jacket is worn each day. The technicians also give the miniature swine back scratches and belly rubs during the process, which act as further reward to the animals.
More information is available by request on our Behavior Enhancement System Application Bulletin. We encourage our clients to continue this process in their facility. This simple conditioning minimizes the adaptation time, facilitates animal handling, and results in a well-adjusted animal. We strongly recommend a few minutes of daily positive human contact, in addition to treat offerings in the research facility.