Animal: What Makes Us Human

Barkin' at the Shedd

Shedd Aquarium has long been a leader in the zoological world, particularly in animal care and training, but in recent years that expertise has extended beyond creatures that typically live in an aquarium. The biggest breakthrough has come in animal cognition and hinges on the use of entirely positive reinforcement techniques. What does this mean? Techniques developed with marine mammals like dolphins and whales have found new application with dogs in search and rescue, guide, and scent-detection training. Ultimately scientists hope to go much further in unlocking animals’ amazing potential. Ken Ramirez, head of the Shedd’s animal care and training programs, is on the vanguard of these exciting developments. He discusses how training improves animals’ quality of life in zoos and aquariums, helps protect them in the wild, and expands our understanding of their—and, consequently, our own—capacity to learn.

Images by Alissa Zhu

Speakers and Performers

Ken Ramirez

Ken Ramirez is the executive VP of animal care and training at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, where he oversees the care of more than 32,000 animals. He is a biologist and behaviorist who has consulted with zoos and aquariums all over the world focusing on the use of positive reinforcement and, in recent years, has extended that work to both working and pet dogs. He teaches a graduate course on animal training at Western Illinois University and is the author of numerous articles and publications on animal behavior, training, and learning.

CHF Suggests

Leaders And Thinkers

Ken Ramirez
Bio at official website

Good Reads

From Shelter to Show
The dogs of Shedd Aquarium

Online Resources

Cirque de Soleil and Shedd Aquarium
An NBC Chicago segment on the training of whales at the Shedd and horses in the theatrical spectacle Cavalia [video]