How Animals Train Their Young

ANIMALS train their young? Use discipline? Require obedience? Yes, indeed! Such things play an important role in their lives. Survival is involved.

God-given instinct is the moving force. A limited amount of intelligence also comes into play. If they are to survive, the young need to be taught how to get food; they also need to learn to recognize danger and know how to cope with it. Animal parents do not give reasons to their young or explain why and how to do things. But they do teach by example, and they may inflict pain to help youngsters to stay in line.

Spending Time to Train Their Young

Animal parents spend much time in training their young ones. A she-bear may take up to two years teaching her cubs. She shows them where they can find food, teaching them to dig for spicy tubers. And it is she that introduces them to the tangy sweetness of wild honey, a delicacy that they relish for the rest of their lives.

Young racoons get quite a training in the art of being self-sufficient. Their mother spends time flipping frogs and crayfish to them, using play to teach them. She also instructs them in self-defense, hunting and fishing. In time her young ones learn to trail mice, catch frogs and unearth insect larvae. And she tips them off about where they can find wild grapes and the best corn.

Certain young animals undergo training to do the very things that we may think are instinctive. Consider the water-loving otters. Did you know that mother otter has to teach her young how to swim? In fact, she has to teach them to like water, for they will not go into it of their own accord. How does she do it? She may drag them into the water, pulling them by the skin of their neck. Or she may induce them to get on her back. Then, splash, into the water she goes! For a while she swims around with her litter hanging on for dear life. Suddenly, she submerges! Now the young otters are forced to sink or swim. And they try to swim! At first they are awkward, but little by little they learn.

A mother seal, also, has to take time to teach her little one how to swim. When in the water, she will plead, persuade and entice her pup to try swimming. Usually, she ends up simply pushing him adrift. But her work does not end there. She helps her whelp along by swimming under him at times. Should he appear in distress, she will put her head under his forequarters and push his head up out of the water. After a time, the seal pup is able to swim on his own.

How does a young flying squirrel learn how to glide? His mother simply pushes him off a tree branch. And the youngster seems to know instinctively what to do to break his fall. He spreads out his tiny feet, and the thin membrane on each side connecting his front and back legs forms a sort of parachute enabling him to glide safely to the ground. Instinct indicates to mother flying squirrel when her little one is ready to learn this feat. If she pushed him out of a tree at too young an age, it could be fatal.

As the time nears for young winged birds to learn to fly, they begin exercising to develop their flying muscles. They crane their necks, twitch their wings, twist and squirm about. But it is mother bird that coaxes them to leave their nest and try flying. She will stand a few feet away, offering tempting bits of food to encourage them to get out and try their wings. In cases where the nest is in a very high place, it is crucial to make a success of their first attempt. Remarkably, many young fledglings may cover one hundred yards on their initial flight.

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