Clicker Training for Squirrel Monkeys

There really isn’t much to say about this paper as it’s pretty self explanatory. I will mention that the flexibility that a clicker/progressive reinforcement/+R trainer has when it comes to the variety of species and the spectrum of behavior they can train is unmatched.

If an animal can do it (what ever IT is) then it can be reinforced, and +R trainers are up to the task. So thanks to a little bit of clicker training these monkeys went from being forced  to being willing and active participants and being rewarded for it.

But before the animals can reap the benefit, the humans must first make an about-face in how they think.  They must make the change from the heavy hand of domination to the airy weightlessness of cooperation.


  1. the squirrel monkeys were willing and readily participated
  2. quickly learned the relationship between the  CS to the US
  3. 71% of the subject became proficient in less than 2 months
  4. decreased time spent on procedures
  5. reduced stress for the animals
  6. and while it doesn’t say so trust me when I say that the technicians are also less stressed.

Gillis, Timothy E.,Janes, Amy C., Kaufman, Marc J. Positive Reinforcement Training in Squirrel Monkeys Using Clicker Training. American Journal of Primatology 1098-2345

Positive Reinforcement Training in Squirrel Monkeys Using Clicker Training

Nonhuman primates in research environments experience regular stressors that have the potential to alter physiology and brain function, which in turn can confound some types of research studies. Operant conditioning techniques such as positive reinforcement training (PRT), which teaches animals to voluntarily perform desired behaviors, can be applied to improve behavior and reactivity. PRT has been used to train rhesus macaques, marmosets, and several other nonhuman primate species. To our knowledge, the method has yet to be used to train squirrel monkeys to perform complex tasks. Accordingly, we sought to establish whether PRT, utilizing a hand-box clicker (which emits a click sound that acts as the conditioned reinforcer), could be used to train adult male squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis, N = 14). We developed and implemented a training regimen to elicit voluntary participation in routine husbandry, animal transport, and injection procedures. Our secondary goal was to quantify the training time needed to achieve positive results. Squirrel monkeys readily learned the connection between the conditioned reinforcer (the clicker) and the positive reinforcer (food). They rapidly developed proficiency on four tasks of increasing difficulty: target touching, hand sitting, restraint training, and injection training. All subjects mastered target touching behavior within 2 weeks. Ten of 14 subjects (71%) mastered all tasks in 59.2 ± 2.6 days (range: 50–70 days). In trained subjects, it now takes about 1.25 min per monkey to weigh and administer an intramuscular injection, one-third of the time it took before training. From these data, we conclude that clicker box PRT can be successfully learned by a majority of squirrel monkeys within 2 months and that trained subjects can be managed more efficiently. These findings warrant future studies to determine whether PRT may be useful in reducing stress-induced experimental confounds in studies involving squirrel monkeys.

6 thoughts on “Clicker Training for Squirrel Monkeys

  1. I read the article on weightlessness of cooperation and have to say I was intrigued. It was really a unique way of looking at your dog in a whole other way. I see your point that the technicians for the squirrel monkeys would be less stressed to which would have nothing but positive affect on the animals too. Your job must be fascinating.

    • As a summer student I worked with rats two groups, mutant and control. The control group were relatively easy to handle, the mutant line was highly aggressive. Handling the mutants was very stressful for humans and rats.

      Luckily now I work with cell cultures.

  2. Thank you – I needed to read this after watching a totally nonsensical Youtube video trying to debunk clicker training and promote “dog psychology” and “pack leaderership.” Some people calling themselves dog trainers are so “out to lunch” and so misleading to the public.

    Cindy Ludwig, M.A., KPA-CTP
    Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner

Comments are closed.