Following complaints from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection has called into question the Pittsburgh Zoo's practice of using dogs to control elephants.
The USDA report indicated dogs showing aggressive behavior that caused the elephants distress. We talk with Margaret Whittaker, Director of Elephant Care for The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, the nation's largest natural-habitat refuge developed specifically to meet the needs of endangered elephants.
Whittaker refers to the Pittsburgh Zoo’s situation as unique since dogs are commonly used to control domestic animals while elephants are classified as wild animals. However, there is history of elephants being afraid of dogs and also some who do not seem to mind dogs.
Purposefully using dogs as a control mechanism for elephants is related to the dog’s representation of aversive training techniques for elephants, says Whittaker. Positive re-enforcement training is known to be very effective in controlling animal behavior.