Training at Theater of the Sea utilizes operant conditioning techniques based on positive reinforcement. Basically, desired behavior is reinforced and undesired behavior is ignored. New behaviors can be taught in a number of ways including targeting, where the animal remains in contact with a target object and is led through the movements of a behavior.
Behaviors are often shaped in stages called approximations, where a series of gradual steps build up to a final behavior. The length or time it takes to train a behavior depends on the animal, the trainer, and the behavior.
Each trained behavior has a unique signal, such as a hand or verbal cue. Another signal, such as a whistle or the word good, is called a bridge and indicates that a behavior has been performed correctly and will be reinforced. A reinforcer is anything that increases the likelihood of the behavior, such as food or attention. With training, behaviors the animals do naturally can be shaped into those performed for shows, programs, and medical procedures.
You have to see it to believe it that these techniques work. When you do your swim with the dolphins in the Florida Keys, you will totally amazed how the trainers and the dolphins work together.