Welcome, Bradley! Golden Retriever Now in Training to be Zoo’s Ambassador Dog
H e has a job description. He doesn’t have to be reminded to smile and be friendly. He lives at the Zoo and puts on a uniform (of sorts) to go to work.
Who is he?
He’s Bradley, a 10-month-old Golden Retriever who is in training to become the Zoo’s first-ever ambassador dog.
His job description states that he “is to connect with Zoo guests, young and old, to encourage empathy for animals, and to help guests care about animals at home and in the wild.”
That’s a tall order for a young pup.
So, though you may see him with his handlers and wearing his “In Training” vest, he’s not ready to meet the public quite yet. Also, please don’t make a special visit to the Zoo just to see him. He’s visible rarely and not on a regular schedule.
Bradley can sometimes be spotted on the balcony over the Gift Store overlooking the Zoo’s entrance, as it is being used as an open-air enclosure. He has a large fenced area on Cabrillo Lawn, across from Cats of Africa where he spends his play time. During breaks from training, he has “Sniff Time” on a leash when he is allowed to follow his nose and explore the Zoo.
If training goes as hoped, he’ll join keeper talks on subjects like responsible pet choices and training using positive reinforcement. He may also participate in education programs such as Zoo Camp. All this depends on Bradley and how he responds. He is still young and learning.
Bradley currently stays at the Zoo while he is in training. It is hoped that he will eventually make visits to local schools, retirement homes, hospitals, and community events.
The most common question is “where does he sleep?”
Bradley’s sleeping area is in a temperature-controlled office. He is busy during the day, so by the end of the day he is tired and settles into sleep. Bradley has been sleeping on his own since he was a young puppy. The security guard checks on him several times during the night and gives Bradley toilet breaks. The first few weeks at the Zoo, Bradley was also monitored by video (and by the security guard). Bradley’s welfare is the Zoo’s top priority, and other arrangements would have been made if he had not settled in so well. He cannot go home with keepers due to quarantine issues.
As with the Zoo’s other animal residents, Bradley is trained using positive reinforcement, meaning he is rewarded for good behaviors and for following instructions, and ignored or redirected for negative behaviors. The goal is to guide him into making the right choices on his own.
The Zoo has retained a professional dog trainer who works with Bradley most days and is training specific staff to work with him as well. You may see this trainer or uniformed keeper staff with Bradley.
Other AZA-accredited zoos with ambassador dogs include the Denver Zoo and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (Tacoma, Washington). The Oklahoma Zoo debuted canine animal ambassador Max, a two-year-old terrier mix, in summer 2018.
Sometimes dogs are companions in zoos for young exotic animals that are being hand-reared. In 2004, we provided dog companions for Kiki, the first African lion cub ever born at the Zoo. The only surviving cub from Gingerbread and Chadwick’s first litter, she was hand-raised after Gingerbread did not show maternal behavior.
The San Diego Zoo, Indianapolis Zoo, and Metro Richmond Zoo, among others, have had companion dogs for cheetah cubs. Rosamond Gifford Zoo (Syracuse, New York) has a Rottweiler named Moakler to provide enrichment for the elephants and be a zoo ambassador.
We look forward to watching Bradley as he grows and learns. We’ll share his milestones with you as they happen. Special thanks to Bradley’s sponsors, Jackson and Alaia.