The Pole and Collar Handling System, Where It All Began…

The Pole and Collar Handling System, Where It All Began…

The story of how the pole and collar handling system came to be, has two parts.  In the beginning ….the year was 1972, (for my generation, that was before masks, gloves and IACUCs), feral (wild caught) rhesus monkeys were still imported from India and cost about $60 each! At that time, Paul Houghton was working at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) on a project with Jane Goodall to determine what behaviors in Chimpanzees were innate and which were learned. His group was training students from Stanford University (that were going to Gombe to do the behavioral shorthand that Dr. Goodall had developed), and helping with the design and building of a habitat for her chimps at the Stanford campus. As Paul tells it, “One day, they needed someone to catch and restrain some 10 kg rhesus macaques that were being dosed.  So they handed me the monkey gloves and said stick your hands in there and get their arms behind them and pull them out.”  For those of you who have done this you know what a rodeo this can be with an untrained large male macaque. Paul eventually went to Dr. Pinneo, the principal investigator of the project, and said “Doc, you don’t rope a milk cow every time you need milk – you train them.”  Dr. Pinneo’s response according to Paul was “Rhesus monkeys are not trainable.”  Paul’s response was “I can train them”, and two weeks later all of those animals were calmly presenting arms to be removed from their cages, and then handing their free arm back to me.  This was the beginning of the Willing Worker concept, which is simply stated as, training animals to willingly cooperate with the handling and procedures you need to accomplish.  By this effort animals become more of a participant in the procedure than a subject of the procedure.  A win-win situation!

Over the next several years, word spread about their approach and they trained animals to cooperate in all kinds of protocols. They designed equipment to facilitate the work, and as a result, had more work than they could handle.

In 1979 after Paul had left SRI, he received a call from John Anderson at the U.C. Davis Primate Center, asking what the best restraint device for monkeys was.  Paul told him that there just wasn’t one.  Monkeys perch, they don’t sit like apes, and that what was available was problematic because they pressed on various parts of their bodies and made them sit, which resulted in decubitus ulcers, even

Figure 1: Original Restraint Chair

Figure 1: Original Restraint Chair

from short sessions. The available devices just weren’t designed around either the natural behavior or the anthropometrics of the monkey.  With the support of Roy Hendrickson (and his friends in the Association of Primate Veterinarians) they proceeded to borrow 8 or 10 different restraint devices that were being used by various institutions at that time.  They then evaluated the positives and negatives of each, and developed a concept for the actual restrainer that Primate Products, Inc. still sells today.  They wanted an extremely humane device that actually did not come into contact with the animal except on its feet, when the animal was in its natural perching position. With a series of complex curves shaped into the various panels, they managed to prevent the monkey from “spinning”, and instead, orient in one direction, while remaining in its natural perching position. They developed the restrainer around the animal they desired to restrain, instead of putting the animal into something that wasn’t developed with that in mind. They wanted a device that was sturdy and would last.  To date many of the restrainers they produced as far back as 1983 are still in use today (see Figure 1).  And now, the rest of the story…

Integral to the restrainer, they developed the pole and collar handling system (see Figure 2).

This concept was developed from the work with dairy bulls where you use a stick with a hook in the ring in their nose to lead them around. If they start to push, you start to twist.

Figure 2: Original Pole and Collar

Figure 2: Original Pole and Collar

The concept was that if you don’t put your hands on the animal it can remain calm and not go into the flight panic response that results from their natural escape behavior.  They also wanted a solid member between the animal and the handler so anyone could use the system not just the special skilled (and brave) “catcher”.

Figure 3: Rhesus Macaque Training 1

Figure 3: Rhesus Macaque Training 1

They tried pistol handles, which according to Paul actually make it very difficult to manipulate in the catching process, and a variety of other embodiments.  The round handle with the simple pull slide matched with the correct hook style clearly became the favorite very quickly, and is what we use and sell today. The collar evolved much like the restrainer and the pole, from trying dozens of collars- flat and round leather dog collars to chains and rubber rings.  The current collar design was far superior because of how easily the animals adapted and accepted the collars in addition to the safety provided for the animal and the ease of use for the handler.  So the result was the pole and collar system that is generally still the preferred handling system used by the research community around the world today (see Figure 3).