How To Train a Bear To Dance

Posted: January 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

Last week, I published a post If You Can Train a Bear You Can Train a Dog. You definitely want to read it before proceeding.

For those that read it, here are the 3 questions I presented in that post.

  1. How did the European Gypsies train bears to dance on queue?
  2. How to walk a bear on a leash? And…
  3. How to make a bear heel?

Today we are going to answer one of those three questions for posterity.

I’ve researched this topic far and wide and found very little authoritative information. What’s worse is I wasn’t able to find one place that answered all these questions.

Why is it important to answer these questions?

From what I understand, much of Europe nowadays forbids Gypsies from using bears to advertise their business of fixing umbrellas. If you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, well, I told you to read the previous post.

Given the fact that it is now forbidden, I would imagine that the skills of training this wild beast will be lost within a generation or two.

No. I’m not suggesting we open up a bear training business.

What I am suggesting is that knowledge of any kind should NEVER be lost. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that losing knowledge due to atrophy of nonuse is no different than losing knowledge due to book burning or destruction of libraries.

So with that in mind, how do you train a bear to dance?


In the olden days, Gypsies of Europe would take a metal plate and put some hot coals underneath it. The bear would then be blocked off from escaping the metal plate.

Since the plate was hot, the bear would instinctively throw his hands in the air (get on his hind legs) and proceed to tap dance on his hind legs in alternating fashion.

While this is going on, the Gypsies would play the drum.

This is classic Pavlovian conditioning.

For those unfamiliar, in 1890s, Dr. Ivan Pavlov performed experiments on the connection between the visual processing center of dogs and their salivary gland.

Note: Dr. Pavlov wasn’t interested in training dogs. In fact, much of “scientific” research cited in dog literature has nothing to do with actual training of dogs. Sorry “science” of dog training.

When showed a cooked, juicy piece of stake dogs would automatically begin to salivate. Pavlov then added the infamous bell to the equation.

Whenever he would show the stake to dogs he would ring a bell, thereby associating the sound a bell makes with the visual stimuli. At this stage, the smell played an important role as well.

After many repetitions, Pavlov decided to remove the cooked, juicy piece of stake from the equation and simply rung the bell. And thus the Dogs began to salivate.

This same type of classic associative conditioning was employed by the Gypsies of Europe to get their bears to dance except they used aversive methods (hot plate) rather than appetitive stimulation (juicy stake).

How to walk a bear on a leash?

Sorry folks. We’re out of time. I didn’t think this post would be this long. I hope you enjoyed it.

Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss the next installment in my How To Train a Bear series when we talk about how to walk a bear on a leash.

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