Kayce Cover

biography & training

Explore Kayce's Adventures

A long history working with animals in numerous and varied situations prepared Kayce for role today. Formulation of her widely renowned training program is a direct result of thousands of hours spent in training and managing animals, and teaching people, of all types.

Click here to go to Kayce’s Chronicles, a blog on Kayce’s travels and experiences.

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Kayce Cover started training marine mammals at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1973, while enrolled at Revelle College, UCSD. There Cover assisted in various medical research labs. Important mentors were Erica Abt (Movie: “Day of the Dolphins”) and Jim Mastro (SIO). Important guidance also came from Dan Petersen and Jim Corey of the US Navy programs, and Al Garvey, of Sea World. Joining IMATA in 1974, Cover soon thereafter moved to Boston, becoming the initial trainer for the project that became Helping Hands for the Handicapped. The purpose of Helping Hands was to develop monkeys trained to aid quadriplegics. Cover did the initial training for Hellian, the capuchin monkey who assists Robert Foster, including basic obedience, safety behaviors, environmental preparation, and basic husbandry behaviors. Hellian has assisted Mr. Foster for 25 years, and was featured twice on “60 Minutes”.

PennVet Working Dog Conference

Kayce speaking at the PennVet Working Dog Conference in April of 2013.

Cover also worked for a short time at the Amigo School for people with autism, guided and inspired by the dedicated and courageous staff. Next, to Mystic Marinelife Aquarium, doing shows for up to 1,500 at a time, up to 14 times a day, with Beluga Whales, Dolphins, and Sea Lions. Important mentors: Frank Heard, Jerry Winsett, and Annie Jones (all of MMA) and a special thanks to Jack Schmidt! Next stop was the National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Cover was Keeper-Leader of Aquatics, Bears and Beaver Valley, and oversaw training and management programs for virtually all the animals in these collection areas. Five kinds of bears were taught to cooperate for injections, hair sampling, moving into travel crates and teeth inspections as well as for routine husbandry and management and demonstrations based on natural behaviors (Lisa Burton, the very dedicated trainer of Mary and the other Polar Bears). Wolves learned to cooperate with ear treatments, otters learned to use squeegee doors, and work safely in direct contact (even with 12 year old volunteers). Bush dogs, Maned wolves, and Cheetas were also trained and managed for their own best care. The sea lions at the National Zoo were all rescues, who could not be returned to the wild. The National Zoo was their new permanent home, and they and soon mastered their entire curriculum of training, which was presented in educational demonstrations. Zoo audiences, sometimes stretching up the road as far as they could see or hear, and up the hillside to the bear exhibit areas, were directly included in bridging the animals and encouraging them in other ways, and even assisting with the training. The sea lions then went on to fun and enriching training, including amazing flips (Maureen was queen here! 1977-2007), spirals, bows, pillars, speed runs, relay races, working from cues given off exhibit, and coordinated behaviors where 4 sea lions would work together in aerial acrobatics. Norman (1977-2005), the dominant male, cooperated in stationing on an island, allowing all the animals to be worked at once, by one person. It was stunning to witness. A trainer would walk onto the beach, give the speed swim cue, and all 7-9 animals would race counter-clockwise, entirely around the 450,000 gallon pool, exploding out of the water to jump onto their private stations on various islands and beach heads throughout the exhibit. The lone trainer could then direct all animals from a point on the beach, successfully delivering medication, specified amounts of food, training, and a demonstration, single-handedly. Eventually, the sea lions could be worked with the keep off exhibit and out of sight.


Kayce working with the sea lions.

Cover was often seen swimming with all the Sea Lions cavorting around, and would sometimes swim out to an island to present parts of shows. Stay tuned to Cover’s blog to learn about the time the huge dead snake was found in the sea lion pool – a little surprise encountered on one swim… The Grey Seals were 6 years old at the time of their arrival, and had been retired from the US Navy program for open ocean work. These were extremely intelligent, educated seals! At the National Zoo, they went on to do extensive work in communication using graphics, and public interaction outside the exhibit area. Zoo visitors of that era may remember taking walks with the Grey Seals, and assisting in their training, in some rather unique ways. For example, one day, a seal was being taught to tolerate audiences. For this, the audience was asked to follow cues, to range their behavior from quiet and calm, to energetic and loud. One day, the plaza was filled with 100’s of zoo visitors, and Dr. Ted Reed, then Director, was driving by in a scooter. With a look of amazement, he suddenly stopped his scooter, got out, climbed onto the bed of the scooter, and surveyed the assembled crowd, singing “Row, row, row your boat” softly in unison, as they moved their arms through graceful arcs… Half hour later, the phone rang. Curator Daryl Boness was checking, by request of the Director, to see if there was a new calisthenics program going on.. Well there was, but the point was to exercise the tolerance and confidence of our seals, and the understanding and involvement of our visitors – rather than any muscles!

During this time, Cover worked with all the Grey Seals, but was responsible for the training of Selkie and Gunnar, who are still at the zoo to this day. Say Hi when you visit them! Selkie is one of the most amazing animals Cover has ever had the privilege to work with. She is extremely intelligent and an outstanding matriarch. Together with Kayce, she created the basis of the two-way communication work that continues to be the foundation of SATS today. Selkie was Kayce’s most important mentor during 8 years at the National Zoological Park. Cover left the Zoo to finish a BS in Animal Science, with a senior theses on Farming Economics which was presented at an international conference in Economics, guided by Dr. John Wysong. Other projects included a survey of the state of knowledge on animal training and cognition, leading to the writing of the manual, “An Introduction to Bridge and Target Technique”, for researchers and professional trainers, and a number of training projects, such as teaching pigs to stand voluntarily for blood collection, litter training a horse, and teaching cows to tell if they wanted food or a date with a bull. At the University of Maryland, Kayce learned from many important mentors, including Drs. Vaughn Flyger, Mark Varner, Thomas Hartsock, Benny Erez, Dennis Westhoff, Jerry DeBarthe, and the inimitable, Edwin Goodwin. While in Washington, DC, Cover also participated in numerous events, such as productions at the Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, The Preakness, and events with two US Presidents, and their wives, Jacques Cousteau, James Brady, John Denver, Ben Tureen, Pete Seeger, and more.


Kayce and her famous monkey.

Many talented zoo and training professionals spent time learning with Cover, during these years, and now are luminaries in their professions. In 1991, Kayce embarked on a solo career, writing “An Introduction to Bridge and Target Technique (naming Bridge and Target Training in the process), formulating how to present sophisticated training technique to the lay public, creating a seminar curriculum leading talented trainers to various levels of technical mastery, and founding the Syn Alia Training System, now known as SATS®. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Cover completed an MS in Education, at Old Dominion University, honing an understanding of how people learn and how to design learning materials and presentations. This work has taken Kayce to many parts of the world, and there are now about 70 certified trainers from Japan to the Netherlands. Cover has introduced and refined many innovations, such as the Intermediate Bridge (or “Support Signal” of the “Support, Success and Touch Signals”®), Perception Modification (“Calm and Cope”®), the term “Diminisher”, and more. Cover’s work as been presented in Equus, American Animal Trainer Magazine, HIA, and more, in America, the UK and the Netherlands. Acknowledgement and gratitude are expressed for the important assistance of Karen Hawkins, Off The Wall Emporium, and Julie Alexander, Talisman Dogs, as well as by the SATS® Certified Trainers, who are key in the dissemination of this information.

“Since I have learned SATS by Kayce, its almost impossible for me to use other methods in training dogs and other animals.”

Fenny Gasstra

“Kayce is one of the most innovative trainers in the World. Her wealth of knowledge paired with years of experience makes her a one of the best of the best.”

Bill Church

Kayce Cover

Kayce Cover

Syn Alia Founder

Kayce Cover has managed and trained animals at top zoos, oceanariums, and universities. She has trained monkeys to aid quadriplegics, taught cows to tell scientists if they wanted food or a date with a bull, developed a practical system for two-way communication with animals and other non-verbal or semi-verbal beings, and provided trained animal talent for theatrical productions. Best of all, Kayce Cover has developed trainers, training curricula and training materials, and engaged in extensive outreach to spread the word and the fun, addressing over two and a half million people.

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