Rewarded with treats, cows can learn to be potty-trained, according to a new study published in Current Biology. Scientists hope that "MooLoo" training – having cows relieve themselves in one specific area in exchange for a snack (see video below) – will help cut down on "greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and soil and water contamination." Scientists involved in the study, which involved 16 cows (of which 11 were toilet trainable), said "the calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children."
The notion of potty-trained cows might seem like an unexpected novelty for most of us, but for Jan Langbein, an animal psychologist at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology who co-authored the study, the results are "not really a surprise" given the under-appreciated cognitive skills of cattle.
"As for their learning ability, previous studies have shown that cattle autonomously learn to operate various devices in the barn and move to certain places after prompting with various stimuli," Langbein said in an email.
"They appear to be able to learn to associate urination with a particular place, and they can develop awareness of an association between their own excretion and receiving a reward," he continued. "From literature, we found evidence for the feasibility of latrine training in cattle from a neurophysiological and learning theory point of view."