How to Train Your Velociraptor, ‘Jurassic World’ Style

By Robin George Andrews | June 14, 2015 5:39 pm


No Jurassic Park franchise film would be complete without an appearance by T. rex, but in both the original films and the new Jurassic World, the real terror over the course of the film is carried on much smaller forelimbs: the bloodthirsty, agile, intelligent velociraptors.

Of course, much of the attention on the new film has been devoted to the Indominus Rex, a terrifying fictional dino genetically engineered to be bigger and scarier than T. rex.

But once again, the makers of Jurassic World rely on velociraptors for the low-level guerilla warfare in the depths of the island – this time with a twist. The velociraptors are on the good guys’ side.

We’re not giving anything away that’s not in the previews to say that leading man Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) has an unusual talent: he is a velociraptor trainer. Using a clicker-and-treat method evocative of trainers at Sea World, Owen has trained his four velociraptors to come, stay, and crucially, to not do what would come naturally when a human enters their cage: pounce and kill with their razor-sharp teeth and horrifying sickle claws.

But would it really be possible, based on what we know about velociraptors, for them to be tamed by humans? This sounds highly implausible, but there are many things about Jurassic World that are – according to Jack Horner, the paleontologist that advises these films – more “scientifically plausible” than the original. So what would it take?

Pack Animals

Velociraptors were pack animals, that much is clear. Pack behavior evolves in an entirely different way to solitary hunting or scavenging techniques; it requires intelligence for those animals to maintain a social hierarchy. Due to this social structure, it is plausible that raptors would have had the basic level of intelligence training requires.

And as paleontologist Jack Horner told Discover, “Birds are dinosaurs, and falconry is the training of birds of prey. In falconry reward of food and protection are the positive reinforcements that are advantageous for the birds. Because of the relationship of avian dinosaurs to non-avian dinosaurs, there is no reason to think that dinosaurs couldn’t have been trained using the same methods as falconry.”

The film itself hints at two possible methods for achieving this level of obedience.

Alpha Males

One is the alpha male arrangement. Owen at one point says he is the raptors’ “alpha,” later saying, “It’s not about control. It’s a relationship based on respect.”

Among modern species alpha animals occur most widely among mammals. For example, alpha males lead troops of chimpanzees in hunting and social activities, and mountain gorillas use intimidation and aggressive behavior to establish themselves as the offspring-bearing alphas. Birds too show dominance-based hierarchies, with many having distinct alpha males.

Since modern-day birds are the descendants of the group of theropod dinosaurs that velociraptor belonged to (brought to light by the famous Archaeopteryx, a small, raven-like dinosaur with feathers and flight-ready features) it could be that this dominance arrangement was inherited from their dinosaurian ancestors, including the velociraptor.

So, in theory, Owen has used displays of aggression and dominance to elevate himself to become the velociraptors’ alpha male. But there’s a secondary approach that the movie hints at, one based less on dominance and more on nurturing: imprinting.



Owen tells another park employee, as an explanation for his bond with the raptors, “I imprint on them.” In other words, it appears that Owen has overseen the hatchings of these animals, imprinting his image as a caring figure from birth.

Imprinting takes many forms, but this method, called filial imprinting, is especially common among modern-day birds. In the 1930s by Konrad Lorenz, an animal behavioral scientist, showed that the common greylag geese exhibited this behavior. A large clutch of goose eggs was segregated into two groups: one was allowed to hatch normally amongst their mother, whereas the other hatched in the presence of Lorenz. So long as they saw him during a critical, time-sensitive window after hatching, they followed him around as if he was their own mother.

This is seen in many species of bird, including in modern day raptors, or birds of prey. Angelo d’Arrigo, an Italian hang-glider pilot, noted that gliders and migratory birds use similar flying techniques; he therefore thought that he could train captive birds to follow him. On his first attempt, he successfully guided ten cranes on a 3,400-mile journey.

Life Finds a Way

So there are two domestication scenarios, both hinted at in the movie. Keeping the detail intentionally vague on how the domestication of the velociraptors was achieved was a wise decision. Though we know that birds are the modern day descendants of dinosaurs, it also appears that dinosaurs shared some features of modern-day mammals in the way they grew and metabolized.

So whether a pack of raptors would be best trained by alpha dominance, by nurturing imprinting, or both, is an open question. And who could blame Owen for trying to cover all his bases as the first-ever raptor wrangler?

Genetic Rewiring

There is another alternative to these two approaches, one that’s not explored in the movie.

As we’ve said, there’s lots of genetic tinkering going on at Jurassic World, and so it doesn’t seem beyond the pale that researchers could have tweaked these raptors to be more docile. The genes contributing to aggression are far from currently worked out, but in the near-future setting of the film, it’s possible that those studies have been done. And at present scientists have shown that certain hormones in birds’ brains determine whether they’re aggressive or nice, and that genetic tweaks can make mean birds friendly. If it worked the same way in raptors, the mad scientists of Jurassic World could just shut down the hormone production and create cuddlier dinosaurs.

Whichever taming method was applied, Steve Brusatte, a University of Edinburgh paleontologist, seems confident of one thing. “It seems a bit risky to me: a bad type of animal to have as a pet. But hey, if it makes a good monster movie, then I’m all for it.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
  • steve knoche

    The whole premise of this article is false. The creatures described as Velociraptors are not Velociraptors at all. Velociraptors are feathered and slightly bigger than a chicken.
    The creatures mis-lableled in this article and the movie are closer to Utahraptor ostommaysoruma a genus of “dromaeosaurid coelurosaurian dinosaurs which could grow up to 23 feet long and lived during the early Cretaceous period.
    They also could have been a very large Deinonychus, in greek it means “terrible claw” for the unusually large sickle chaped talon on the second toe of each hind foot. Evidence suggests that this dinosaur also had feathers and grew to 11 feet long.

    • Robin George Andrews

      It’s well known that the “velociraptors” in the film were based on the Deinonychus genus; however, they are very closely related to the real Velociraptors, and the name “velociraptor” was chosen for the films for the more appealing name.

      • acording2

        …how are Deinonychus anything like that? They were 1 meter and feathered -don’t get me wrong, I love the movie franchise and their impertation of the Raptors. But the biggest raptor was a Utharaptor -also feathered. I know a out the genus and all, but that makes me movies special. Not to mention the spino

        • Robin George Andrews

          The movie makes a brief reference to the dinosaurs looking quite different had just genetic replication, not engineering, had been used.

      • Lee Riffee

        I believe that the original species name for Deinonychus antirropus was Velociraptor antirropus, so in the past what we think of today as Deinonychus was known scientifically as Velociraptor. I am not sure when the species name was changed, but I do believe it was before the first JP movie ever came out, but a lot of the older texts still had the old name.
        And also, the species currently known as Velociraptor (Velociraptor mongolensis) was too small to be scary and so the film makers had to scale it up a bit.
        But yes, they are in the same family, which would be kind of like swapping out a coyote for a wolf in a movie to make it more dangerous and believable as an antagonist.

    • Desiree125632

      Try freelancing at home a­nd get extra pay-check every week… By completing basic jobs you get online… I do this three hrs /a day, for 5 day­s each week and I receive $1000 e­ach week…

    • doriangrey11

      ROTFLMAO… Exactly, you could no more train a Velociraptor than you could a chicken.

      • Paddie McGirk

        The difference is we think chickens are delicious. These guys think we are delicious.

      • Robin George Andrews

        Chickens can be tamed, you know, just FYI.

        • doriangrey11

          I used to own 5 chickens, tamed and trained are two entirely different things.

          • Robin George Andrews

            They can surely be trained to respond to food stimuli.

  • Walter Adams

    You cannot train velociraptors because;
    Drumroll please
    There aren’t any.

    • Robin George Andrews

      What a spectacular imagination you have, sir!

    • archbeam

      Actually, there are. Chickens and turkeys are what raptors became. Not ALL the dinosaurs went extinct via the meteor 65M years ago. That’s where the birds came from.

  • Rational_Db8

    “If it worked the same way in raptors, the mad scientists of Jurassic World could just shut down the hormone production and create cuddlier dinosaurs.”

    Chances are this would also very significantly change the animal’s physiology. There was an utterly intriguing study done decades ago in Russia, where a fox farm (raised for their fur) wanted the animals to be more easily managed, less aggressive. So they brought in a researcher who did a very simple test for aggression – basically if a handler reached into the cage and the animal either attacked or fled to the back of the cage, that animal wasn’t bred. Those that didn’t display such a strong flight or fight response were bred.

    In only about 50 generations (if I recall correctly), the foxes in the experiment were virtually like dogs – friendly, playful, more young fox like rather than adult fox like even when mature. Oddly enough they also had gained white body patches, more droopy ears, a tendency to shorter or curly tails, wavy/curly hair, smaller jaws, and a few other notable characteristics not seen in the original fox population at all.

    The same is seen in virtually all domestic animals – not only less aggression and a more friendly and playful disposition, but also a tendency to floppy ears and white patches on the hair coat, etc.

    So it’s a good bet that tweaking the hormonal genetics of a velociraptor would wind up causing some pretty notable body morphology changes too that would make them look quite a bit different than “wild” velociraptors…

    Replace the “(dot)” with a period of course and see:

    Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment: americanscientist(dot)org/issues/pub/early-canid-domestication-the-farm-fox-experiment

    Man’s new best friend? A forgotten Russian experiment in fox domestication: blogs.scientificamerican(dot)com/guest-blog/mans-new-best-friend-a-forgotten-russian-experiment-in-fox-domestication

    • Robin George Andrews

      Is this the domestication of the silver fox? If so: yes, amazing study.

      • Rational_Db8

        Yep, domestication of the wild silver fox. And you’re exactly right, it’s an amazing study. In the past I’ve even seen video of some of the resulting foxes – they’re cute as the dickens, friendly, playing like puppies with each other and people.

    • Bob Naylor

      …and we now have a potential reason for featherless dromaeosaurs.

  • WhateverDunce

    This article is pure unadulterated clickbait used to promote a Summer Blockbuster movie. Anyone that believes any of this crap is really gullible and stupid.

    • Robin George Andrews

      Yep, I’m secretly funded by the Jurassic World team. I get a free Brontosaurus out of this! But *shh*, don’t tell anyone.

      • WhateverDunce

        No. You work for a media company and your bosses put you up to it. I get it. I know why you did it. You have bills to pay. I doubt you arrived at this independently, though.

        • Robin George Andrews

          I’m a freelance writer who pitched this idea to the magazine. I’m primarily a scientist, actually. No need to be so presumptuous, mate.

          • WhateverDunce

            By the way, your comment made me laugh. I am willing to take it, since I am dishing it out. I didn’t expect you to be responsive but that’s cool! Cheers, man!

    • Mike Richardson

      And you not only clicked on the article, but also added a comment to the discussion to draw more interest to the article. I hope you were deliberately trying for irony. If so, good job!

      • WhateverDunce

        Nope. I read the entire article hoping for Science and all I got was an ad for a movie. There was no Science here.

        • Robin George Andrews

          There definitely is. Maybe try reading back through it and paying attention this time? :)

          • WhateverDunce

            Nope. Just a bunch of fluff and speculation to whip me into a ‘dinosaury frenzy’ to go see this flick and my daughter already talked me into that Saturday, which was my birthday, by the way.

          • Robin George Andrews

            So you were expecting me to go back in time and meet some friendly raptors to test these theories out on? Of course it’s speculation; nevertheless, it’s speculation based on indirect scientific evidence…like much palaeoecology.

          • WhateverDunce

            I used to be super-pumped about Science, so much so that I converted to Atheism, in fact. These days, I can’t believe half of it. The Scientific method, experimentation, empiricism are all a lost art. Everything is driven by money. Conjecture is held as fact if it supports continued funding. I’m severely disillusioned and to top it off, I don’t trust the media, so there you have it. I am certain you could be more in-depth if you wanted to, but that would bore the masses. It’s not fun. I understand that. That’s why we have these fluff pieces in the wake of a movie premiere. I am certain you are a smart guy, but I call ’em as I see ’em. Have a nice day.

          • Talaria

            Scientific methodology is a tool and any tool can be misused. .

          • WhateverDunce

            Worthless cliche much? Tell me how speculating and pontificating is better than the Scientific method. This should be good.

          • Talaria

            Perhaps you should re-read it. If your response is the same, then please define “Scientific method” and explain who is “speculating and pontificating.”

          • WhateverDunce

            The ‘Scientific Method’ is a well-established, accepted and
            documented practice in Science. It is fundamental and historical to
            Science itself. Adhering to the scientific method is imperative in establishing theories and assists in peer-review.

            You really need to study up on the history of the
            Scientific method. Here’s a good place to start, but I don’t think it is
            the end-all, for sure. For someone just getting started in Science, it’s
            good, though. Go to Wikipedia and search ‘Scientific Method.’ Disqus will not allow links to be posted here or I would do that. Thanks.

          • Talaria

            And who is “speculating and pontificating?”

          • WhateverDunce

            Obviously this piece is. You have to be completely daft to not know it’s a fluff piece that is promoting a movie. I’m not going to keep repeating myself. I’ve made my point and I’m moving on.

        • Mike Richardson

          Would you settle for lower case “s” science? There was at least a little of that. The article did discuss different methods of training, and brought up the topic of dinosaur intelligence, which has been estimated considerably upwards since I was a child in the 1980s. Btw, I did see the movie with my kid and wife this weekend, and loved it. My only gripe — and this isn’t a spoiler since it’s been shown in trailers and DQ commercials — is pteradactyls attacking and even carrying off humans. Most were fish eaters or ate small critters, and none would have been able to lift a fully grown human being off the ground, especially since the largest ones were specialized gliders. It would be like being afraid of a big pelican. Of course, if they discover a species that flew in packs and attacked like airborne pirahnas — hey, I think I’ve got an idea to pitch for the next movie!

  • Nessie509

    I hope the movie never comes true. Dinosaurs were terrible lizards. Not content to bask in the sun at the beach, they ate their way through every living thing on Earth at that time. Not hard to imagine they would eat their way through 7 billion humans once we ran out of ammo.

  • Ms Anonymous

    In terms of “monster movies”, if you have to use the fictional version of a velociraptor to hunt down something worse, it’s time to nuke the island.

    • Robin George Andrews

      Aw, what about the poor Gallimimuses?

  • Doug McNeil

    Of course velociraptors can be trained. How else could they get them to act in the movie?

    • Robin George Andrews

      ^ nailed it.

    • Lorie Franceschi

      sounds good to me.They had to take acting lessons too

    • kid_a2

      Phil Tippett couldn’t do it

      • mary.bullock4

        If you want extra money in the range of 50-300 bucks a day for doing simple work from your couch at home for several h every day then read more here…

  • Mike Richardson

    Given what we’ve learned about the intelligence of crows, African grey parrots, and other bird species, as well as the evidence that dinosaur species like velociraptors were some of the closest relatives to birds, maybe you could train raptors. Or maybe they’d just be better at figuring out how to get out of the cage to eat you.

    • PSC1974

      In clicker training dogs, there is a saying, “Dogs do what works.” Dogs, also pack hunters, will respond to operant conditioning because they know it works to get food or something else they like (toy play, etc.) It is not unreasonable to believe that dinosaurs like these would respond in a like manner. Personally, I once trained a feral dog to “sit” and “lie down” before he would even come near me. If the reward is there, the animal will figure out what is necessary to get it.

  • Dee Vinson

    Here is the problem once you change the aggressive nature of any animal as was shown in The Silver Fox Study that animal is a friendly furry ball of mush. Removing the aggressive nature of the raptors would change them they wouldn’t be hunting a Trex for you or with you and if your bring out or try to enhance that aggression through training you can get your face ripped off when your done. My parrots are trained but on a bad day you could lose your hand or ear simply taking them out of the cage. They retain some of that old time aggression. My dog is highly trained but he too can have a bad day. Sea world is proof “dead trainers” that whales do not belong in shows! Behavior is at best unpredictable and a raptor even a dependent on you for food raptor can take your face off because he is a raptor and can! I like the movie cause its fun to see long dead dinos eat people… A primitive scare “jaws” was more likely to happen. When they cloned an animal notice it was a sheep!

  • JR

    Imprinting is how the dragonriders of Pern do it. There was some genetic engineering up front I think, but when we talk about taming and training it’s at the level of the individual rather than the species, no ?

  • Talaria

    What page is this article found? I’ve looked at my issue and it’s nowhere to be seen.
    Also, is there any way to un-recommend something?
    Regarding the artilcle, if an animal can learn, it can be trained.

  • Robert Caldwell

    Lighten up, science can be fun. And Brontosaurus is the other white meat.

  • John K

    Re: the discussion of the size of the velociraptors. I believe the question of the size of the velociraptors arose after the first JP was released, in that the movie raptors were too big, and were thus a fictional representation of a much smaller animal. Then, lo and behold, several years later, raptor fossils the size of the movie animals were found in Utah, and given the name Utahraptor. They were the same size of the movie animals! Its as if Spielberg was a time traveler …. nahh! I’m 90% sure of the timelines in this anecdote, but if someone knows for sure…

  • Dayna Tolley

    Haven’t you ever seen a chicken play the piano?


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