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How Easy Would It Be To Train A Dinosaur? An Expert Weighs In

Six simple rules.

There are two truths universally acknowledged here on Earth:

1.) Things would be way, way cooler if dinosaurs still existed.

2.) Things would be way, way, WAY cooler if we could communicate with those dinosaurs and control them like Chris Pratt and his raptor pack in "Jurassic World."

Obviously.

Ever since we caught our first glimpse of a be-vested Pratt signaling to a group of raptors in the first trailer for "Jurassic World," which hits theaters later this week, and later casually riding a motorcycle in their midst (!!!) we've been thinking about how friggin' cool it would be to be a raptor trainer. We took a multiple choice occupation test and were deeply upset that "raptor trainer in a vest" wasn't the end result.

While we're aware that dinosaurs (probably) don't exist right now and that our career aptitude test points distinctly away from "dino friend," we couldn't help but wonder whether raptors would be amenable to training.

The closest thing we have now to a dinosaur behavioral expert is, interestingly enough, an ornithologist. Evolutionarily speaking, dinosaurs' closest living relatives are birds, not lizards. Dr. Joel Cracraft, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History who specializes in ornithology, told us about how we'd be able to train a raptor, but cautioned that birds and dinos probably wouldn't get along too well together.

"Birds would probably get eaten," he said. "I mean, you gotta remember, and there would probably be certain birds that would eat up little baby dinosaurs too. If they ever co-existed, which we know in fact they didn't."

Knowing so many things about birds and how they work -- and by extension, dinosaurs -- told us exactly how plausible it is to train a raptor.

Ahead, six things to keep in mind.

  1. Get them when they're young.
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    It would likely be possible to domesticate a raptor, Cracraft told MTV News, but you'd have to grab them right away. "It wouldn’t surprise me that in the world of fantasy, if you got to some raptor eggs and hatched them out and were able to grow them up, that you might be able to do something with that," he said. "Humans' ability to train animals goes very very deep in phylogeny. [...] I can imagine, I suppose under the right conditions, [they could be trained]."

    "If you raise them young and get them in captivity so they’re not seeing you as prey," you could likely successfully train a dinosaur, according to Cracroft. "But not adults. I don’t know what the movie says, but if it says this person was able to train adults, I don’t think that would be reasonable. Almost all domestication, unless the domesticates have been inbred for thousands of years, it takes many generations for them to be selected -- with artificial selecting of breeding -- for them to be around us, because we’re often seen as predators for these wild animals."

  2. ...but know that at heart, they're wild animals.
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    That killer instinct may win out, even if your dino pals have been your pets since birth. "Even a lot of things that are domesticated kinda can go wild on you," Cracraft explained. "They domesticate mixed breeds of dogs with wild wolves, and depending on the percent of wild wolves in them, they can kinda go haywire on you. If they aren’t continually interacted with, they can kind of revert." So follow that old adage: keep your friends close, keep your dinosaurs in an enclosure.

  3. Remember that the eyes have it.

    Pratt's character is shown using eye contact to establish dominance with his raptor pack. Would that really work? "Possibly," according to Cracraft.

    "Eye contact between us and domesticates is pretty important," he said. "Anytime you have a cat or a dog you can see that."

  4. Don't count on a name.
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    In the film, Pratt's character often refers to his raptors by their individual names, and they know who he's talking to.

    "People ascribe intelligence to our dogs and cats, certainly way, way more than they have," Cracraft said. "They respond to sounds that we make, or the word ‘here’ or the word ‘no.’ These sounds are generally associated with 'reward' or 'not reward.' I don’t think birds could respond to the names. I wouldn’t say absolutely not, but if birds can learn that type of stuff, the neural machinery would be in dinosaurs."

  5. Remind them what's in it for them.
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    Dinosaurs love everyone's favorite reward: food. Pratt is shown in the movie using food as a reward for the raptors obeying his commands, a move that Cracraft said would be a powerful motivator.

    "Rewards work with all kinds of human training to a certain extent," he said. "Feeding animals is one major way in which you get animals to kind of do what you want them to do -- and [you can use] how they respond to sounds. You can make sounds and you can hit the side of a feeding dish and a cat or dog will know exactly what’s happening. I think it could be possible."

  6. Grab your clicker.
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    Pratt's character uses a clicker to mimic the clicking sound that raptors make to communicate with one another in the "Jurassic Park" universe. While Cracraft said it would be impossible to know which sounds raptors actually made, it would be possible for a human to learn and successfully mimic their sounds to convey messages.

    "I think almost certainly dinosaurs have some sort of vocal communication," Cracraft said. "It would have been simple. No one knows how far down song went. Anatomically...it's not likely that [dinosaurs] were singing songs like birds were. They were probably definitely communicating with one another. You get communication, some sort of vocal hissing and stuff like that, all the way down to crocodiles, which are way way outside of dinosaurs and birds. And booming sounds too."