Archive for the ‘Behavior Change’ Category

Behavior Serves A Purpose…

July 24, 2013 3 comments

Rocky's reaction to a change in the environment

Rocky’s reaction to a change in the environment

Behavior serves a purpose for the individual doing the behaving. If the behavior proves of no value for the individual, the animal or human will have no reason to perform or exhibit this behavior again. If behavior, whether desired or undesired by us exists, it is because this behavior serves a purpose for us or for the animal. If that behavior happens once, the animal learns from that behavior by the consequence giving that behavior serves for the animal. If that behavior happens twice or three times, that behavior is being reinforced. There is something that causes that behavior to maintain or increase and that ‘something’ is the reinforcer for this behavior.

Often times I hear “The behavior happens for no reason.” The behavior does happen for a reason or this behavior would not continue to exist for this animal. Once we can find why the behavior happens, then we can work with that consequence or reinforcer and begin working on changing that behavior. Why is the bird screaming? Why is the dog charging the door? Why is the owl flying off of the glove? When we can answer these questions, that is when we can accurately begin working on changing the behavior of the bird screaming, the dog charging the door, and the owl flying off the glove.

If the bird is screaming for attention, give it the attention when it does something that is more desirable. I do this with all screaming parrots. Screaming is a tough behavior to live with. If the dog is charging the door, find a reinforcer that is of higher value to deliver when it is staying calmly in a desired area when requested. If the owl is flying off the glove, figure out what purpose that serves for the owl and then arrange the environment so that purpose does not need to happen for the owl. Obviously there are several steps and different approaches that can be used in the above examples but for the purpose of this post, all behavior serves a purpose for the animal. If that behavior happens more than once, that behavior is being reinforced and exists because the consequence is of value for the animal. These behaviors can be changed or redirected.

I also commonly hear “I was hoping the animal would grow out of the undesired behavior.” Each time that undesired behavior happens, the more well-practiced it is and the stronger it is likely becoming. By no means does this mean that well-practiced behaviors cannot be changed, because they can. What it does mean is that the longer the behavior is practiced or reinforced, the longer it can take for us to change it. The longer a behavior happens or is being reinforced is called a history of reinforcement.

Rocky, my 13-year-old Moluccan Cockatoo has a long history of reinforcement of his screaming and his abnormal

Training Falka to not charge or bark at unknown objects or things at the door.

Training Falka to not charge or bark at unknown objects or things at the door.

repetitive behavior of doing a back-flip in his cage. Both behaviors of screaming and flipping used to happen consecutively every 3-5 seconds for at least two hours at a time. These two behaviors are well-practiced by Rocky and from my best observation over time, have had a long history of reinforcement. I say this because these two behaviors still exist today and Rocky has been with me and under my care for over five years. Before you get discouraged, please keep reading because rarely do these two behaviors exist together currently. Also based on how often the screaming used to happen, I can now happily say rarely does his behavior of screaming exist anymore. If I do hear him scream, it is because it is serving a purpose for him. When I hear it, I pay close attention to his environment, observe potential reinforcers for this behavior, and immediately take control of his environment to change the delivery of the reinforcer. I do all of the above so I can change the behavior and reinforcer for that behavior. When I can do this, I can change the behavior. Now if either of these behaviors happen, which is few and far between, they are indicators to me that this behavior is likely to begin to rear its head again at some time in the future if intervention does not happen. The longer the history of reinforcement is for a behavior, the more that behavior may happen in the future if key cues or indicators are ignored. The cues or indicators of Rocky screaming or doing back-flips in his cage are very obvious to me because I’ve paid so close attention to changing them. I now know what environments or environmental events will likely bring out either of these behaviors with Rocky. This gives me the opportunity to rearrange the environment for the undesired behaviors to not happen by giving a particular toy or object he prefers or incorporate positive reinforcers for alternate behaviors when the undesired is likely to happen. This is training. This is communication happening.

Target training Kwynn, the micro-mini pig at a consultation at The Animal Behavior Center.

Target training Kwynn, the micro-mini pig at a consultation at The Animal Behavior Center.

Whenever I see an undesired behavior happen or beginning to be practiced, the least I do is take note that it did happen. This is when I note to myself that this behavior could be a concern and lead to more intense behaviors. If I see this behavior happen again, I’ve probably already begun to think of how I can change it. I do not want to see undesired behaviors happen twice or a third time because I know each time it happens, the more well-practiced and purpose it has for the animal. For example, I recently had Kwynn, the micro-mini pig with me for training for a weekend about a month ago. I went to get her ready for bed for the evening. I set up her crate and when I turned for her she took off running and squealing. An eyebrow went up and I began laughing. The crate and time of night was an obvious cue for her that it was time to go to bed. I could have chased her around the room and by her behavior of running and squealing, I predicted the more I chased, the faster she would run and louder she would squeal. I didn’t feel like running nor did I want to associate her being with me and putting her to bed was a time to not look forward to. I knew Kwynn was already trained to touch her snout to a target stick. So when she ran and squealed, I turned for the target stick. The presence of the target stick has a long and strong history of reinforcement for Kwynn. When she saw it, she knew the opportunity for goodies to be delivered was high. She quickly came running to me instead of away from me. A few repetitions of her touching her snout to the target stick and she was easily guided inside her crate. Then I stood and reinforced periods of time of her sitting calmly inside her crate while I slowly turned down the light. She was quick to catch on and the following night she saw the opportunity for going to bed as a highly desired one.

I often tell people “When working with an undesired behavior that has a long history of reinforcement, you can pretty much bet it took a lot longer to train that undesired behavior than it will for us to change it.” That has been my experience in changing behaviors with animals. Often times undesired behaviors have been unknowingly trained for a long time. If the steps needed to take to change the behavior are broken down into small approximations, one will see the behavior changing fairly quickly. Unfortunately, many times by the time a person seeks professional advice to change behavior, if the behavior change doesn’t happen quickly, the animal is likely to lose its home, even though the undesired behavior probably took months or even years to get to this intensity. The importance in seeking professional behavior and training help is the key in helping keep animals in their homes and out of shelters.

We are always learning. Animals are always learning. Training is communication and we are always training. The key question is “What are we training?”

Lara Joseph is the owner of The Animal Behavior Center in Sylvania, Ohio. See her website at


Behavior Trained Through Consistency…A Win/Win Outcome for All

July 15, 2012 4 comments

I get a lot of requests on topics in which to write. I consider each and everyone of them and give them a lot of thought. I had recently posted on my

Rocky on my shoulder for the first time ever!

Lara Joseph; Avian Behavior, Training, & Enrichment Facebook page a photo of Rocky, my almost 13 year old moluccan cockatoo on my shoulder. What is the big deal about this photo? The fact that Rocky is on my shoulder. Rocky is a re-home that came into my life almost five years ago. He came to me from a shelter with a plethora of behavior issues and was highly suggested to me that he be euthanized for his level and intensity of behavior issues. Five years ago when I began interacting with him I was not able to get him out of his cage without a bite or obvious signs of aggression. Through consistent training and use of applied behavior analysis and positive reinforcement training over the past five years, Rocky is many things including one of the most well-behaved birds in my house and has just, for the first time ever, perched on my shoulder.

I hear cockatoos (in addition to many other parrots) getting labeled with names such as psychotic, unpredictable, hormonal, out of control, and yes, even vicious. I also hear them labeled with names such as cuddly, loving, needy, velcro birds, and very trusting. I don’t want this to be an entry about cockatoos. My intention is to have this be an entry about behavior, the procedures taken in changing behavior, and the fall-out with using labels.

Labels are descriptions given to describe, in this instance, birds. The problem with labels is that they can cause a lot of harm to the bird and its future. If a bird is labeled psychotic, many times it will cause people to not interact with the bird. The way I was taught was to describe what the behaviors look like because once you describe what they look like, you can then work on identify what is causing them. The objects or events that cause the undesirable behaviors to maintain or increase are called reinforcers. Once you identify these, then work can begin on changing the behavior and when behavior is changed from undesirable to desirable, it helps keep the bird and the caretakers happy in living together with less chance of the bird losing its home. Labels almost cost Rocky his life.

Birds are not hatched with all of these behavior problems and labels. They learn these behaviors through experience and observation. When they know what actions they make get them the reactions that work in their interest, they most likely will try exhibiting those actions again in the future. Training is learning and communication and birds are knowingly or unknowingly trained to behave much in the way they do. Training is always happening the question is, what are we training?

A strong and trusting relationship built through positive reinforcement interactions.

The longer a bird has to learn and repeat or refine behaviors, desirable or not, this is called a history of reinforcement. When I first brought Rocky home almost five years ago, I could tell his screaming probably had a long history of reinforcement. Generally the longer a behavior has been reinforced, the longer it will take to change the behavior because the bird has had such a long history of having that behavior serving some value to him or her. With observation I could tell Rocky was screaming for attention and from how strong and persistent he was with his screaming, I could tell the screaming had a long history of reinforcement. By no means did nor does this mean this behavior can not be changed. Five years later, Rocky rarely screams. In the beginning he screamed for several hours a day. With consistency and efficient use of differential reinforcement, I was able to see progress in change within a few training sessions. This doesn’t mean the screaming ceased in a few days. It took quite a while be able to get through a day without a scream, but when we did, it was nothing short of awesome and very reinforcing for me to continue interacting with Rocky in changing this behavior. Each bird is its own individual just as the behavior exhibited. The amount of time it took me to begin to see change in Rocky’s screaming could be different from bird to bird and from caretaker to caretaker. The methods used can be the same.

I hear several people say “All of a sudden my bird started (insert behavior here)”. If this is a behavioral issue, more than likely the behavior has been reinforced for a while. When behaviors issues are undesirable and intense consistently is usually when awareness is usually emphasized. Often times the undesirable behavior issue was unknowingly reinforced once in a while for a long period of time before it has reached intensity to where someone or another animal gets hurt or the behavior is unbearable to live with. When changing behavior, I have found it often takes a shorter amount of time to change the behavior than it took to unknowingly teach it in the first place.

Finally, when I first brought Rocky home my goal was never to see if I could get Rocky on my shoulder. Having a bird on a shoulder is many things

Rocky at his first children’s program.

including individualized. When I first brought him home and observed all of his behavior issues including chasing me and lunging at me, getting him on my shoulder was the furthest thing from my mind and actually I probably thought it would never happen. Over the past five years I have consistently worked on many different behavior issues with Rocky. I took the same approach in changing all of them and that approach was a procedure called shaping; reinforcing small approximations toward the target behavior. If Rocky was perched on the arm of a chair I was sitting in when I tried to get up or if he got behind me, he would lunge at me and pinch me with his beak. This is definitely a behavior I did not want to see increase or even maintain so I immediately began shaping a new and alternate behavior. That behavior was having him remain calm as I stood up or moved past him. I slowly positively reinforced him staying calm while perched near my elbow. Over time I was reinforcing him for staying calm as I slowly stood up. Over the past five years with our interaction between each other being primarily based on positive reinforcement, the behavior of him getting further and further behind me or further and further up the arm of my chair was constantly changing. Instead of lunging he would wait for me to give him praise and scratch the back of his head. As you see in the photos Rocky and I now have a strong and very trusting line of communication and relationship built through positive reinforcement. All behaviors aren’t for all birds and for all households. Each bird, history of reinforcement, and behavior being trained or modified is as individual as you and I and should be treated as such. Rocky was a diamond in the rough. He is such a treasured jewel in this household and with those that have had the pleasure of meeting him agree. He has been one of my best teachers and I will always thank him for that.

Live On-Line Classes and Consultations Now Available

June 24, 2012 7 comments

Live On-Line Classes & Consultations makes it easy for all bird owners and care-takers around the world to attend from their computers.

I am very excited to be introducing a new project I have been putting together for quite a while. I am now offering on-line meetings, classes, and private consultations on various aspects of behavior, behavior modification, training, and enrichment. These classes will vary in size but will be treated just as if I was standing in front of each individual giving a presentation and answering questions.

My first class that is being offered this Thursday, June 28th from 7pm-9pm EST has already filled. Not to worry, as long as there is a demand a new class will be offered. I have already scheduled a second date for this class. In this particular class I am keeping attendance at five people in order to be able to give individual attention. More classes will become available and topics will change on a consistent basis. To check class offerings, availability, and details click this link Live On-Line Classes & Consultations Schedule.

Many people have contacted me asking when I would be giving presentations in their area. Several people from over seas have contacted me saying they would love to attend one of my presentations. Many people contact me for specialized attention and advice on changing behavior issues. I’m asked for information on teaching recall or how to live with flighted birds, how to work with and change aggressive behaviors and birds that scream. With these Live On-Line Classes & Consultations, now we can sit down and work together live with each other right from the convenience of our computer. For more information or questions, please feel free to e-mail me via the e-mail address provided in this link Live On-Line Classes & Consultations.

A Question About an Issue with Nipping

June 2, 2012 11 comments

Rewarding small steps in teaching a new behavior earns the trust between the bird and the bird owner. Keeping the training sessions short and frequent can result in obvious progress.


Hi Lara.

Two people have highly referred me to you. I have a blue-throated macaw and she is really nippy and pulling new feathers out.    Her worse times with me is nipping.  She turned three on February 21st. She needs to trust more and needs more enrichment activities.  She free flies and has an aviary. From the time I got her until about the time she was a year old, I applied the positive rewards, her nipping just got worse.  Then I did the earthquake and things were better.  There are times she could be as sweet as can be then in a blink of the eye, she screams and nips.  I am the only one living in my house. I don’t  take her outside because I can predict her reaction (she flies and is scared) and I have not moved my hand. Actually I am not even touching her, just holding her against my head.   I was advised to spray her even if she doesn’t like it.  Well I did but now she shakes so I am not doing it anymore.  She does need to be sprayed.  An overhead mister that goes off if I am not around would be great.

Melinda – Ohio



Hi Melinda.

There are several things that can be addressed from your situation. First, you mentioned see needs more enrichment. Enrichment is unique to each bird just as it is to us and it is the bird that decides what is enriching, not us. It is up to us to identify their forms of enrichment and then offer them to the bird and in the bird’s environment. I was just telling someone yesterday that my birds’ favored forms of enrichment are flight games and flight training, positive reinforcement training, and foraging. I know this by watching my birds’ behaviors.

If you read other entries in my blog, you will find how I define finding reinforcers and rewarding effectively. If a behavior is increasing, it is because it is being reinforced. You mentioned you’ve tried positively rewarding other behaviors but the nipping increased. If the nipping increased, it is being reinforced. It is easy to take bigger steps than what our birds are ready for. The steps need to be small and at the bird’s pace. It is also the bird that decides the reinforcer, it is never us. If behaviors aren’t changing, make sure you are not taking too big of steps and make sure the reinforcers you are offering are of high value to your bird. The best form of communication from our birds is their body language. As you are interacting with your bird, ask yourself “Does this bird look completely comfortable?” I not, you could be pushing your bird too far. Take a step back in what you are training and reward from there.

If you are holding your bird and she bites for no obvious reason, I would try target training her. There is a reason and training may help you in identifying it. Target training is one of the first things I train with a bird because it develops a line of communication and it teaches the bird what you are asking and learning the new positive consequences. Positive reinforcement training is the best form of communication I have found to use with an animal, which is why I am a huge fan of it. Target training is when an animal touches a specific object with a particular body part. A very common form of target training is asking a bird to touch its beak to a stick when the stick is presented.

Here is a video of Rebecca, who trained Suki the amazon to target her beak to a stick during A Day With The Trainer.

I’ve target trained all of my birds to put both feet on my wrist when I ask them to step up. Yes, this is a form of target training. If they step up, I reward. I have several birds that had issues with biting or nipping and I used this form of training to train them the behavior of stepping on my wrist without biting. This is what I am training the green-winged macaw in the photo above. I’m not pushing him and I rewarded him for even putting his foot up before he stepped onto my hand. Once they do this, I reward and then ask them to step off and reward again when they do. If I know a bird has a nipping issue, I definitely do not want them nipping when on my wrist so one of the places I’ll begin is to ask them to step back off immediately before the bird has the opportunity to nip. If the bird nips twice, it is being reinforced so I want to ask the bird to step off of my hand before he has the opportunity to nip. Then I slowly begin increasing the amount of time the bird is on my wrist and then reward that amount of time. Once I ask the bird to step up and it does, I reward. Ask it to step off and it does, reward. Ask it to step back on, reward. Have it sit there for two seconds, reward. Ask it to step off, reward. Then reward for sitting on the wrist for four seconds, for six, for ten, twenty, etc. Do you see how this works?

Keep training sessions short and frequent. I often train a bird for 20 seconds to a couple of minutes and then the training session is over. I’ll then come back and train again thirty minutes later and have another quick training session. Training short and frequently often is more effective than training long periods of time infrequently throughout the day. With every interaction you have with your bird you are training it. The key question is “What are you training?”.

I don’t use the earthquake method if I don’t have to. The only time I’ll use it is if the alternative is worse, and even then, if I have to use it, I’ll use it once and then make sure I then work on the behavior issue causing the problem versus having to use it again. Here is the reason I don’t use the earthquake method, it doesn’t build the trust and the relationship between you and the bird when the bird is on you. If this method is used once in a while, it could keep nipping behaviors very strong because the bird may know when that method is coming, and may get nervous in the anticipation of it which could result in the sudden bite or nip. Using the earthquake method doesn’t teach the bird what you really want it to do. Teach the bird to do something else, like target it’s beak to a stick. This way if you think you may see a nip coming while the bird is on you, ask it to touch the stick instead. This way the bird knows if it touches the stick, the reward is coming and you can direct the bird’s beak away from your arm. I would then ask the bird to step off of you so a nip isn’t accidentally reinforced.

When you begin the target training, I would begin when the bird is not on you, this way if you see a potential nip getting ready to happen you can avoid being accidentally bit. This way, when the bird is actually on your arm and you ask the bird to touch the stick, it is already familiar with what you are asking.

How water is introduced to the bird and the consequences will be the underlying factor in the bird’s future acceptance of how it is presented. This is often how I introduce a bird to allow the hose in close proximity, prepping the bird to accept taking a shower from it.

I’m glad to hear you have stopped the spraying if the bird doesn’t like it. You can train her to like it taking the same small steps in positive reinforcement training that you’ll use in target training her. I’ve trained all of my birds that the mist from the shower or the mist from a hose is a good time. The approach was different for each bird, because each bird is its own individual. Often times I’ll take the hose and shower another bird that likes it and have the bird watch. That doesn’t always work on its own though. Many times I’ll have the bird drink the water from my hand to introduce it to the water coming from the hose. Then I’ll introduce the hose in close proximity and reward the bird for allowing the hose in close proximity. Then I’ll reward the bird from drinking from the hose. My goal is to reinforce calm behavior while in close proximity to the hose. Once the mist gets so close to the bird, I may have a few droplets of the mist touch the bird for a quick second and then reward with the bird’s positive reinforcers. If that is too much for the bird and it shows any sign of nervousness, I take a step back in introducing the mist to the hose and start over. Often times in this house, the bird’s positive reinforcers are attention from me and for the bird to hear how good they are. Slowly I begin having a few drops of mist hit the bird’s wing very quickly and frequently, each time reinforcing heavily. This pairs the bird’s most valued reinforcers with the mist hitting its wing. If I use the reinforcers effectively, the bird will begin looking forward to the presentation of the hose.

After positively reinforcing the introduction of the hose into the bird’s environment at the bird’s pace, I’ve seen most birds enjoy the opportunity for a shower.

Behavior…It’s Always Happening

April 29, 2012 5 comments


Empower the animal in its environment through behavior change, training, and enrichment

I’m just getting back in town and bringing April to a close with speaking at the Michiana Bird Society in Mishawaka, Indiana and a presentation at PEAC Cleveland yesterday. Two great groups of fantastic people. I could talk about behavior, training, and enrichment all day long because each are so entwined in each other and have a great deal of impact on one another.

My true fascination is behavior change. When I see an animal with behavior issues I like interacting with the animal to begin changing behavior. This is done with working with and identifying reinforcers and punishers in the animal’s environment. When the animal begins responding to your interactions and behavior begins changing, training is happening. Positive reinforcement training is the best and most effective line of communication I have found in working with animals, which is my reinforcer for why I continue to use it. Positive reinforcement training has also been listed and stated in studies as being a preferred form of enrichment by animals under human care. This is evident when working with an animal. Seeing a bird fly to the front of its enclosure upon your arrival vs flying to the back to get away as it once used to do, always brings a smile to my face because it shows the line of communication has changed for the bird and the caretaker.


Communication and behavior change through positive reinforcement training is shown through the animal and the respect given by the caregiver or trainer.

Through positive reinforcement training, one can take a once fearful animal or bird and show it a new way of life in our care. Life in our care does not have to be stressful, fearful, boring, predictable, or paired with aversives. Once a bird or other animal begins learning through you, the trainer that life in our care is enriching and empowering, the bird or other animal can begin to become dependent or over-dependent on us. This is where providing an enriched environment through objects to manipulate, slight changes in complexities in the environment, and the opportunity to interact with others becomes important. My goal with every bird or animal in which I interact is to create independence through environmental enrichment beyond the caregiver or trainer. Hence the reason I am heavily focused on enrichment tools.

Stagnant environments create behavior issues. That’s a powerful statement and one I have observed over the years that could not be truer. Stagnant and predictable environments do not empower the animal which can do many things such create stress, anxiety, abnormal repetitive behaviors, and worst of all…cause an animal to do nothing but just sit there or perch there only moving to eat or drink.

Positive reinforcement training creates choice in the animal’s environment and provides mental and physical stimulation for the awesome creatures in our care. Showing an animal a new way of communication changes behavior and empowers the animal. Seeing a bird or other animal independently interacting in its environment and eager to welcome a caregiver or trainer in its environment is a powerful statement. It is a statement that attracts attention and when attention is attracted, people want to learn how to create environments for animals under their care and when information is shared, education is happening.

Putting Behaviors on Cue…Knowingly or Unknowingly

December 31, 2011 2 comments

Offering our hand can be a cue to the bird to step onto it.

A cue is a sound or signal that elicits a behavior. Many times we give cues or signals to our birds when we want them to do something. For example, we may cue a bird to step up on our hand or fly to us by offering our hand. There also may be multiple cues such as saying the word “step up” or “come” accompanied by tapping the area of our hand where we want the bird to step up or fly to. See Video Below.  In the world of domestic animals, the cue for a dog to sit may just be the word “sit”. Many times we have multiple cues and many times we need them. With cueing a dog to sit we may also point down and click our fingers while saying the word “sit”. All of these are cues for a particular behavior.

Cues are strong and numerous. Many undesired behaviors from the animals we work with may unknowingly be on cue. For example, the sound of approaching foot steps to a bird room could be putting a bird on cue to lunge when you walk by the cage. If with each time we pass the cage, that bird continues to lunge, we are reinforcing the bird’s behavior of lunging when we walk by. If a bird is on the floor and it chases feet whenever it sees feet, when we walk into the room, we could be cueing the bird to begin chasing our feet. So what is the solution? Put desired behaviors on cue. Putting desired behaviors on cue can be very effective if using the bird or animal’s positive reinforcers. Positive reinforcers are also known as rewards and it is always the bird or animal that decides what they are, never us. As long as we are working with a positive reinforcer that is more rewarding to the bird than the undesired behavior, we can make an alternative (desired) behavior more valuable to the bird. As I’ve stated, it is always the bird or animal that decides what the positive reinforcer or reward is. We, as caretakers or trainers can make those positive reinforcers more valuable to the bird by reserving their use for only during time of training.


For the bird that lunges with each time we walk by the cage, let the sound of our footsteps approaching the bird-room be a cue that something good is coming for the bird.  For example, Molly my eclectus would lunge when I walked by the cage. She would hear my footsteps approaching and the sound of my footsteps was her cue to stand on the bowl-holder in her cage, which was closest to me when I would walk in. As I would approach her cage, she would rock back and forth quickly. Seeing my approach was her cue to go to that particular bowl holder. As I walked by she would lunge. So is it me walking by that cued the lunge? I wasn’t sure so I tried it again at a slow pace. She didn’t lunge. I tried it again at a normal pace and she lunged. What this told me was it wasn’t me walking by her cage that caused her to lunge, it was the pace at which I walked by her cage.


Immediately I began walking by her cage at a slower pace. I needed to begin pairing my approach with something of value to her. This had to be developed through repetition because my approaching footsteps are already a strong cue for an undesired behavior. I needed to re-train this. With each approach I slowed my pace of walking. As I walked by her cage she did not rock and did not lunge. As I began to pass her I would tell her “Good” and then positively reinforce or reward with a pine nut. From prior history I know Molly loves pine nuts so I made sure the pine nuts stayed of high value to her by not giving them to her at any other time other than training her to stay calm during my approach, my walking in front of her, and my passing her. Through consistent pairing of my approach now with the pine nuts, I began cueing a new behavior of calm. If there are not positive reinforcers or consequences for requested behaviors, why would the bird or other animal want give the behaviors when cued? If the animal is always positively reinforced after a requested behavior, the future rate of that behavior is very likely. If lunging while we walk by serves a purpose to the bird, why wouldn’t it continue? Find reinforcers of more value to the bird than lunging while we walk past, and deliver them to the bird when they give the desired behavior when cued. Make the pairing of the approach and walking past of more value to the bird than the lunge.


In this video you will see how I trained this. I edited out a few areas of long pauses in training to make it more interesting to the viewer. The first two times I walk by her cage, I walk by at a normal pace. She does not lunge like she does when the camera is not there, but you do see the quick rocking back and forth that is the cue to me that a lunge is very likely to happen. This, in addition to the lunge are both behaviors I want to see replaced by staying calm at my approach, during my passing, and after my passing of her cage. This video shows each consecutive approach and passing. I did not edit out any approaches or passing, they are all shown in order of how they happened. With each approach I slowly increase my pace. By the end of the video, I walk by two times at my normal pace. My approach has now been consistently paired with the delivery of the positive reinforcer. My approach is now her cue that she will receive a pine nut. The lunging no longer exists because the alternate behavior of staying calm is of more value to her.

With the bird who’s cue is to chase feet when he sees them on the floor, find an alternate behavior that is of more value to the bird. How? Pair it an alternate behavior with a consequence that is of high value to the bird. For example, I have a moluccan cockatoo that used to chase my feet as soon as it saw me come into the room. If I were to jump onto the countertop I could escape the consequence of the chase but the bird would still come over to see if I had jumped down. As soon as I jumped down, the bird would begin chasing me again. If the reason the bird was chasing my feet was to get me to leave the room, if I left the room I am reinforcing the future rate of the behavior of the bird chasing my feet. From a little history of interacting with this bird, I knew it liked to toss a ball. Before I would get the bird out of his cage and I knew the opportunity for this bird to chase feet was likely, I would make sure I had a ball within easy reach for me. There were cues to me that the bird was going to start chasing my feet. First cue was he would stand completely still and watch me with his crest up. I could see him look down at my feet. He would then look up at my eyes. Then he would take off running toward me whistling with his crest up. The chase was on.


Rocky running after ball vs running after feet

Here is where the training started. When I saw the two cues, standing still, then the body scan, before he could start running I would grab the ball and toss it in the air. This caused him to focus on the ball and not on my feet. I would then put the behavior of him interacting with the ball on cue by pairing the words “Get the ball, Rocky” with me tossing the ball. As this continued to happen with each time I walked in the room, I began looking for the cue of him standing still. I would toss the ball before he even gave me the cue of the body scan. Through consistency of pairing my walking in the room with him standing still and my tossing the ball in the air, Rocky began chasing the ball more. Me walking in the room was now his cue for the ball toss game getting ready to begin. In the beginning, I needed to pair my walking in the room with the ball-toss game every single time until I knew Rocky clearly understood that me walking in the room was his cue for the ball-tossing game to begin. I had to be very careful to not let the chase begin because if I let it happen once in a while, this puts his behavior of chasing on an intermittent schedule of reinforcement. What I mean by this is that the behavior of him chasing my feet would be reinforced once in a while. Having a behavior (desired or undesired) reinforced once in a while helps keep that behavior very, very strong. If I were to walk in and see that he was cueing me the chase was going to start and I didn’t think I could cue him to do something else, I would walk back out before he could start chasing while I thought of what else I could do. I definitely did not want to let that chase begin because I would intermittently reinforce it. I would find other things for him to play toss with and then positively reinforce him playing toss. Sometimes his positive reinforcers for tossing the ball were to hear the tone of voice I give when excited. Sometimes my clapping my hands in excitement were his reinforcers for tossing the ball. I often sat on the floor with him while tossing the ball. Soon he tired. Soon he would be calmly perching on my leg while I petted him.

So many behaviors. So many cues. If we see an animal reacting consistently to our approach, we are cueing that animal to act that way. If a bird begins screaming when they hear our car pull in the driveway, that behavior is being cued. Cueing desired behaviors helps take stress and anxiety out of our parrot’s environments. Many undesired repetitive behaviors such as rhythmic screaming, rocking, and feather picking can be consequences of having stress and anxiety in their environment. Training and reinforcing alternate behaviors is one way to help eliminate that stress and anxiety.

An Upcoming Behavior Workshop

June 12, 2011 1 comment

Upcoming Behavior Workshop

Next weekend I will be giving another Behavior Workshop. It will be hosted by the Central Ohio Friends of A Feather. This one will be in-depth and one of a series of three workshops offered in Columbus, Ohio. This workshop will be seven hours in length and class size will be limited to be able to address each individual, behavior issues, and leave plenty of time for lecture and examples in working with behavior issues with birds on site.

The tactics used in modifying behavior issues can be used on any animal, including human. I was just having a conversation yesterday with my step-sister in telling her how the same tactics can be used on a dog and other people. She found it interesting and said she would be signing up for my blog to read further information on how to incorporate these methods with her dog. In the next workshop offered in Columbus, a bird of prey trainer will be attending.

I use these same tactics in working with birds of prey and I will continue to use these methods because it seems to be a preferred form of enrichment for them. The birds of prey seem to now look forward to our training times when they once used to fly into walls to escape an oncoming care taker. They now fly to the front of their enclosures in anticipation of the interaction. So do my parrots and the blue jay and pigeon in which I work.

I look forward to giving these workshops and one of my most valued positive reinforcers is the continued e-mails I get after a workshop is completed, on how well the tactics learned are continuing to build relationships between the attendees and the birds in which they live or interact.

For more information about this particular workshop, upcoming workshops, or a workshop in your area, please feel free to e-mail me at:

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