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An Everyday Training Example Here at The Animal Behavior Center

June 14, 2015 4 comments

I took this video the other day while at the Center. This is everyday behavior, function,

Keeping my hand stable and comfortable for Rocky as I bring him down to my level.

Keeping my hand stable and comfortable for Rocky as I bring him down to my level.

and training. This is a loaded video and by that I mean, there is so much going on as far as training. I could easily use force but don’t want nor need to. I’m reinforcing behaviors I want to see increase and I wanted to write this blog post to point out all that is going on that could easily be overlooked. It’s the details which makes this whole video look so simple and smooth.

Here’s the link to the YouTube upload. For whatever reason, WordPress would not accept this video format. So, read the following and at the same time play the video and pause it as I walk you through it. Rewind and play again. 

Rocky, the Moluccan cockatoo is on a playstation that hangs from the ceiling in the animal room. The playstation towers above our heads so we can easily walk underneath it and not have to walk into it. I ask Rocky to step onto my hand from way above my head. My cue is showing him my hand. I also ask him if he is ready, but I’m not sure he knows what this means. He steps onto my hand and you can hear me holding my breath as I am pulling him out and then down from the playstation. I’m holding my breath because I’m focusing on making sure his tail doesn’t bump the playstation. This is extremely important for me to pay attention to because most birds do not like their tail bumped while stepping off of perches. A tail bump could knock them forward and knock them off balance. I should have used a step ladder to get him down to make it all easier and less room for error. Since this video, I have started using the ladder.

The next step, I am struggling to make sure he does not lose his balance while I lower him to my level. I do not want to pair any part of him being off balance with stepping onto my hand, stepping off of this playstation, or being on me. If I begin pairing the above, I could easily and would likely punish the future behavior of him stepping onto me off of this playstation or any perch.

As I am walking him back to his cage, I am trying to identify a reinforcer. A reinforcer for what? For a few things. Based on his body language (fluffy beak, relaxed eyes, loose feather placement) I am guessing that attention might be a reinforcer. I am looking for a reinforcer to make sure I withhold while on my arm because I’m getting ready to ask him to step up into his cage and off of me. I don’t want to deliver a valuable reinforcer at this point while he is on my arm because I need to deliver it when he gives me the behavior of stepping off of my arm.

2

Bridging Milo for stationing on or near his X while I walk into Rocky’s cage.

After I walk into Rocky’s cage, I turn to look where Milo the pig is standing. He’s standing on his X. The X is for him to stand on or near while cage doors are open. The importance of this segment is the bridge. A bridge is a sound or signal that tells the animal that particular behavior is what is earning you your reinforcer. Bridging is so extremely important and you can see its use here. I turn and look at him and deliver the bridge, which is the word ‘good’. I deliver the bridge and walk away because I need to get Rocky to step off of my hand before I can deliver a reinforcer for Milo, because I don’t have an extra hand to deliver it. I have a bird on one arm and a camera in the other. The importance of the bridge, once the animal understands it, is that Milo knows the reinforcer is coming.

I walk Rocky back to his perch and cue him to step off of me. He doesn’t so I

Showing Rocky the reinforcer (petting had signal) for stepping on the perch.

Showing Rocky the reinforcer (petting had signal) for stepping on the perch.

show him the cue for petting with the finger movement from the fingers on the arm he is standing on. I am luring him. The lure is my finger movement. I’m showing him what he will get if he steps off of me. I then give a small whistle that I usually make when I’m petting him.

I turn and look to see where the mammals are. They are right where I want them to be so I bridge again to help keep them there. I then turn again and put the camera in front of the perch where I want Rocky to step up. I give him a small pet on the head as an additional lure and he steps off of me immediately. I move in and deliver the reinforcer which is the head scratch. I deliver in a large enough amount to keep him there while I turn and bridge and reinforce awesome behaviors happening behind me with the mammals.

Mammals stationing outside of the cage vs walking into the cage.

Mammals stationing outside of the cage vs walking into the cage.

The door to the cage is wide open and yet I have two well trained animals not entering and staying near the target, which is the X on the floor. I grab some of Rocky’s food from his dish and reinforce the mammals. This is where it gets tricky and I bet most people may not have caught this. I am dropping the food into Quincy, the Rottweiler’s mouth. I drop because I don’t want mammal saliva on my hands which could cross contaminate from mammal to bird. Quincy’s food drops to the floor next to the pig. The pig is trained to not rush for food when dropped on the floor because if he does there could be a Rottweiler and a pig charging after the same piece of food. Quincy and Levi (deaf bulldog) are also trained to not reach for food that wasn’t dropped for them. Milo clearly looks at the food and remains in position. There were several previous training sessions to train this and for this particular purpose.

Length of time delivering a reinforcer may have an impact on the reinforcement. I asked Rocky to step off of me and I petted for a few seconds and walked away. I guarantee you that if I asked him to step off again for a small period of time in preening his feathers, he wouldn’t step off of me again. It isn’t worth it to him. This is why I turn and walk back into the cage, ask him if I can pet giving him the choice and empowering him, and then he moves in to accept more reinforcement.

Using attention and length of attention as a reinforcer for stepping onto his perch when requested.

Using attention and length of attention as a reinforcer for stepping onto his perch when requested.

There was no need to force any animal to do anything. I didn’t have to stick a leg out to keep the dog or the pig out of the cage. All behavior was willing given to me because I have a history of delivering the animal’s reinforcers when they give me a behavior I request. Not a command….a request. A pleasant way for all to live and reasons for everyone to want to continue giving desirable and requested behaviors. 😉 Happy Living! Happy Training!

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Adding Another Animal Behavior & Training Workshop to July of 2015


Training a deaf dog to touch a matching object.

Training a deaf dog to touch a matching object.

Our June 2015 Workshop sold out in January before we even had time to advertise it. A waiting list already started forming for

June 2016. Due to this demand and current projects underway here at The Animal Behavior Center, we are contemplating adding another workshop this year for the weekend of July 11th, 12th, & 13th, 2015. The format will be the same described on our website with the third day as optional. We are starting a waiting list of people who may be interested if we offer this workshop in July of this year. Take a look at our June 2015 Workshop for details of what the workshop contains. If we get enough interest, we will schedule the workshop and begin taking registrations.

Syringe training a hyacinth macaw.

Syringe training a hyacinth macaw.

We sent out an e-mail notification to our e-mail newsletter list last night and have received a waiting list currently developing. If all people attend that have signed up to be notified, first come first serve, this workshop will only have a few seats left before being sold out.

If you are interested in being put on the waiting list for the July 2015 Workshop, please e-mail us at the address at the bottom of the home page on our website with notification that you are interested. If we receive enough interest, we will notify all on the notification list in the order they e-mailed us with first option to reserve your seat before we notify the public, if seats are still available.

Once again, and as always, we here at The Animal Behavior Center are very appreciative of your overwhelming and on-going support. Please do not hesitate in letting us know if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Lara Joseph/Owner of The Animal Behavior Center

When Does Training Cease?

March 29, 2014 Leave a comment

What is training anyway? Training is our primary form of communication with the animal(s) in our care. We are always training, the questions is….What are we training? If our animals can see or hear us, training is happening. When our training plans take an unexpected turn and the consequences are not what we intended, this doesn’t mean the training of the animal has ceased. Quite the contrary. If our animals are reacting or learning from our mistakes, they are learning from our lack of preparation. Once an animal learns a behavior, desired or undesired, it has experienced it. It cannot ‘un-experience’ the consequence of this interaction. The training has not stopped. The training is continuing, it is just not the training or communication we want. This is when undesired behaviors are being trained or communicated. When force is used to try to control behavior, what message are we communicating to the animal in which we are trying to build a relationship? If force is being used to communicate a message to the animal, coercion is being used. Coercion may work but not without its side effects. Coercion is “Do it or else!” Coercion has many side effects and reinforcing increased aggression from the animal is a powerful one and so is learned self helplessness. Is increase aggression what you want from your animal? Is a cowering animal what you want portrayed as your relationship with the animal in your care? When our training plans don’t have the outcomes we want, this doesn’t mean the learning from the animal has ceased. That animal is learning how to respond in future situations. As mentioned before, “What are we training?”

My blog entries can now be found on my website at: TheAnimalBehaviorCenter.Com.

If the animal is observing its environment, it is learning from its environment

The Proof Is In The Pudding

September 10, 2011 2 comments

The proof is in the pudding…about positive reinforcement training, that is. Sometimes I don’t even like to use the word ‘training’ when I’m talking about the way I interact with birds because some people tend to think ‘training’ means to teach them tricks or ‘training’ means teaching a bird to fly to you when requested. Yes, both of these examples are training but training happens each time anyone of us interacts with our bird, our dog, or our horse. We are all trainers and the importance lies in exactly what we are training the animal to do. We unknowingly train our birds to bite harder and scream louder while un-training the desirable behaviors like perching quietly and playing independently. There is always a place to begin turning these behaviors around because I know you can always teach an old dog new tricks. I know it.

A lot of times when I talk about training I will use the terms ‘positive reinforcement interactions’ because it takes the weight off the person doing the listening. By this I mean they don’t have to look at the word ‘training’ in the sense it is often perceived as I mentioned above. Positive reinforcement interactions or training is not a fad…it is a way of living and the best advice I can give anyone are a few. It takes practice and not necessarily much to see the strong results. Learn from your mistakes, is another piece of advice I give. I make mistakes every day. I’ll see a bird reacting in a way I did not see coming or find myself thinking “I pushed the bird too far’. So learn from it. Take a step back and think “What brought that on? How can I approach this differently next time?” This is also why I stay as far away from generalizing species of birds as I possibly can. By this I mean generalizing in a sense of saying “Start with a small bird or Greys are phobic.” I’ve seen dynamite come in small packages and I’ve seen the biggest of birds be the biggest chickens. See, I just generalized the chicken. 😉

Each bird is its own individual and instead of looking at “What kind of bird is it?” I say “What behavior is it that I want to work with or that I’m dealing with?” It doesn’t matter the species of bird, actually it doesn’t even matter the animal. I don’t want a parrot lunging at me any more than I want to hear an owl clack its beak at the sight of me. If I see or hear either of these happening, I always respect what the bird is saying. That lunge and that clack is a form of communication for that bird and if I ignore it, I’m interacting or training that bird to learn that it either needs to move to the next stronger line of communication like flying away from me to biting, or I’m interacting with it or training it to learn that no matter what it tries to tell me, I’m not going to listen. This approach is not going to do me any favors in trying to develop a relationship or line of trust with the bird.

I train the birds at Nature’s Nursery, a wildlife rehabilitation center near me. One day I walked in and their program pigeon and blue jay flew to me. Francis the pigeon landed on my hand and Pete the blue jay landed on my shoulder. I didn’t call them and I didn’t knowingly cue them. All I did was walk in. Someone turned and looked at me and said “Look at you. You’re just like Snow White. All the birds just come to you.” Do you know how many times I’ve thought about this statement? What that statement told me was that particular person hasn’t yet experienced the true strength in positive reinforcement interaction or training yet. I looked at her as I raised an eyebrow and thought “Hmm, should she be my next training subject?”

The reason this has gone through my mind so many times over the past year is because it lets me know how many people out there truly don’t know of the strength in this type of interaction with animals or people. (*see note at end of paragraph) These two birds didn’t just fly to me because I have this magical aura and a long blue dress and a crown. They flew to me because I’m the deliverer of positive reinforcers. I’m the communicator that respects their body language and has learned to read them and backs off when the bird tells me to back off. I try my hardest to never push a bird to the point where it has to tell me to back off with its body language. If I do, I call that a mistake and I learn from it. *To read an additional blog post I wrote in working with reinforcers with animals and with people click this link: Unknowingly Punishing Desired Behavior 

Those birds flew to me because I reward desired behaviors. I quickly identify reinforcers and then reserve them for times in which I need or want to deliver for a behavior I want to see maintain or increase. I’ve been accused of bribing birds. Hmm, when this was directed my way I thought “What did I not explain or communicate clearly to this person?” It was an opportunity I took from which to learn. We all move towards things we want or desire and away from things we don’t want or outcomes we don’t desire. The things we move towards we do so because we are reinforced for doing so. Sometimes we even move towards things we don’t like because the reinforcer outweighs the negative feelings we are given when we move towards them. For example… work. Someone who hates their job continues to go because there is a reinforcer….the paycheck. See where I’m going? Try to think of any behavior you exhibit and have their not be a reinforcer for doing it. We give behaviors because there is some type of outcome we want. That is why I always positively reinforce the behaviors of birds, other animals, and people that I want to see maintain or increase. When one of my birds or a bird in which I’m interacting with exhibits a behavior I want to see maintain or increase, you bet your bippy I’m going to reinforce that one. If it earned them a positive reinforcer (reward) this time, chances are they will see if it works again. It is my job as this type of trainer to identify the reinforcer and then use it or them sparingly to keep that behavior strong. Francis the pigeon flew to my hand so I rubbed her beak. That is one of her reinforcers. Pete flew to my shoulder so I turned my head and talked to him in a way I always talk to him. Attention from me is a reinforcer for Pete. Also, the bird is always the one that decides the reinforcer. Never us. Stick that one in your thinking cap for tonight when you are trying to sleep. 😉

I am working with a bird now that I have no clue of its history. Not a clue. I do know that the first time I raised my hand to it to step up it growled at the proximity and probably pace at which I raised my hand. Mistake…I learned from it. I should have known better than to approach an animal in the pace I did and if someone was watching me, they probably would not have thought I moved fast at all. When this bird growled at me, that could be a sign that the history and pairing of a human hand to this bird has not always been a good one. Not anymore and not in my presence. When I began working with this bird the only obvious reinforcer I could identify was food. So, in the beginning I continually paired food with the proximity of my hand. Yes, I hand delivered most of its food the first day or two. Whatever food I left behind for the bird was nutritious, but not necessarily all of the bird’s favored pieces. Those pieces remained in my hand.

I fed the bird small morsels from between my finger tips. Pairing or Conditioning….I was pairing my hand and my proximity with this bird’s obvious and highly valued reinforcers. For the first day, my only physical interaction with the bird was walking up to it and handing it a morsel of food from between my fingers. Yep, that’s a lot of getting up and feeding. The bird’s reaction to seeing me getting up became a cue that its favored food was coming. This was an enormous reinforcer for me. “It’s working and quickly!” I thought. The next day I was delivering food in an open flat hand. It saw more of my hand and continual pairing of pairing me with what the bird desires. I’m just the deliverer of the desired at this point. Soon me, and any interaction with me, I hope will be a reinforcer for this bird. That’s how it works out the majority of the time anyway.

My goal was to be able to walk up and offer my flat hand, open facing down, asking the bird to step, and have the bird step onto my hand. Through consistent pairing of rewarding behaviors I wanted to see increase, this goal was accomplished the next day. Note, that each bird is its own individual and this may take shorter or longer, pending on the bird. A few days later I felt confident in being able well read the body language of the bird when it was getting ready to fly somewhere so I started offering my hand as a form of transportation for the bird. By observing the bird for a few days, I could tell the things it liked to fly to so when I took it to where I thought it wanted to go, that line of communication and understanding became a reinforcer for the bird to continue stepping on my hand. Guess what? No food involved here! Delivering the bird to its desired destination was the reinforcer and it is strong because I consistently paired myself with it. I can now walk by this bird in close proximity at a normal pace without hearing a growl. The bird is now scale trained, flies to areas on cue, steps on my hand 98% of the time when asked (I made a mistake the other day or it would be 100%, I learned from it), and is being recall trained with great success.

In closing, I want to relate quickly to how positive reinforcement interaction or training works on all or most living things. I have yet to meet a bird that did or does something for no reason. Over the past few days my neighbor has hired a man to work on the outside of her house and her lawn. She just left an hour ago. She told him she was leaving and he said he would stay until five and he would see her tomorrow. The progress in these last two hours of the day may very well be her reinforcer for continuing to hire him to come back. The reason I say “may” is because tomorrow isn’t here yet. I’m assuming he will continue to earn her trust in him by showing that work is being done while she is not home. His reinforcer for coming back tomorrow will be his paycheck.

The worker enjoys watching me train birds in my back yard everyday and he often makes one comment a day on my interaction with the birds. Today he told me “It’s really neat to see how you interact with the birds and how they are always eager to do what you ask.” “Yea?” I said as I put my hands on my hips while turning and observing these lovely creatures all perched around the aviary. “It’s not magic.” I said as I turned back to him and smiled. No need for a crown and blue dress in this show.

Colorado Behavior, Training, & Enrichment Workshop

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Parrot Behavior, Training, & Enrichment Workshop

I so miss coming on here and posting the way I used to. I had a parent fall ill this spring and I devoted most of my attention to him and so glad I did. In all the crazy things I do, I do them because I want to and because this is the only life I’ll have on this earth and I’m not wasting it as I know I’ll never get a second chance. This is why I don’t care what the neighbors think of me when I run through the aviary screaming happily running right along side of my birds as they fly, hop, or run. I love sharing time with my family, my friends, and the animals under my care. So, I pretty much took the summer off and spent it with one of the people who raised me. The rest of the time I spent with my birds watching them enjoy life.

So here I am. I’m back and hitting the pavement hard yet once again. Many, many new avian things on the horizon and all focused on benefitting them and the avian community. I’m training new birds, my own birds, banding birds, writing more about bird behavior, training and enrichment, designing new workshops, booking into 2012, and just ordered a bird of prey enclosure to post everyday training progress with birds of prey that I train for Nature’s Nursery. I’ve designed a new Facebook page, in addition to the current one I have. The new one is called “Lara Joseph: Avian Behavior, Training, and Enrichment. On this new page I go more into detail with photos, videos, behavior, and training. I have a couple of other trainers on that page which we start open conversations on topics. Feel free to drop in and take a look. You have to click on the “Like” button to view the content of the page: Lara Joseph: Avian Behavior, Training, & Enrichment.

Coming up here in about three weeks I am heading to Colorado to give a two-day Parrot Behavior, Training, & Enrichment Workshop. Both days will be packed with information and I’ve already started working on the presentation and loading new content. I always re-design each talk and never give the same talk twice. It makes for a lot of work, but my education and experience continually change, why wouldn’t my presentations? My education changes through experience and continual learning. At this workshop I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces and can’t wait to meet the new. What a great network of friends and professional alliances I make with each venture. That is one more thing in life I will never take for granted. I hope to see you in Colorado in a few weeks: Colorado Parrot Behavior, Training, & Enrichment Workshop.

Got A Question?


This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for quite a while. For several years I’ve been addressing questions on-line. I love it! The busier I get, the more questions I get. The more questions I get, the more I have found that I’m running out of time in a day. So I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t want to cut off answering questions that are being asked. I’ve tried to find the most functional way to address questions on behavior, training, and enrichment in any spare time I have.

I’m going to give this a shot and hope it works for many. I think it would be a great way for people to ask questions, read responses, and learn from each other and each response. I always learn from each interaction I have with a bird or other animal, and each interaction a person is having with their bird.

Click on the photo above to get the details in submitting a question. I am really looking forward to this.

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