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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?

January 30, 2015 1 comment

Training is the best form of communication we have with our animals. If an animal is still observing or hearing elements in its environment, training is still happening. Do you understand what you are training?

Training is the best form of communication we have with our animals. If an animal is still observing or hearing elements in its environment, training is still happening. Do you understand what you are training?

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?”

For more information visit TheAnimalBehaviorCenter.com.

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.

Question on behavior . . . Cockatoo wants to be on us at all times!

May 11, 2011 5 comments

This is something new I’ve added to my website and wanted to share it here on my blog. I receive many questions weekly on behavior, training, or enrichment. I have decided to create a page on my website where I can share the question and the advice I give in hopes that it may help other viewers having similar situations.

If you are interested in asking a question, feel free to submit the question here: http://www.larajoseph.com/LaraJoseph/Question.html

Here is this weeks question and answer.

Dear Lara,

We have had our cockatoo, Shayna ever since she was a hand fed baby, 22 years ago. She is the most loving parrot and loves both my husband and myself. She prefers my husband when we are both with her.

Our problem is that she wants our attention constantly, and will NOT stay on her playground. She is always coming down to be with us and climbing up on us! I have tried repeatedly, putting her back and saying authoritatively “stay”…. to no avail. I end up just putting her back in her cage.

It would be so wonderful if sometimes she could just enjoy being OUT of her cage NEAR us, not ON us. I understand your philosophy about reinforcing bad behavior, and I think that we are “punishing” her undesired behavior by returning her to her cage, not reinforcing it. What are we doing wrong and how can we change it? Thank you so much for your advice. I look forward to your newsletters and now am looking forward to your blog.

                                                         Blanche

Hi Blanche.

Please don’t feel you are alone on this. This is a problem or concern I hear in many households.

Before I go any further, I want to commend you and your husband for your commitment to your life and responsibility in living with Shayna.

Rewarding the bird for the behaviors you want to see increase. In this photo is Rico, my cockatoo stationing on a boing next to the kitchen.

I wish it were more common to hear of a 22-year-old bird still living in its original household. Your dedication is already obvious. You have identified what Shayna wants or desires….you and your husband’s attention. You can both use this to your benefit. Give this to her when she’s showing behaviors you want to see increase. This is a loaded recommendation and you’ll need to start with rewarding small approximations toward the desired behavior. The desired behavior, also called the target behavior, is the behavior you want to see increase in Shayna. This will require you and your husband to watch for the desired or target behavior and be consistent in delivering the reward or positive reinforcer. Keep in mind that the reward or positive reinforcer is always decided by Shayna. Many times I see people trying to reward a desired behavior when the bird has absolutely no interest in what the caretaker is trying to deliver. If the bird doesn’t accept it, it isn’t of value to the bird.

I would suggest beginning by watching for when Shayna is performing behaviors you want to see increase, such as playing independently on her play-gym contently and by herself. Deliver a reward or positive reinforcer to her at this time. If it is your attention, you or your husband may want to go up and tell her what a good girl she is being and give her a scratch on the back of the neck or a kiss on her head. You may question me and say “Well, if she’s playing there quietly and I give her attention, won’t this divert her attention and make her want to come and play with me instead?”. My reply is, “Yes, it may very well cause her to want to be with you instead of continuing to play independently.” You could do one of two things in this instance. You could ignore her when she begins walking toward you or calling for you and wait for her to go back over and start playing with her toy. When she does this though, you have to make sure you go back and reward or deliver her positive reinforcer. If that reward or positive reinforcer is your attention, you will want to make sure you deliver it as consistently as possible while trying to train this behavior of her playing independently.

Another option and one that can be done simultaneously with the one above is build your list of reinforcers. A reinforcer is an event (a sound, action, object, etc) that is delivered after a behavior that maintains or increases the rate of that behavior. Positive reinforcers are reinforcers that are added to the environment after a behavior that cause those behaviors to maintain or increase. Positive reinforcers are also called rewards and as I had stated previously, these are always decided by the bird. I would suggest to start paying close attention and documenting all of Shayna’s positive reinforcers. You have already identified she likes you and your husband’s attention. Bingo, there is one positive reinforcer identified. Start searching for her favored food treats. Does she like almonds? If not search for more. If so, start conserving the delivery of these favored foods. Make sure these favored foods aren’t a main staple of nutrition in her diet. I say this because I am going to suggest you not deliver her favored treats unless and only unless she gives you a behavior you want to see maintain or increase.

For example, your husband walks in the door and head’s to the refrigerator to get a snack. Shayna remains on her play gym watching your husband but still interacting with her toy. Before Shayna has the opportunity to drop that toy and start heading down her play gym to run to your husband, tell her “Good Girl Shayna” and go and deliver an almond or a part of an almond. Be consistent with this Blanche. Shayna is soon going to start wondering what it was that earned her that valued reward. Watch for the next opportunity when Shayna is doing anything else you would like to see increase such as singing or dancing. If you catch her singing or dancing, immediately reward her. You will have to identify what her reinforcer is at that time. Is your attention of high value to her at that moment or is the almond of higher value to her? Figure out which one it is and deliver it to her. Once you begin doing all of these consistently, Shayna’s going to start giving you behaviors that she thinks will earn her your attention or that almond.

Identifying and building lists of positive reinforcers, whether food or a scratch, comes in very handy when looking for ways to reward requested behaviors.

Keep looking for even more positive reinforcers and start saving them and delivering them only at times you see Shayna showing behaviors you want to see increase. When you deliver these positive reinforcers or rewards sparingly, they will become of higher value to Shayna. This will cause Shayna to start paying attention to what exactly it is that she is doing that caused her to receive that reward. As long as that reward is of value to Shayna, she’ll start doing more of what it was that earned it.

If Shayna gets more of your’s and your husband’s attention when she’s on her play gym than when she’s on your shoulder, you will see the behavior of her staying on a particular play gym more. If she is on your shoulder and you are leaning over and kissing her and talking to her or trying to adjust where she is, she’s receiving a lot of your attention there. Why wouldn’t she want to be there?

I have a boing that hangs at the kitchen’s edge. Rico flies to it when he wants my attention. I make sure I deliver my attention when he flies there. If I have identified his positive reinforcer correctly, he will continue to stay there as long as that is where I deliver it. If he flies to my shoulder, I need to make sure I don’t deliver his positive reinforcer. If that means me not talking to him, I don’t talk to him. If that means me stopping doing whatever it is that I am doing, then I stop. If Rico finds that he’s not receiving any reward or positive reinforcer, more than likely he will fly to where he needs to go to in order to get it. What I usually see is Rico flying back to his boing. As soon as he lands I tell him “Good Boy Rico!” and go and deliver his positive reinforcers. For him, sometimes it is my attention, a small treat, or some belly kisses. I’ll see him sit there a little longer waiting for it. Before I he has the opportunity to fly back to me, I better hurry and deliver it again. I continue to do this all the while increasing the amount of time between each delivery and varying the positive reinforcers. I’ll wait 10 seconds and then tell him “Good” and then go and give him a quick kiss on the top of his head. I’ll go back to what I was doing and wait 15 seconds and tell him “Good” and go and deliver a pine nut. I’ll then see if I can wait 25 seconds. If he waits, I deliver the reinforcer. If he doesn’t and he flies to me, I have taken to big of a step and need to back up to maybe 20 seconds and deliver the positive reinforcer there. In the meantime, I’m still not delivering it when he flies to me, not if I want him to remain on the boing.

Parrots are intelligent and many times like to socialize with us. There are times that I do sit on the couch and hang out with one of my birds on my lap for a long period of time. If I see undesired behaviors increase, such as screaming when I walk out of their sight or when they aren’t on me, I recognize that behavior issues are starting to develop and I may go back and take my own advice that I have given you above.

Providing an enriched environment or numerous environments is another  way in creating more independency in Shayna. Keeping these

A separate area, such as a bird room can help provide additional areas for birds to play independently. Do you see the two cockatoos?

environments changing such as different locations or changing in new toys may help immensely. As many people already know, I am a huge fan of providing toys and opportunities for our birds to forage, Blanche. Foraging is the act of searching for food. There are plenty of toys out there and plenty of ways to make our own foraging toys for our birds. If Shayna is spending her time manipulating a toy or object while tryingto retrieve her almond, that is time she is not spending hanging out on you or your husband. When you see her foraging, you can walk by her and give her a kiss on her head. 😉

Video of Rocky, my Moluccan Cockatoo stepping up on his play station in order to receive the head scratch, which is one of his favored positive reinforcers. The hand signal I give him is a common cue used in letting him know a head scratch is coming if he gives me the behavior in which I’m requesting. He doesn’t react to the cue so you’ll see me nuzzle him in the neck with my nose. I often do this when I pet him and he associates that with being petted. You’ll see he then quickly recognizes what I’m asking and what he’ll receive in return if he gives the requested behavior.



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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