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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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A “Bird Attacking” Question

August 21, 2012 5 comments

Watching for subtle signs in body language such as the raised head feathers shown in this photos of Suki, the blue-fronted amazon.

Question: Hi Lara!  I have a bird “attacking” question.

I’ve had my Amazon since she was only a few months old.  I did have a couple of biting instances with friends and kids, so I’m pretty much the only one who handles her now.  In the last few months the problem has gotten much worse.

She’s fully flighted.  26 months old.  I do not seek out interaction with her – at least not interaction where I am holding her.  But she flies at my face constantly, lands in my hair and attacks my ears.  She also attacks my hands repeatedly.  This is not nipping.  This is grabbing my fingers in her beak and grinding to the bone.  And this has become EVERY interaction.  I have a house full of other parrots and dogs and I spend 98% of my time trying to deal with this bird.

I’ve taken a behavior analysis parrot class.  Studied all the ABA papers.  I don’t  use any kind of punishment , I don’t force her into anything (well, only if she’s got me to the bone, and then it’s only prying her beak off of me). All of her physical interactions with me are because she flies to me.  Her diet is well rounded (chop, Harrison’s pellets).  Her meds check out fine with the vet.  When I train her with positive reinforcement, she actually gets more aggressive (tail fanning, eye pinning and snapping).  She’s also impossible to motivate unless it’s something she REALLY shouldn’t have like butter or meat.  I can spend a great time with her, working on staying on the hand without biting, doing something OTHER than biting like holding a toy or keeping the head up.  Nope.  She nails my hand over and over again.

By the way, she does also express breeding behavior with me.  Wings down, panting, regurgitating.  I don’t encourage it, but it’s hard to get her off me at times and since there’s always a huge bit involved, I’m gun shy.

I’ve done everything.  I’ve tried to be quiet and calm.  I’ve tried to be peppy and upbeat.  Everything seems to upset her.

I’ve asked for help – but am shamed by the behaviorists who tell me that “I’ve created the problem.”  It’s humiliating when I’m trying to do everything to save this bird.  I’ve always wanted to be part of the parrot solution, not the problem.  I have excellent relationships with my other birds (even hard cases from rescues).  I really don’t want to give her up since I’m afraid she’ll be passed from home to home, but I don’t know what to do and my hands are sore and bleeding constantly.  I need to give some attention to the other animals in my home.  I need to read a book or watch TV without being attacked.

I’m tired of crying my eyes out.  I’ve spent thousands of dollars on behavior classes and books and everything I do seems to make matters worse. I need solutions, and fast because I’m running out of options.  😦

Thanks, Julia

Answer:

Hi Julia.

So many areas to begin but first I want to commend you for seeking help. Your determination is obvious and I admire your dedication and persistence in working with your amazon. You definitely have a serious situation and let me see if I can offer a few different things that may help.

I am sorry to hear that anyone in the field of giving behavior advice has shamed you for or about seeking help. I’m glad their intention has not worked because what does this solve? Our goal as behavior analysts and modifiers should be focused on the best for the bird and their caretaker and giving the help needed to help create a stronger relationship so the bird keeps it’s home and the family can live happily as a whole.

Let me start with body language. You may already know your amazon’s body language well, but I would encourage you to look more

Watch what your birds eats from its food dish first. Those are potential valuable reinforcers that could be delivered throughout the day to reward behaviors you want to see increase.

intently at it. Body language can be so subtle but it is one of our (as owners/caretakers) biggest clues as to what the bird is trying to tell us. Julia, when I first meet a bird and before I begin interacting with it, I watch it. I observe how it’s body language changes as it interacts or observes its immediate environment. What does the bird look like when a loud sound startles it? How does that bird react when someone stops near its cage or playstand? What does the feather placement look like when it is preening, sleeping, or relaxing? What does the feather placement look like when it is not relaxed? I need to learn as much as I can about the bird’s body language because I am more than likely getting ready to interact with it.

I also sit back and observe what the bird’s body language looks like when it is interested in something or what the body language

looks like when it seems to be enjoying what it is interacting with. I look at all of this as a form of communication from the bird to myself and how I respond to that body language is a form of communication to the bird.

I pair learning the bird’s body language with use of the bird’s reinforcers. If the bird walks to his food dish I try to look to see what it first picks out of the food dish. Was it corn? Was it a nut? Or was it to make one swipe of its beak and push the majority of its food to the cage grate? Each of these three items are very important and we can learn from each of them. If the bird first goes for the corn, guess what the bird doesn’t get in his food bowl tomorrow morning? Yeah, corn! If that corn is valued by the bird, it is going to be of more value to the bird if it hasn’t had any in several hours.

The sound of your voice, the tone of your voice, or how enthusiastically you deliver attention can be a very effective reinforcer for behavior. Photo courtesy of Viki Bullock.

As you have learned from taking the classes you have, reinforcers can be more than just food. One of my bird’s most delivered positive reinforcers from me is my voice. Actually it is more than just my voice. It is my tone of voice and the variance in how I use it when interacting with my birds from different rooms. I’m mentioning this because our interaction with birds and beginning to rebuild that relationship with our bird does not have to be ‘hand’s-on’ in the beginning. I am suggesting this is one of the approaches you take with your bird. When your bird makes a cute noise, respond to it vocally. You don’t have to get up. You don’t have to walk over to the bird’s cage. Just repeat the cute sound and watch how your bird reacts to it. When it does it again, repeat it. How does he react to it? Does he react to it? Try it again. If he begins to react to it and repeat the noise, guess what? That noise is being reinforced and if your bird keeps doing it, he might be enjoying this ‘hand’s-off’ communication and interaction with you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t touch your bird again. This just starts paving a new form of communication between you and your bird. Touching and physically interacting with the bird needs to be re-shaped as I explain below.

Remember that corn or that nut that he first ate from the food dish? Begin incorporating that by pairing it with yourself. Keep those favored foods and ration them out throughout the day and incorporate them into your training plan everyday. What I mean by this is, when you need to walk into the room, or by the cage, set a piece of corn (or whatever the favored food item is) on the cage, the furthest distance between you and your bird or at a distance where the bird’s body language remains calm. You don’t want to push this area of comfort to where the feathers raise on the back of the neck, or the eyes pin, or the feathers begin to stiffen up. Begin at a distance where you know the bird is going to stay calm and comfortable while you place the corn, nut, etc. on a cage rung and pass by. Bingo! That was a training session. Training sessions do not have to be long. Most of mine last ten seconds to a couple of minutes. The importance is not in the length of the training session but the frequency throughout the day.

Repeat the walks by the cage while pairing yourself with the bird’s favored reinforcers as long as it takes. You can feed a piece of corn

Rebecca target training Suki, the blue fronted amazon from inside the cage. She’s delivering the reinforcer between the cage bars to better learn Suki’s body language before getting her out and interacting with her by recall training her.

or a small sliver of a nut several times a day. Then take it to the next step and begin setting the food reward closer and closer. Then get to the point where you can hand it through the cage bar. The cage bars are nice and a place to really learn to see if your bird will take the food from your hands without biting you. Hold the treat far enough away that the bird can’t bite you just in case you misread the body language. You don’t want the bite to happen at all, but this is a great way to make sure you are reading body language correctly before moving to the next step. Soon, you can open the cage door and set the food reward down on the perch and then walk away. Soon handing the food to the bird inside the cage, etc.

There is more training that can happen but it could take me several pages to write. Remember, the bird is always the one that decides the reinforcer, never us. We can reserve the reinforcers and give at times of training and this is how we can make that reinforcer of higher value to the bird. Just as it is the bird that decides the reinforcer, it is also the bird that decides the aversive. An aversive is something the bird doesn’t like, as you may already know. Watch the body language and the bird is going to be the one that tells you if he or she sees something as an aversive and when he/she does, you really don’t want that paired with you if you are trying to re-build a relationship.

Julia, if you go to my youtube page (LaraJosephBirdLover) you will be able to see several videos of me working with birds that have a long history of aggressive behaviors being reinforced. Take a look at some of my training videos of me with Molly, my eclectus. Take a look at some of the videos of me working with Willy the turkey vulture. I know it’s a turkey vulture, not a parrot but the approaches in training and use of reinforcers and arranging the environment for successful outcomes is the same.

Hailey training a blue and gold macaw to touch its beak to a stick. This is also called target training and is a handy tool to use, especially working with birds who have a history of showing any signs of aggressive behaviors. This allows the trainer to request behaviors with no contact and the target can guide the bird to different areas of the cage or room.

Without turning this reply into a book, I wanted to mention target training her. Train her to touch her beak to an object on cue, such as a stick. If she doesn’t like the stick you can re-shape the behavior of her staying calm while touching her beak to a stick. You can also shape the behavior of her touching the top of her beak to the stick if she is tending to want to bite the stick and pull it in the cage. This would help not only in redirecting her attention when you think she’s getting ready to bite you, this will also help when you think she might be getting ready to drop her wings and start panting. Don’t wait until either of these behaviors happens. Ask her to target when you think the chances are high of either of these behaviors happening. And just like crate training, don’t wait to begin crate training when it’s time to go to the vet. Crate train when a vet visit isn’t even scheduled so that way when it’s time to go to the vet, the training is already set in place. Don’t wait to target train when she’s on your hand and getting ready to drop her wings. Target train her after you have already trained her to stay calm when you pass by her cage.

As far as working with reinforcers that aren’t the most nutritious for the bird, start with what works while gathering and making a list of others. Watch what she eats first out of her dish. Watch what she eats second. Pull those and reserve those for reinforcing throughout the day. Mix those in with what already works while slowly weeding out the not-so-nutritious.

Once again, I want to commend you for all of the steps you have taken so far to attempt to make a difference with your amazon. I understand your pain, frustration, and this emotional roller-coaster ride. I know that first hand. You, and situations like yours, are the reinforcers behind why I continue to do what I do.

Before I bring this post to a close, you may want to join me on my Avian Behavior, Training, and Enrichment page on FaceBook. I try to post behavior issues, training approaches, and different videos several times a week to help people.

Sincerely,

Lara Joseph

Just some daily reflections on behavior

December 13, 2011 1 comment

So many things coming to mind that I want to sit and write about.

Re-shaping Moon to eat off the leather glove and accepting the camera in close proximity.

I’m just returning from a trip out of town that I seriously considered canceling. I considered it due to the two new birds under my immediate care, Suki the amazon and Moon the program barred owl. I considered not going because I didn’t know if it was wise to disrupt their training and pairing of life with positive reinforcement interactions at this point in training. Every day and consistently I’ve been doing my best to identify their positive reinforcers and then pulling them and using them for pairing with myself. If I were to disrupt this and other care takers feed, water, clean, etc. they could accidentally pair the opening of cage doors with aversives. Aversives are things the birds do not like and it is only the bird that decides what the aversives are. After much thought, I decided to make the trip. I needed it. We needed it. It was a pleasure trip and one taken for rest and relaxation. Ones we take less than we should.

I depended on the consistent and frequent positive reinforcement training I’ve done over the past two weeks to help in having a quick recovery when I returned. I asked the care takers to be as ‘hand’s off’ as possible for now since both bird’s training is fairly new. The caretakers were awesome and that is priceless.

When I returned, my first interaction with Moon I saw a set back in training but expected it. I just didn’t know how much to expect. Before I left, Moon was walking to the glove, stepping on it and allowing me to bring her down to eye level and take a step or two before her wanting to go back to the perch. The first night I had to re-shape her accepting the leather glove again. She clacked at it the first time I raised it to her so I dropped it behind my back and fed her from the blue glove. Within the first two-minute training session, she was back to eating off the leather glove. That was about as much as I was going to train with her the first day of returning. Do you know who gave me that advice? Moon did. I watched her body language. The shape of her eyes were slightly different. Her rictal bristles (hairy like feathers around the beak) weren’t moving in the way they were before I left. She wasn’t as quick to move towards the food as she did before I left. So I decided, before I pushed her too far and blew up my whole training session, I’d end it on a good note and step out quietly. I’m glad I did because the next day (yesterday), she was back on the glove and let me walk her in the enclosure the furthest she ever has. “Badda Bing, Badda Bang, there’s some great training happening right now!” I thought. It was like stepping back into my favorite pair of worn in shoes.

Then on to Suki, the blue-fronted amazon I took in three weeks ago for training. “This will be interesting” I thought. This was the first time she’s been caged here in my house overnight. I walked in and she seemed content on the highest perch in her cage. She seems to really enjoy Murray, my greenwinged macaw so I made sure their cages were in close proximity to each other. Murray seems to fancy her also. So I set their environment up to be as enjoyable to both while I was gone. I wanted my absence to be as stress free as possible. It seemed to have worked really well.

I just went in and opened Suki’s cage. With the flip of the metal latch, she seemed to have already learned that was her cue for some type of interaction with me. She started looking around for a way to move off of her perch. I thought “Is this good? Is this bad?” I didn’t know. I didn’t know what she was about to do. I wondered if she was looking for a way to get closer to me to get on my hand or a way to get closer to me to lunge or bite. I didn’t know. So I paid close attention to her body language and any verbalization she would give me. From working with her the past two weeks I’ve paired her trilling with things she desires and a growl with thing she doesn’t. I try not to push her to the growl, but I learn through my mistakes.

When I put my hand nearer to her I heard the trill so I moved it in all the way. She was climbing down the cage bars and reached her beak for my hand. She gently grabbed onto my hand until she could get both feet on. “Weeee, here comes the sleigh ride!” I thought with a huge smile on my face.  What joy it brings to me to see these birds just thriving in as much of a stress free environment as I can provide to them. So off we went to the kitchen with Suki on my hand. Three weeks ago she wasn’t even on my hand so you bet I was positively reinforcing the heck out of her staying on my hand as we walked to the kitchen. I offered her the kitchen counter top and that is where she stepped off and went running for the plate full of grapes.

"Come on and take a free ride!" Suki accepting 'public transportation' at the Joseph Village.

Several times this morning I saw she wanted to head different directions in the house so I offered my hand as a cue for a “free ride” and she took it. She flew to my hand and off I went heading the direction she pointed. As if the smile on my face could get any bigger as she guided me around the house. Sometimes I call her “the little blue pointer.”

I saw her eyeing the walnut jar on the counter top. Before she could fly to it, I walked over and grabbed one. It is a positive reinforcer I just identified. So I used walnut bits to positively reinforce behaviors from her that I wanted to see maintain or increase. I used them to reinforce her flying to my hand when I offered my hand. I used them to reinforce her staying on my hand, and stepping off of my hand. So instead of her standing in the corner chowing down on a whole walnut I offered her pieces of it for behaviors I was requesting. She got the walnut she desired and I got strong behaviors on cue that I need. A win win situation for both of us.

My Christmas arrived and it arrives every day that I see the level in their quality of life increase or seem comfortable for them. In a few weeks all of the green garland and glittery red lights will be taken down from my house and the houses in the neighborhood. But in the middle of the cold, gloomy days of January and February my house will still be filled bright green torpedos flying by and dazzling red wings flashing glimpses of turquoise and blue. The January freeze may be harsh on the skin while training an owl, but the warmth she gives me when perched calmly on my glove can warm any outdoor enclosure.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my avian and training friends.

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