Posts Tagged ‘parrot’

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.


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. ūüėČ Happy Living! Happy Training!


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.


Lara Joseph/Owner of The Animal Behavior Center

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.

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.

A Foraging Idea

December 11, 2011 2 comments

Levels of complexity can come in where the ball is hung and if the ball is presented with a chain at all.

Living with five parrots, training one owl several times a day, and focusing on behavior, training, and enrichment with several other species of birds, my mind is always thinking about ways to enrich environments. Enrichment is so important, first and foremost because when given at an appropriate level for each individual bird, one can see the positive effects it can have on well-being and behavior.

If a species of bird will forage, I will try to implement it into their environment. If it doesn’t, I will try to help teach it. I make and sell a lot of my own enrichment devices, but not all the time. I keep my mind and eyes open at all times looking for enrichment possibilities for birds. Today I posted one on my website under “Do-It-Yourself” enrichment toys in the Enrichment section. This is one that has been a big hit in my house and outside of the house for several years.

Without getting into too much detail since it is all on my website, this toy can be a big hit with several species of birds such as parrots, corvids, and even vultures. This foraging toy can be altered in many different ways to make it look like something that may be encountered in the wild. Imagination is a great gift. This particular toy is popular with all of my parrots, a turkey vulture, and probably many caching species, and beyond. This toy can be given as a positive reinforcer for desired behaviors, and can also be given to reinforce an alternate behaviors. Come and take a look at The Rubber Ball Forager.  

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. ūüėČ

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. ūüėČ

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.

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