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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!

My Reinforcer For Training

November 1, 2014 1 comment

Milo stationing on his bucket

Milo stationing on his bucket

I was recently given the opportunity to give an extremely brief presentation on the type of work I do. It was optional for me to bring an animal. Of course I chose to do so. It’s one thing to talk about the work I do, and it’s another and so powerful to see the work in action. I chose to take Milo, the micro-mini pig that comes here to the Center for training.

Milo has only been in one presentation I have given and that was about a month ago to a group of sixty people and that was here at the Center. Milo is very familiar with everything here at the Center. Before this presentation on Tuesday night, Milo has never been in a presentation off-site. The pressure was on. Well, it was on for me and I did my hardest to make sure any nervousness was not transferred through me to Milo.

The night before the presentation I began our training. We tried a few different things. Some behaviors were taking more time to train than I had. We settled on a few behaviors and practiced them, their sequence, and what I was going to say the day of the presentation.

That evening we were on. The event was in a hotel conference room. I brought Milo into the hotel and practiced a few behaviors in the hallway prior to the event. He was hesitant on one of the behaviors and then I observed him stop giving another I had trained. Not what I wanted to see but more important, I didn’t want to push him past his comfort level. It wasn’t worth it and I definitely didn’t want that feeling paired with his first presentation.

A few minutes before our presentation we practiced again before we walked in. He was spot on. The doors opened and I asked Milo to step up and in my arms he went while I carried him in the conference room. I gave my presentation fairly smoothly and the best part of all, Milo did every behavior I requested of him without hesitation. I was so proud of him and I was extremely happy as I thanked everyone and walked off the stage with Milo. When I walked out of the conference room, I was on cloud nine. This was a new environment for him and this was a group of people I was nervous about presenting. Milo and I were a team on that stage. He complemented me and hopefully he found that I complemented him. We won the competition that evening.

An hour later we were in the car and on our way home. His crate was right behind the driver’s seat. He was grunting his comfort grunts. I laughed and glanced back at him. His head was poking out of his blanket and looking at me. I put my fingers in his crate as I drove and he rested his head in my hand. What an award that was to me. No competition could give me a better prize than that.

I walked him in the house and he followed willingly and without hesitation. That night I chose to pick him up and set him on

A thank you to those that were there supporting Milo and I.

A thank you to those that were there supporting Milo and I.

my chest as I lied on the couch. His feet tucked under his tiny body and that is where he fell asleep. What a connection we made with each other that evening. That is the connection made through the type of training I do and behavior I study. Whether we won the competition that night or not, I won regardless. Thank you Milo. Thank you for that experience.

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