As we all already know, learning is just as important to our pets as having a cozy corner, good food, affection, and exercise.
Training – based on positive reinforcement – is an integral part of my daily life with my animals and those of my clients. I don’t want my training to be something I do to animals, I want to train with animals.
Ken Ramirez rightly reminds us that training is not a luxury but an essential part of good care provided to our animals. Training is therefore of paramount importance on a daily basis because it brings, among other things, enrichment, as well as mental and physical stimulation to the animal.
The word “training” encompasses a variety of learning experiences all of which have value. Each training session improves our relationship with our animals because it allows us to have a two-way communication, to « talk » adequately to our learners, without force, without punishment and above all, by offering the animal as much choice and control as possible.
Objective #1) Teach the children! They are the guarantors of tomorrow’s animal welfare!
When possible, I love to include children from families I visit as part of my work as a behavior consultant because I am convinced that they are the guarantors of tomorrow’s animal welfare. Hugo is a young boy passionate about parrots but who could not approach his companions unless he was bitten. We set up a simple target training, with a stick. This allowed Hugo to learn to respect the personal space of his birds, to put a lot of money in his trust account (CLICK HERE to see an article from Susan Friedman & Steve Martin on trust accounts) and subsequently, to teach them to station. Doing this allowed him to enter the aviary with his feathered friends and to start training other behaviors.
Objective #2) Most positive, less intrusive! We can do so much without ever having to even touch our learners
We often think that teaching a parrot to step-up on our hands or arms is essential and that it should be the very first training to implement when adopting a parrot. However, we can teach our parrots great behaviors without even touching them and thanks to offering them this respect it can help develop a strong relationship.
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Training can also replace unwanted behavior – the animal cannot emit a behavior we might label as undesirable and at the same time perform a desirable behavior during a training session. In addition, thanks to training, we can let our animal know which behavior is the most “profitable” for them. Training can also teach our pets to participate in their own care – Working in a force free way allows us to employ, advocate and always promote practices that protect the physical and emotional well-being of our animals (with all species).
Objective #3) Use curiosity & creativity to facilitate even greater choice for our animals (Grisha)
I have spent most of my last training sessions wondering how to increase the notion of choice for animals under my care. Grisha is one of my client’s macaw that I train. She voluntarily steps-up on me & has a very good recall. We also worked together on a lot of useful behaviors, such as taking medication or going into her transport crate voluntarily. But Grisha could never be touched (never wanted to be touched). It would turn out to be a very big problem if she needed special care.
So I decided to work on a whole new behavior with her. I chose to work with a head target. Positioning her head in my hand will become a form of consent to be touched while removing the head will indicate a “no thanks”. I have the opportunity to work with Grisha once a week and our sessions last between 3 and 5 minutes on average. This is our ninth session ⬇️ – 9 sessions of about 5 minutes, this means that after only 45 minutes of training, I am now able to touch Grisha’s keel, touch her paws, her wing and even her face.
Objective #4) Use curiosity & creativity to facilitate even greater consent for our animals (Luna)
Luna is my blue & gold macaw. I touch her all over her body, we’ve been training for years together in cooperative care, she’s used to learning new behaviors and I think we can tell she trusts me. So I could have told myself that in order to put drops in her nose I could have “simply” grabbed her and put them inside her nostril (drops in the nose are a fairly common treatment in parrots). But I want to always differentiate between “my parrot accepts to …” and “my parrot decides to …”.
The purpose of this new training is to optimize Luna’s consent before any intervention and to promote our success in case of a “serious need”. I don’t want her to accept that I touch her no matter the costs. I want to give her as much power as possible. Here, I consider that Luna gives me her consent to be touched when she passes her upper mandible in a dial hole. By withdrawing her beak, she withdraws her consent and, as a consequence, I withdraw my hands immediately. The structure was designed so that Luna can perch there comfortably and that she can pass her beak in one of the three holes scattered on the dial. Three holes to give her more choice, more movement. I always try to make sure that Luna wants to do this training with me. She systematically has the opportunity to obtain a reinforcer (usually the same) by:
- Passing her beak in the hole furthest from me on the dial (in which case, I do not touch her but she is still rewarded)
- Reaching out and climbing on my hand (this is a signal for me to stop the session)
- Flying on the perch just behind her and enjoying the food scattered in foraging
At 1:25, on this video, I release the first “real” nose drops. This session is not perfect but I still love it because we can observe what can be considered “a mistake” or “a failure” and how Luna and I work after a “bad behavior”.
Objective #5) Have fun!
Of course, training to voluntarily cut or file the claws, to come back to the recall or to enter voluntarily in a transport crate is of capital importance, but that does not mean that it is necessary to deprive ourself and our animals to learn behaviors that are apparently less useful. Training also allows us to spend quality time, a moment of harmony, with our animal and to smile! Whether by shaping, luring or like in the example below ⬇️ by capturing a behavior.
To capture this behavior, I took a few simple steps:
- Identify the behavior you want to capture, the place and / or time where it occurs most often
- Choose what will be the cue for this behavior (here it is to sneeze myself)
- Mark and reinforce the behavior as soon as it appears spontaneously
- Integrate the cue while the behavior was occurring
- Integrate the cue before the behavior occurs
- Mark and reinforce the behavior only when the cue is presented
- Integrate the behavior into the midst of other fluent behaviors
(“A tes souhaits” means “bless you” and it is the reinforcer for this behavior)
Whether it is to work on the natural behaviors of our animal, on cooperative care or on tricks behaviors, good training, based on positive reinforcement, is never useless. I hope you have find some inspiration in the videos shown.
With that, ciao-ciao!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR – ATA member Lisa Longo
Lisa Longo is a french animal behavior consultant, & founder of Animal Académie. After adopting her first parrot in 2011, she began to learn about ABA. She took the Leaving & Learning with Animals and Living & Learning with Parrots courses, offered by Dr. Susan Friedman. Wanting to improve her technique, she also attended the professional workshops at the Natural Encounters Center, alongside Steve Martin in Florida, USA.
Lisa is also a Certified Professional Bird Trainer and her particular passion for parrots led her to publish a book called « Guide du perroquet de compagnie » (pet’s parrot guide). Lisa is also an animal trainer “Fear Free Certified Professional”. She has a commitment to use, recommend and always promote practices that protect the physical AND emotional well-being of her pets and those of her clients, (with all species). Her thirst for knowledge and her desire to always offer the best advices and services to her clients and students keep her in constant learning. She shares her house with a Czechoslovakian wolf dog, a red-lored Amazon, a blue & gold macaw and a Gottingen pig.