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Feb 7, 2013

Visualizing. Targeting

Today we begin to develop our first training plan, explaining the different steps of the overall plan that I described, employing as example a key behavior such as "targeting”.

Thus, following the general scheme, today we explain the first step:

Visualizing and describing of the behavior we want to get.

First, we must have a very clear idea of what we want to teach our parrot. It´s not enough to think "I want Rufo to open his wings on my cue," but you have to be very specific about the definitive behavior you want to get, for example "I want Rufo, when hearing my cue " eagle ", to open both wings and fully lift them high and stay in that position for at least 10 seconds."

Jan 21, 2013

I have a plan

Before training a certain behavior, you should design a training plan that will follow this general scheme.

- Visualize and describe the final behaviour you want to get.
- Capture a behavior.
- Reinforce the behavior.
- Shape the behavior according to desired criteria.
- Assign a cue to perform the behavior.
- Strengthen (proof) it by adding distractions.

In my opinion, animal training consists of three main ingredients, but their proportions depend on the approach that everyone seeks. To me, they are as follows:

- 50% science: concepts such as "positive reinforcement", "Premack´s Principle", "applied behavior analysis", "extinction burst", "behavioral momentum", "schedules of reinforcements", etc.. are all terms with which science defines and describes various situations that have been studied under its rigorous prism, and which has empirically been shown to work when applied correctly. In my opinion, the more importance we grant to scientific techniques, the less chances for improvisation, which will lead to greater understanding and confidence in our work. This is why in this blog , as I said at my welcome entry, I will always try to expose scientific concepts that explain many of the behaviors of our animals.

Jan 19, 2013

Premack´s Principle (AKA "Finish your vegetables and I´ll give you an ice cream")

First of all, let me apologize for not having updated this blog as soon as I would have wanted.

Today I will talk about a very useful principle in the field of behavior and learning, of application, as usual, in animals of any species, including humans, dogs, dolphins and of course, parrots.

American psychologist David Premack (1925) enunciated, after various experiments with rats and apes, that "
high-probability behaviors (those performed frequently under conditions of free choice) can be used to reinforce low-probability behaviors " thus leading to Premack´s Principle, of paramount importance in animal training and of application, for example, in advanced techniques such as back-chaining. Another way of looking at it, is understanding that reinforcements might be food, form example, or a behavior itself (if it is perceived as something nice, such as playing).

Jan 2, 2013

Click Click... Clicker

Click what…? A clicker is, nothing more and nothing less, a tool used to train all kinds of animals, improving our communication with them. It is not a magic wand that will get our parrots play basketball or sing carols. It is just a tool and as such we must learn to use it and know how it works. We could simply click with our tongue, or use a light flash, a distinct sound ... not necessarily a clicker, but it is important that the tool we use is capable of deliver always the same signal, which, coupled with its small size, low price and ease acquisition (in any pet shop you will find it) make this little gadget a very effective tool.
                                                   Ilustration by Kevin Brockbank

Dec 14, 2012

Rufo introduces itself... dancing!

As indicated in the heading of this blog, I intend to join theory and practice of training techniques to help improve the relationship with our pets. So, today I turn aside theory and show you a couple of videos with examples of what can be achieved by applying the techniques I intend to explain in this blog.

Personally, I think talking is the silliest thing our animals can do, but it is undeniably a striking and distinctive quality, and probably the one that has brought more people closer to parrots, so in this first video, I discuss briefly some tips to make our parrots learn to talk in context. You may have to excuse me but it is recorded in Spanish (I promise to make future recordings in English too).
Briefly, what I am explaining in the video is that I tend to repeat the question and answer several times during a week or so, trying to make it funny (watch your voice pitch), and repeating it only 5 o 6 times in a row (more  is not necessary and is boring for both). Then, during a normal training session (lets say we are training the retrieve, for example), we throw only the question and see if the animal responds with the answer (in that case, click, treat and lots of praise) or he doesn’t (in this scenario, juts keep on training the retrieve and, afterwards, keep repeating answer&question some more days and try again). Soon I will stop to explain the different techniques we can use to encourage this type of contextual vocalizations.

Dec 13, 2012


The consequence obtained by an animal immediately after a behavior is performed, is called "reinforcement" if it causes the behavior to recur with greater frequency or intensity, and "punishment" if it causes it to decrease in frequency or intensity.

Also, as we have said on other occasions, that reinforcement will be "positive" if it involves the addition of a stimulus and "negative" if it involves its removal.

The most effective procedure to modify behavior is based on positive reinforcement, as generally the subject will be willing to work hard to get that reinforcement, whereas to avoid a negative reinforcement is usually applied the "law of least effort" to escape stimulus that produces aversion (plus it has been proved that the use of these measures increase aggression and apathy (Azrin & Holtz, 1966).

Dec 12, 2012

Operant Conditioning

Developed by B.F. Skinner, it is a learning method (understood as "behavior modification based on experience") supported on the relationship between a given behavior and its consequence, so that the subject can voluntarily decide what behavior develop (operate) based on the result that it will report him.
This approach based on the consequence we obtain exists in all animals, including humans, and is governed by the following premise:

- One consequence perceived as positive after a particular behaviour is given, will cause that behavior to recur more often or  with more intensity (increase);

- One consequence perceived as negative after a given behaviour, will cause that behaviour to recur with less frequency or with less intensity, even extinct (decrease).