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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.

- 40% mechanical skill: as always highlights one of the greatest exponents of animal training, Bob Bailey, "Training is a mechanical skill." Indeed, optimizing the use of the clicker (making it sound at the exact instant when the behavior we want to stress occurs), being consistent in our reps, choosing the proper reinforcement, etc.. are all mechanical skills of decisive influence on the outcome of our training, and as such, are learned and perfected with time and consistency.

- 10% art: although I prefer to call "feeling" to know, for example, when we are running too fast with an animal or when we can run more, to what extent we can go to raise the succesive responses by shaping, when an individual shows signs of frustration or when it is highly motivated, etc..
This aspect of training also improves with practice, but it requires a dose of empathy with our pet that can not be taught.

In short, and although many people consider that training is an art, I rather think it is primarily a science that requires the application of certain technical and mechanical skills, appropriate to each case, and seasoned with some empathy with the subject we're training.
Accordingly, and consistent with this "scientific" approach, is highly recommended that we take a "training log" to score the advances and setbacks that we obtain, as detailed as possible, as these observations will provide us, afterwards, with valuable information to analyze the behavior of our parrot. Also, writing this diary is more likely that we take a serious and rigorous approach to the training of our pet.

So, please bring pen and paper because in my next entry I will begin to explain the steps of the general plan I have outlined, and we will design a particular plan.


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