Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Breathtaking Breakthrough

Achilles and I just completed another day of glorious training, everything went well and without a hitch. And the breakthrough that really made it for us was changing how I acted when training her. Let me explain.

Achilles and I have been working quite diligently on training for her to wear a harness with the least amount of stress involved. The original idea was to go at her own pace, and remove the harness whenever she showed signs of struggling. Well that idea worked for getting her to wear the harness, but the quality of her effort wasn't something to crow about. Every time she wore the harness she would squat down in one spot and not move, or at least move very little. She would only wear the harness for the minimum amount of time required  before she would demand for the harness to come off of her (giving minimum effort is a sign that Negative Reinforcement is being used somewhere).

You see, the harness, even when I was pairing good treats with it, was still acting as a Negative Reinforcer. She still could not wait to get the harness off and when she told me to take it off I did so because that is what good trainers do. But by taking the harness off I was reinforcing the idea that taking it off is something good! I don't want that, instead I want her to think that having the harness on is good! So how was I going to fix this messy, self-defeating situation? Here is what I figured out.

I made three new training rules:

  1. I will do my best to prevent you feeling uncomfortable wearing the harness. I will not push you past your threshold. 
  2. In order to prevent you feeling uncomfortable I will remove the harness before you show me you are uncomfortable and then I will reward you with a treat.

  • If I accidentally DO push you past your comfort threshold I will take the harness off. But no other reward will follow.

  • The results of these new rules? There are now almost no signs given by her that she is uncomfortable and wants the harness off. She now stands up strait, walks around, waves her foot, and sits with the harness on comfortably for a long, long time. Give a bird the ability to choose and they will flourish!

    Rule number 2 is what really cleaned up Achilles's act. My best guess in why this worked is because I trained her to expect a treat when I removed her harness, before she wanted it off. After that -if I ever pushed her past her comfort threshold- I would not give her a treat. This is called Negative Punishment which involves me taking away the seed reward in order to reduce the behavior of her wanting the harness off. BUT this only applies when I accidentally push her past her comfort threshold. So conditions apply, but these conditions are the ones that she can control herself.

    So, today I am proud because, even though it's been two days since out last training session, and I filled her cage with every goody in the world (including her training treats) she is still eager to come out and learn new behaviors with me at 7:00 at night. Which is usually her bedtime.

    Sweet dreams!

    Copyright 2011 Caitlin Bird
    The Sequential Psittacine Blog
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