Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who is Training Who?

This morning during our regular training routine I noticed some regression in Achilles's harness training. Suddenly she was wearing it for a shorter and shorter time span, but demanding more treats anyway! Why? Something was wrong in my training and I had to figure it out quickly before this became an obtrusive habit.

In a previous post I mentioned one of the "rules" in our training is that I would only give a seed reward to her when she looks comfortable wearing her harness before I take it off. The other rule is that if I make her uncomfortable wearing the harness the harness will come off, which for her that is a reinforcer in itself.

I quickly got myself into the habit of removing the harness as soon as she looks the most comfortable. And for her this meant that when she repositioned herself to stand up strait, -She does this during a lot of our training, especially when a heavy 'ol harness is on her, she lays herself horizontal to her perch.- I would remove the harness and then give her an additional treat in the hopes of replacing the Negative Reinforcement of the harness with the Positive Reinforcement of the food reward. Double reinforcement whammy!

Clever cockatiel however found the pattern in my own behavior: "If I stand up the harness comes off!"

This single idea gives me a hint that perhaps the harness is not quite a Positive Reinforcer yet and may still be in the realm of Negative Reinforcement. So it looks like the situation is this:

A: Achilles is rewarded for putting on her harness.

B: Achilles stands up strait.

C: I bridge, remove the harness and offer a treat.

Ooops! Looks like the immediate reinforcer is removing the harness! In part this looks like a poor training strategy from me. I need to simply switch the C to "I bridge, offer a treat and remove the harness". That sounds like it might help fix the Negative Reinforcement problem. Looks like my double whammy was teaching her to cue me instead!

But back to Achilles and standing up. Yes, she figured out in that delicately encased cockatiel brain of hers that standing up = immediate reinforcement.  Which in turn increased her comfortable standing up behavior, but decreased the amount of time that she wore the harness. So it ended up with her cueing me for a behavior! She wanted me to take the harness off because it still seems to be acting as a Negative Reinforcer.

So now what do I do to get around her cueing me? One idea is to wait a longer period of time before I give a reinforcer instead of an immediate one. Sometimes I should give a shorter or longer wait just to keep her on her toes.

Another idea is to cue well learned behaviors in her harness. This should add more value to the harness. I think I'll put the harness on, cue a behavior and then offer a treat. No? Perhaps wearing a harness will signal that fun training is about to begin and it will take her mind off of the harness.

So a new training plan.

1. Replace R- of the harness to R+.
I want her to be super excited when I offer the harness. -She is less-so these days. This tells me that it is not acting as, or is not a strong R+.- So offer the treat as the immediate reinforcer before the harness comes off (I hope this works?). I could also offer her cues for other behaviors when her harness is on, increasing the likeliness of the harness acting as a R+.

2. Replace her cue for me!
Make her cueing unpredictable and capricious to reduce her cueing behavior. I could also offer her cues for other behaviors when she stands up tall, increasing the likeliness of the harness acting as a R+.

I hope this works!

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog
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