Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blabberings About Bad Advice...

So ok, you like the internet right? You feel all jittery and excited when you first log onto google and type in "YouTube" because like me, that's just what you do. You would rather type out all seven of the characters found in the word YouTube than have to click the browser once -to open- then twice, to get to the page. Like I said, it's just what you do.

So considering that you are all full of this overwhelming excitement, like I am, you log onto youtube and you see a new video of a bird! OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG! NEW BIRD VIDEOOO!!!!!!!!1!!! You scream as your heart starts racing and your hands get clammy. You click the link...

And watch...

"That video was terrible" you say to yourself. 

You just watched a video about not one, but two hobbies you obsess about day and night: birds, and behavior modification. The topic in the video was about the most basic and founding elements of behavior modification: reinforcement and punishment. But wait, there is an article to go along with the video. Maybe I was wrong and this will clear it up! The summation of the article goes like this "Punishment is bad. Reinforcement is good! But punishment is unavoidable. But avoid it by focusing on reinforcement!" WTF?

And the you get the urge to shout "Someone on the internet is wrong!!" and you do...

I'm dissecting apart this paragraph to show exactly what is wrong and what is right with it, based on the founding principles of Instrumental (Operant) Conditioning.

"Since punishment can hurt the owner-parrot relationship, my best suggestion for dealing with undesired behavior is to do absolutely nothing in response to it.... Well that's all fine and dandy, if the behavior was encouraged in the past and the parrot does not yet find that behavior (the topic was biting) intrinsically reinforcing. Hypothetically in this very limited situation it should work. But most "undesired behaviors" occur for a reason, and when that reason is intrinsic then you are screwed if you only ignore it. Extinction is the concept you are trying to apply and it will never work in this situation. It's like trying to get your boyfriend to stop smoking by doing absolutely nothing, it just doesn't work. 

(punishing) things are so drastic that they will make the parrot scared or aggressive toward the owner. Wrong. Just wrong wrong wrong! This only holds true when a person uses Positive Punishment. Why is Negative Punishment grouped into this? And that's just the half of it, if there is no person or "thing" to blame the punishment on then it will not become "scared or aggressive towards the owner." Case in point: Steve Martin retold a story about training a bird to stop screaming with positive punishment. The bird was located in a garage and hated the garage opener. To stop the screaming he had the owner turn on the garage door every time the bird screamed. The bond between the bird and the owner did not suffer and the bird stopped screaming in a matter of days. 

Even still, some of these will only encourage the behavior even more (if a parrot is biting to make you go away, and you give up and go away, the parrot learns to bite even more in the future). Well then we are not talking about punishment anymore. When this happens it is called reinforcement. Why so confused? I've made an explanation of this in the post "Misrepresenting Punishment" that you should read. 

The simple fact is that finding an effective punishment that balances being aversive enough to discourage behavior and yet not go so far as to ruin the parrot-trainer relationship, is very difficult. Bird, and garage. Case in point. And if you didn't just group both positive and negative punishment together then you are completely ignoring the ability to remove attention, treats or toys from the environment. And as long as the trainer is not associated with the punishment you could use all kinds of punishment! It will ruin a relationship when a person violently shakes a cage out of anger. But if the person is not present when the shaking occurs then the person will not be directly associated with punishment. Now other side effects will likely develop such as a heightened sense of escape/avoidance behavior, generalized fear and/or apathy (depression). But to say that punishment will always ruin your relationship is bullocks. 

Extinction on the other hand is your best resort. If you do not react in any way to the unwanted behavior, you are guaranteed not to be rewarding it with attention and eventually the parrot will get bored of doing it. Along with extinction, focus a lot on prevention: do not leave important documents out, take off jewelry you do not want chewed, provide alternative toys/perches for parrot to enjoy, do not touch your parrot where it doesn't want to be touched, do not try to force a reluctant parrot to step up, etcI'm just getting tired of correcting all this nonsense. As already said extinction will happen if the behavior is not self-rewarding. Otherwise you're screwed and the bird will not "get bored of doing it." 

Now that last sentence is the first piece of  advice that is useful and correct. Prevention, not ignoring the problem, is the key. Because 
"Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them." - Albert Einstein
 If we take a step back and listen to what our animals are trying to say we never have to resort to ridiculous ideas such as "ignore him biting you" when we clearly knew we should not have done "X, Y or Z" to have that animal bite. Will "ignoring" the monkey that's biting you eventually teach him not to bite? Sure, I'll let the zookeepers know about this revolutionary new training system!

All animals will give some kind of warning body language before they do something drastic, like biting, because it is evolutionarily advantageous. If an animal does not warn you, then there is something wrong. I find that if birds do not warn you before they bite, then some kind of positive punishment or negative reinforcement was used in the past. If you ever get to come to one of my workshops we delve into greater detail about this unfortunate phenomenon that rescue groups can run into when taking in second hand birds.

Soar if you can my fellow people...

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Punishment: Too Complicated?

The internet. It's full of joyous memes, chatting with friends, Wikipedia and...this?
"Punishment can lead to unintended consequences where there is a difference of opinion between pet and owner of what is being punished."
Did you understand that? My head feels dizzy. Ok I'll break it down. 
"Punishment can lead to unintended consequences..." 
Ok cool, yeah I would agree with that. Studies have shown that punishment can cause unwanted side-effects (Flora). 
"where there is a difference of opinion..." 
Um, I guess. 
"between pet and owner..." 
Now that's getting weird. I've never had any animal express an opinion on punishment before. Since when did my Achilles ever express "a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty?"
So far as I know birds don't hold beliefs because it has never been shown demonstrably. And to imply a "belief" in punishment is just stupid. A person either understands it or they do not. Punishment is real and demonstrable in any environment and is documented in the lab. So stating that punishment is a wishy-washy idea is just absurd! 
"of what is being punished." 
Well, the definition of punishment is a behavior that is reduced. If a behavior is not reducing then it is not a form of punishment, it is a form of reinforcement. Easy right? There is no imaginary "disagreement" if the person doesn't understand why a behavior is increasing, it is their lack of knowledge about what does or does not act as punishment that causes problems.

For example, many people still think that yelling at a family pet will stop it from making noise (punishment). But if the pet screams more and more every day then it's not punishment, is it? Of course it is reinforcement, and just because the person does not understand the definition of punishment and reinforcement does not mean you should encourage that kind of thinking! As teachers we have the duty to teach these people the definitions and applications of ABA theory.

It's like saying all budgies will find millet reinforcing. It's just not true. Your budgie may like millet while my budgie may like sunflower seeds (and boy, did she!). The same goes for punishers and reinforcers. All we need to do is to adapt the training to what the animal finds reinforcing or aversive. Easy right?

I think that this source is trying to say "Punishment is too hard to understand for the layperson. Different birds find difference things reinforcing and punishing!" But I disagree, and to use a fancy quote.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.Albert Einstein

And how is that too hard to understand? Stop complicating a simple idea! This idea is so basic they teach it in Introduction to Psychology courses! Anyone, anyone, anyone can learn this. They need a clear cut teacher that knows the subject well enough to have the student succeed in learning and applying the topic. If the people that you are teaching are having a hard time it is your fault. It's the same with training animals. If I'm having poor success I always ask myself "What did I do wrong?" because yes, it is my fault and I am owning up to it.

This source assumes the audience is just "dumb" and that the topic is too hard to understand, which is very insulting. Reinforcement and Punishment go hand in hand. For example, did you just give a bird a treat? That's R +! But did the bird also just eat the treat? Uh oh, R + is gone! The act of eating is P - (negative punishment)! So implying that we should not teach punishment, when it is directly involved and linked to reinforcement, would leave a big gap in the student's knowledge. Let me address the final bit.
"...behavior can be complicated and two sided. This is why most parrot owners should just stick to the positive reinforcement cause then there's less ways to go wrong."
So even though it looks like a five year old structured this sentence, the real problem is that the concepts of behavior theory are being represented by a ten year old. Behavior is often a little complex and always two sided. There is nothing about behavior that enables to "just stick to the positive reinforcement (side)". For example, If an animal gets a desired treat then its R +. But he ate the treat and the delicious taste was taken away! And in the two seconds it took for a puppy to scarf down a biscuit both positive reinforcement and negative punishment were used. Even if you wanted to, even if you could make hell freeze over, you could never take away the duality of behavior.

If we teach people everything about behavior, rather than leaving the bits we don't like out, they will know the basics and can branch out and discover knowledge for themselves if they are so inclined. Then down the road we can share our findings, have a nice little chat and help each other grow intellectually. And who wouldn't want that?

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Flora, S. (2001). The power of reinforcement. NY: State University of New York Press. Retrieved from

Reasons why punishment should be avoided with parrots. (08, 12 2010). Retrieved from Why Punishment Should 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Token System Update!

Monopoly Money Tie

I started off this school year with designing my own personal token system. If you need a refresher on what a token system is read this. 

The reason I invented a token system or "rewards system" for myself is so I can concentrate and study more of my school work, rather than getting distracted by Facebook or other random things. Which is funny because Facebook wasn't interesting during the Summer months but somehow always becomes magically transfixing when school rolls around...

Anyway, the results for the first three weeks of school are good! At first I was worried that the entire system would fail because it all relies on my personal honesty with myself not to cheat! I was afraid I would take too many tokens for a task, or take the tokens too late after completing a certain task (The amount of time between rewarding a behavior is know as Immediacy. The longer you wait to reward a behavior the less quickly the behavior will appear in the future.) thus disengaging my interest. I kept these two things in mind when I started and I have happily not had a problem with them!

But I have run into a few hiccups:

1) I have not been consistent with redeeming the tokens for activities with friends, going out, computer time etc.

Not imminently delivering tokens not only reduces the value of the system to me, but it also reduces the value of the system when I "forget" to redeem them!

2) Still figuring out the amount of points that are "fair" to redeem for certain activities. 

I earn 5 tokens per chapter I read and made "blogging" a reward for 100 tokens!! It might take me a couple months to get there...

3) I need to make my tokens time sensitive.

Need to read chapter three before the next class? You have two days to earn 5 tokens! If it's not read before then I still have to read it but without the token reward. Hopefully this will not reduce the quality of my reading. Here's hoping! XxXx

Last weekend I kind of made a big booboo. I goofed off for three DAYS...
I made a nice long list of things to do, and "forgot" about them preferring to sleep early in the evening after work, and goof off on Pinterest all day. Can you believe it, pinterest! And as a result I am running extremely behind in practicing my Physics homework for the first exam on Friday! Panic mode!

Other than that I am reading and comprehending a lot more in class then in previous years of school. And in the first three weeks of school I have learned, most importantly, that this whole "token system economy" thing works best if I am immediate in my rewards and redemptions, fair with the amount of tokens, and stay on time with my assignments.

Wish me luck for the rest!

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Duality of Behavior and Unfounded Accusations

Barbara Heidenreich wrote a lovely short article about what she would tell all animal caretakers if she could. I thoroughly agree with all her points. Focus on positive reinforcement, but negative punishment will be used from time to time.

If you've already read the article go back to the 5th point she made where she said to take a step back from the dog, that's negative punishment. The behavior of jumping is decreased when her body is removed, simultaneously she increases "feet on floor" behavior by adding praise, a touch or treat.

Some self proclaimed parrot behavior gurus attack Barb claiming she only focuses on positive reinforcement and that it is impossible to just use R+. They go so far as to call her a "liar." This is ridiculous. Barbara does focus on R+ but she does not deny the duality of behavior. If you give an animal a desired food item that's R+, but when it is eaten it is removed and that's P-. This is the duality of behavior, not sure if this is the technical term though...

Other than these people making fools out of themselves with basically calling a seasoned professional a n00b, they are also acting unethical when promoting the instant use of Negative Reinforcement (grabbing, pushing, pulling and prodding) before trying less abrasive techniques -negative reinforcement is closely tied to positive punishment- such as R+ and P-. The idea of ethics is fairly new to the animal training world and a hierarchy based on the intrusiveness of the training method has been proposed by Dr. Susan Friedman, a college professor at Utah State. This hierarchy is becoming quite popular with many dog, bird and horse trainers. Trying the least aversive option first is the most ethical.

As you move down the pyramid the training uses more and more aversives.

Just be careful of who you learn from. If its a business man with a minor in psychology you can bet they want to sell you a few training perches and some bad information. Learn the basics from your time tested college books such as Learning and Behavior by Paul Chance and grow from there. Its not the same as having a professor to direct the tough questions at, but if you love the subject as much as I do then go for it!

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Reasons why punishment should be avoided with parrots. (08, 12 2010). Retrieved from Why Punishment Should 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Reinforcement Programs: Token Economies

I'm reading Stephen Ray Flora's The Power of Reinforcement and will be blogging abut the ideas that I find interesting while I read it. First up is token economies.

When I say "token" do images of kids exchanging tickets in video arcades and chuck-e-cheese come to mind? If you do then you understand the idea of a token economy. These are often successful businesses because of the high amount of reinforcement used to keep customers. Why do we spend $20, $30 to exchange 12 tickets for a pack of sour gummies and a spider ring and be perfectly fine with it? Because of the high amount of reinforcement during our stay. My brothers used to hang out at our local video arcade every chance they got to spend their allowance. My brothers are encouraged to spend money on game coins because of the resulting consequence of getting to play the games -which is both intrinsically and positively reinforcing- and they are encouraged to play certain games more often and with a higher score to receive even more reinforcement in the form of game tickets, which are the "token" part in this token economy. The tickets have no actual value of course, but act more like a contract. We are willing to hand out that $15-$30 dollars for an hour of fun because the amount of reinforcement is well worth it to us.

So token economies are a system of reinforcement, which means we use it to create, maintain or increase behavior. The creation of spending time and energy at a video arcade is made by a token economy. The maintenance of coming to work is based on a token economy. And the increase in the amount of time studying is based on a token economy at Sylvan Learning Centers.

At Sylvan tokens are awarded based on academic performance such as test taking speed and accuracy, and studying behaviors. Tokens  can be traded for movie tickets, games, balls, CD's  or many other goodies. Businesses in the coal mining industry also use tokens to take charge of increasing safety behaviors in their workers. Which protecting lives is undeniably important. Even at my workplace token are awarded based on our team's effort in increasing sales and speed of customer service.

Economies like this can also be used to embed social and grooming behaviors in "delinquent" adolescents.  As Flora states:
"Tokes are taken away for anti-social behaviors or socially innapropriate behaviors such as fighting, lying, or using bad grammar. Tokens are exchanged for backup reinforcers such as snacks, TV time, allowance...As appropriate behavior is trapped by the natural  reinforcers of appropriate behavior (better grades, increased positive social interaction, etc.) the contrived reinforcement is faded out. Juveniles go forma daily point system, to a weekly points system to a merit system where points (tokens) are not used...juviniles' grades and school attendance goes up, criminal offenses, police, and court interactions go down. (Flora p. 35)"
If token economies work so well, perhaps I should try it out on myself when studying this semester...

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reinforcement and Punishment: The bare basics


Achilles likes white proso millet. She will do anything for it, or do at least anything a blind bird can do. It is my main training reinforcement I give her and she couldn't be happier. 

Now are you going to train your bird with some white proso millet so that they will train well for you?

I hope not...

Mary in the office has an obsession for M&M cookies, Joe in operations prefers a jolly rancher. Just like every person has their tastes so does every individual bird. Your Amazon may not like white proso millet but may really like peanuts. Really easy right?

But a simple concept like this can be made confusing by self-proclaimed "parrot trainers". Some people will want to confuse you  about what is or is not reinforcing.

"Improperly executed punishment can end up strengthening the unwanted behavior and only making it worse."

Well if the behavior became stronger then it is not punishment then is it? It is actually properly exicuted reinforcement! Wow! What a concept! Don't let charlatains try to fool you by how they label words. Always seek out some good textbooks and educated professors so you don't end up as confused babbling tizzy. You are in control of what you learn from whom, so take charge are read a good book! (Chance, 1979)

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Chance, P. (1979). Learning and behavior. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing.

Reasons why punishment should be avoided with parrots. (08, 12 2010). Retrieved from Why Punishment Should 

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Power of Reinforcement

I picked up a really cool book at my university library called The Power of Reinforcement. I thought it strange that it implied the use of both Positive and Negative Reinforcement in the title, so I picked it up thinking it would give me examples and applications of both varieties of reinforcement. Well, I was wrong.

I specifically picked it up because there are goofballs out there that promote the regular use of negative reinforcement in animal training, arguing that it has no downfalls or detrimental side effects. Because of this view I made a search for more information about negative reinforcement to see if the promotion of this tactic had any validity. I thought this book would set me strait. Well, it turns out that negative reinforcement still has many downfalls and detrimental side effects that promoters of this tactic are still blissfully unaware of.

I am instead finding many applicable uses of positive reinforcement in this book and it just tickles me pink! As I delve deeper into the pages of this book I'll blog about my discoveries so you can learn with me!

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Summer Time is Lecture Time!

I've liked birds for a long time and it wasn't on purpose either, at first I had my eyes set on a rabbit when I was somewhere in the ages of 8-10 years old. But on that fateful day to the pet store I changed my mind from focusing on that sweet, lovable, fluffy critter to a more perky budgerigar. I couldn't help it, I was enchanted by not only their massive flurry of colors, -it was as if each bird could have walked strait out of a Candy Barrel sweet shop; dyed in bright neon green, deep celestial blue, bright sunny yellow and many other colors. They resembled a barrel of sweets, tightly wrapped -not in clear cellophane- but glossy and soft feathers that glistened in the same fashion- but by their great and joyous energy as well. To me they where great and talented acrobats claiming every inch of their plexiglass container as if it was a stage set up to be preformed upon the following night. 

But anyway enough of the childhood memories. As the title of this post proclaims I have an exciting announcement. I will be hosting yet another Lecture free for the public to attended! It will be hosted at a meeting by the Florida West Coast Avian Society and they are picking up my expenses so that you guys can come in for FREE! 

Save the date for: 

"Body Language: Empowering Our Parrots" 
June the 14th, at 7:00 pm
The Sahib Shrine Temple, 600 N. Beneva Road. 

FWCAS has room for 20-30 people so space is limited. This should be a fun evening for all as I have already presented this lecture a couple times for Florida Parrot Rescue and should have most of the kinks worked out. I'm going to keep the audience involved so you guys can get the most out of it. All of the material has been  sourced from respectable professionals working in their fields such as Barbara Heidenreich, Dr. Susan Friedman, and maybe even a good 'ol field Biologist or two such as the authors of "The Parrots of Luquillo" (The first book of it's kind created as an in-depth study of the Puerto Rican Parrot)!

I hope to see you there!

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Archaeopteryx: What color was it?

Here's a quick video about the flight feathers of the prehistoric avian reptile, Archaeopteryx. How far we've come to be able to look at the colors of the past!

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Supermarket heroes

I Can Be Your Hero..

If you are a parent you are not just a caretaker, you are a trainer 24/7! And for that I salute you. Knowing what to do in unexpected, tough situations doesn't always come easy. Especially when you are on-call at all hours. 

That's why I like to help you guys out in the supermarket isle or, when I was working as a cashier, in the checkout line. You see, tantrums aren't always expected, nor are they always prevented (duh, tell me something I don't know!). But I'm the kind person who will distract a child long enough to enable the parent a quick escape from the evil villain, Mr. Tantrum.

Mr. Tantrum has a superpower: he (or she) appears in front of sugary foods everywhere with a vengeful, beet red face and ceaseless screams. Mr. Tantrum most often appears before a late lunch or dinner, when his (or her) powers are at maximum.

But I have a superpower as well, tantrum distraction! I spot a child sitting in a cart with dad strolling in the cookie isle. The child belts out "Dad I want this!" as he grabs a box of double stuffed double chocolate Oreos from the shelf. I can see Dad's reaction, the answer will most certainly be a stern "No" and yanking away the cookies with an ensuing fit soon to follow out the supermarket doors when shopping is over, a half hour later. So without hesitation I start up my tantrum distraction with a quick "Hey dude, can you do any 'tricks'?"

At this point the child will either blush a furious shade or red for being asked such a strange question by a stranger and refuse to talk at all, or they'll cock their head to the side and ponder what I mean. If they are really clever they'll shout out a resounding "Yes!" and show me what it means to "do tricks". Mostly I get that head cocked to the side. In which case I offer a series of high-fives: High, low, side, side, low again? Aww, too slow!

In any of the above scenarios the parent is able to use their own superpower of distraction, grabcookieswhilekidisdistractedandputbackonshelf!

After the sugar-bombs are back on the shelf Dad runs to the meat dept. for a safe escape...

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Earthflight - Highlights from Earthflight

Few can imagine, and even fewer can capture so poetically, the life of birds.
For your viewing pleasure here are highlights from the new series "Earthflight" showcasing the eclectic lives of birds.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Preventing stress in the supermarket isle...

"O Magazine. How to live your best life." A magazine title from a supermarket isle catches your eye. You leave your gaze hovering on the title for a moment until, in the cashier's line ahead of you, a child screams bloody murder from his grocery cart seat, "But I want it!!! NOO!" 
You witness the parent slapping the child out of blind frustration and your heart falls into your stomach while your body turns cold. The child is still not quiet. 
It's now your turn at the cashier's register and you stare at the duo as they leave out the door as a bawling caravan of neatly bagged goods. The bagger makes a comment on the incident "I would have given that child more than a swat. All this mushy parenting advice about 'don't hit your kid' is making so many delinquents these days."

I have been blessed to witness many of these events, mostly from behind the cash register itself. Which I am happily, no longer doing. Even so, I quickly learned to identify the warning signs as to when these situations where about to occur and stopped it before anything happened. I'll leave that for later...

The majority of the public are unaware that these situations never have to develop in the first place. It is actually quite possible to prevent a behavior from occurring, which is of course preferred. The human species seems to be obsessed with dealing out consequences for behavior instead of preventing these behaviors. Hindsight is 20/20, therefore I dub our species Homo hindsightedness (I know, poor setup).

Parents have ultimate control of preventing these kinds of problems, yet they are not aware of or empowered enough to implement these essential skills. Here is what Act Against Violence and Karen Pryor have to say about what parents can do to prevent tantrums in the isle:
1. Stressed and busy mothers find themselves shopping before dinner with their hungry children, this is prime time for tantrums. "Feed the kids before or while going to the market" Karen Pryor states as a preventative measure. 
2. Prepare kids for the checkout line. If you know your child will cause a ruckus in line let him know that he'll get a nice surprise if he can play the quiet game while your groceries are being checked out. Often times cashiers have coloring books and crayons to give just to the little ones to reward good behavior. 
3. Help children to develop an awareness of early signs of a temper tantrum. For example, say, "I see you are rocking in your chair now; what are you thinking?" With practice the child could learn to signal you when he notices that he is beginning to have a temper tantrum. Then help him with some of the above prevention strategies.
Tantrums happen. But they don't have to happen every time. Let's reduce unwanted behavior by preventing it rather than "correcting" it.
But what if it's not your child? I'll tell you what I do when it's me in the isle, in the next installment...

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Don't Shoot the Dog - Karen Pryor

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