Saturday, December 26, 2015

Making Adoptable Birds Class of 2015

Becoming a World Renowned Animal Trainer: Step 1 complete. 

I have infiltrated a group of exotic bird enthusiasts calling themselves the Florida Parrot Rescue. I have spent many years gaining their trust by volunteering and being a foster home for wayward parrots. And now I have reached the rank of "Coordinator" or more specifically "Behavior Educator Coordinator" to further penetrate my training ideals into their court. 

Let's be serious for a minute. Last weekend I was given the amazing opportunity to fly back to Florida to take a break from the chill up in PA and teach the Making Adoptable Birds Class at the amazing store Everything Birds in Oldsmar. What a weekend it was!

I'm not going to go into much detail of the entire trip but there were highs and lows, mostly highs consisting of stellar reviews from the audience. While the lows were about the stress of setting up equipment for the class. Through it all I had tremendous support from all of the other lovey volunteers from FPR (especially the lady sitting next to me at the table, she was a ROCKSTAR!)

Part of the class went to Applebees for our lunch hour.
Filling the minds of the audience with the power of behavior science! Yeah! Don't be fooled, it was a full house.
This little guy came all the way from Alabama to attend! 
Recapping what happened after playing The Training Game.
We played 3 rounds of The Training Game so the audience can gain some empathy and understand what it's like on the other side of the clicker! Participants were only allowed to use body language as a way to communicate. It turned out to be very funny!

Spent the next day with a BFF!
And of course if you're spending the weekend in your old town hanging with friends is mandatory. We planned on a trip to the beach in the morning and ended up sleeping in. Then it was a spur of the moment art show and lunch at the cinemas with the brother. Let's hope I'll be back next year!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

All Packed Up and Ready to Go!

So it's been a little while since you guys have had an update. I've been thinking about what to write, I just haven't been putting in much of an effort to do so. Sometimes it scares me, honestly! When I write something it's usually a technical paper where I do lots and lots of research and fact check my every sentence, and that's how I've done many blog posts in the past. Well, not today I say!

You know that dream job you've always wanted, and you were sure that it was always going to be just out of grasp? It dangles barely in front of your outstretched hand, just beyond the fingertips...
But I grabbed it! Not sure how, not sure why, but I did it. And what do you know the job was pretty great, they treated me well and the training philosophy was pretty darn close to what I felt comfortable with. Close, but not enough to make me want to stay. When it comes to animal training there are some pretty picky people out there and I happen to be one of them. I have a strong ethical stance on certain issues so I left without looking back.

I got another job offer in another state (PA) and winter is looming on the horizon of mid December-early January. After 15 glorious years in the sunny, and often eclectic state of Florida, I am left to wonder if I'll ever get to wear all 15 pairs of flip flops in a year again. Well, at least there are exotic zoo animals up here. Never had the chance to train a Camel or Kangaroo before so it should be an equal trade off, right?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Trainer Spotlight: wingsNpaws

I've been watching his YouTube video for years and I am always impressed with his training skills so I thought he deserved some kudos!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Preventing Painful Bites

Baby parrotlets are little chewing monsters! Learn how to curb your new bird's chewing obsession without using P+ and R-!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Behold The World's Cutest Parrotlet, Titan!

I recently aquired a 3 month old parrotlet and have dubbed him with the biggest name, implying a Napoleon complex, Titan. I am keeping with a tradition of naming my personal birds with greek names and Titan is no exception. My last personal bird, a cockatiel named Achilles, was so named because of a broken leg that was improperly set giving her an exaggerated duck waddle. But as you can see this little man is nothing but a cuddle-bug!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Top 5 Reasons All Pet Owners Need Training Skills

1. Veterinary Exams

Every pet needs a yearly exam so why not improve their lives and make this visit as stress free as possible? Stress has been linked to a cornucopia of diseases, both physical and cognitive, stress can be reduced by associating good things (ie. toys, treats, praise etc.) with travel crates, nail clippers, body manipulations, syringes, swabs, towels, and anything else you can think. Training for medical exams greatly improves our pets quality of life. Wouldn't it be amazing to have your pet making friends and earning cookies at the vet's office instead of learning that people in scrubs give scary, strange, and uncomfortable procedures? Yes it would!

2. Medical Emergencies

The one thing that is more stressful than a vet visit is an emergency situation. Vet visits don't happen just once a year, the potential to make an emergency trip is always present: birds break blood feathers, dogs scarf down chocolate, cats stop eating, and lizard hemipenes prolapse. Having your animal trained to walk into a crate or let you manipulate a sensitive area can mean the difference of life and death. Training saves lives!

Tambako The Jaguar at flickr

3. Normal Behavior

Learning to teach your animal behaviors without using force or aversives trains you to notice the most minute behavioral changes in their routine. Knowing what makes your pet uncomfortable and making a commitment to avoid these situations allows you to see problems cropping up long before they ever get bad. Having regular training sessions gives us information about how much food out pets eat and the mental state they're in, any deviations from this norm is cause for concern (like biting, pets of aversive-free trainers don't get bit but pets in pain can bite).  Its like having super powers!

4. Preventing Behavior Problems

Noticing subtle changes in normal behavior feeds into another skill, seeing the potential for behavior problems to develop. If you recently brought home a particulary mouthy baby bird you may notice, not unlike a human child, they like to explore their new world with their mouth. Fingers are especially fun for birds to chew and manipulate but baby birds may not realize how much pressure they are using and the pain they cause. I realized this when I recently brought home my baby parrotlet, Titan. At first he would begin to lightly chew the soft webbing between my fingers (everyone has this webbing). Realizing that sometimes Titan would chew a little too hard I wanted to nip this behavior in the bud as I did not want this to develop into chewing fingers whenever he sees them. That would get in the way of him happily playing with my freinds because I want him to be able to play with anyone. To prevent him from chewing on  my fingers I make it a point to leave small, chewable toys that he likes in front of his cage and I use them when I take little Titan out. This allows me to easily grab a fun, special toy he only gets when outside his cage. I prevent him from chewing my hands by offering the toys to chew first, and if he did beak my hands I redirect his attention to a nearby toy to chew instead.

Taco, a recent foster bird.

5. Socializing is Easier

Birds get scared and it's often from new people. Being equipped with training skills allow you to teach others how to make your bird feel comfortable in their prescence and allows you to observe and prevent situations that will cause your bird to associate anything aversive with new people. You'll know to reserve favorite treats only for such visits and to heavily reinforce your bird for appropriate behaviors towards your guests. I do this every time I have a visitor interested in meeting my birds. Think of it as an interview, but the employer is your pet looking to hire new acquaintances. First impressions are very important for any interview and it begins when you walk in the door, the same is true for your pet bird. When my doorbell rings I open the door and ask the company that if they want to make friends with the birds inside the best thing to do is immediately sit down on the couch without making much eye contact or fuss (now that might not hold true for your hyperactive caique but it certainly won't make the bird scared of your visitors). I work with rescue birds that have a history of poor behavior habits and they have responded most positively to visitors that keep their space, keep their voice low, and offer lots and lots of reinforcers (special treats, toys, and activities for only when they are really good). My fosters have always warmed up very quickly to new people this way and it is easy to tell when a visitor has passed their interview.

Caitlin Bird copyright 2014

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Graduation, Jobs, and Taco's Functional Assessments

I graduated last month with a BS in Integrative Animal Biology and minor in Psychology. Feelings of achievement should follow such a difinitive moment in my life but instead I am left with a feeling of relief. Passing tests were just about avoiding shocks that had always been present in my life, and now they are gone. I felt as if I was another lab rat given electrical stimulation for every wrong turn I made, but now the shock has disappeared from my metal floor. To me, universities symbolize growth, innovation, freedom, and generally, truth. While these fanciful ideas hold true for the outside observer and the many faculty, most of the student population spend their lives in constant fear and panic because of improperly applied behavioral principles, principles that these institutions teach but do not put into practice. Pointing fingers is a useless pursuit and doesn't yield results but teaching others how to properly apply behavioral principles improves grades, increases productivity, and builds a person up rather than breaking them down. I confess that much of my college experience was one consisting of a great anxiety and looking for behavioral principles to combat it. The system taught me the letters of the alphabet, and judged me by them: A, B, C, D, F. This rating scale gave me the feeling of being constantly judged, labeled, and categorized into places I didn't belong simply because I was afraid of being labeled as "not good enough". At work and with friends I'm someone different, a confident young girl that knows what she's all about. Isn't it strange? Behavior is nothing if not complex.

And now the big gambles in life are on my plate. I'm looking for a job. Though my budget is low I have more confidence in my abilities than I ever did while struggling in college because my skills with money are forces to be reckoned with. By the time I was 17 I had $2,000 in my name, saved from years of penny collecting, lawn trimmings, and birthday cash. While impressive, minimum wage can only get you so far.

There are many animal related job opportunities out there that have caught my eye: Exhibit Educator, Animal Ambassador, Outreach Coordinator, Veterinary Assistant, Bird Trainer. All sound lucrative on my minimum wage, 28 hours a week, salary. Thanks Obama.

And while this post begins on a thoughtful, solemn view there remains the passion and dedication I have for behavior, birds, learning, and teaching. I have taken in another foster bird for Florida Parrot Rescue, a Yellow-naped Amazon by the name of Taco. Taco had been waiting to come into the rescue for over a year, and when finally able to come in showed some nasty behavior in foster care. I have recently been assigned the "Behavior Educator" position at FPR so Taco naturally came to me.

Taco has been a great learning experience with how quickly behavior can change in response to the consequences we provide. Like all the amazons I've met he really loves to eat, and as I've learned the more motivated the individual the faster a behavior can change. He (I say "he" but Taco says both "pretty boy" and "pretty girl" so I guess no one knows!) was very quick to learn several targeting behaviors, step up, take liquids from a syringe, and step onto a scale. But on the flip side he also learns very quickly to like or dislike someone based on their movements and how they react to him. For instance my roommate does his best to ignore the bird because he just doesn't care for animals with feathers. For the first few weeks of having Taco he showed relaxed body language when my roommate enters the room, unfortunately my roommate has moved quickly around Taco's cage several times causing him to startle, causing Taco to now show eye pinning, tail flaring, and swaying behaviors when my roommate enters the room. While this isn't a problem for us it is something to be aware of and to prevent it from occurring. The functional assessments for Taco's calm and not-calm set of behaviors looks like this.

FA 1.

A: Friend walks to cage

B: Taco show comfortable body language (relaxed nape, wings close to body, loose body feathers)

C: Friend bends down near cage and Taco shows uncomfortable body language.

PFB: Every time my friend bends down he will continue to scare Taco. Taco will be less likely to exhibit calm behaviors when my roommate bends down near the cage and will likely exhibit less calm behaviors when he sees my roommate, indicating positive punishment (P+) is being used on Taco's behavior.

FA 2.

A: Friend bends back up quickly near cage.
B: Taco continues showing uncomfortable body language (raised nape, wings slightly away from the body showing red, tight body feathers)

C: Friend walks away and Taco shows comfortable body language.

PFB: Taco will continue to show uncomfortable body language until my friend walks away. Taco will be more likely to show uncomfortable body language behavior in the future until my friend removes himself indicating negative reinforcement (R-) is being used on Taco's behavior.

Because my roommate has been unknowingly using negative reinforcement (R-) on Taco's uncomfortable body language behavior he has been increasing its occurrence in the future, not just that but by using positive punishment (P+) on his comfortable body language behavior he has been decreasing its occurrence in the future as well! These FA's clearly show what is going on in scientific terms and I hope they help you in understanding what is going on with your pets as well. Try preventing these occurrence from happening or start going at a slower pace and using R+ for each approximation you take.

I think that's all I have to write for now.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

How to Train Animals and the Law of Effect

Just thought I'd share a quick video if you are just starting out training your animals. It has a strong scientific basis in Behavior Modification which is touched on in this video. I'm looking forward to the series!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

When Quakers Attack

Coco needed to be moved upstairs away from my current foster Amazon, Taco. This is because Taco was showing body language that I did not particularly enjoy seeing. While I feel I could have safely trained a preferred response to Coco from Taco, I have a tight deadline preventing me from doing this. Luckily the deadline is good news, Taco will have a visitor that is interested in adopting him! Go Taco!

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Foster Bird, Coco!

I took in another foster bird the other day that needs my help. Coco is a quaker parrot that bites whenever seeing human flesh, and like a typical quaker, shows aggressive behavior around the cage. Yesterday was the first day of many force free training sessions to resolve these problems.

Blog Archive