Thursday, December 29, 2016

Top 5 Reasons 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 Copywrite 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

To Everyone Who Has Looked at an Animal

As I think of today's topic my blood begins to boil and my hands begin to shake. Some people believe that because they've trained one young colt, that it makes them an expert in training all horses. What's worse is that they have convinced others to believing in their delusion.

Sure you've trained one young horse, and I emphasize young because of the very impressionable and malleable brain that all young animals have, which makes them easier to train with aversive methods. And you then parade yourself around like you're the expert with all horses. With an old school University that acts as your authority figure it's easy to see why you think you've been taught the "right" methods of training. What they forget to tell you is that the training they teach comes with long term psychological side-effects. And it's not just that, some trainers are so paranoid that their "training secrets" will be revealed that they're not even going to share the knowledge that they've gained. Which is quite okay because their knowledge is outdated anyway and I'm not interested in promoting it.

What really pains me is that this kind of mentally damaging training still exists in the world. The only thing that is stopping these individuals from actually promoting humane methods that do not create learned helplessness, depression, anxiety, fear, and self-harming behaviors in their animals is their own, personal limitation to understanding the scientific articles in their spare time instead of watching Netflix and cruising Facebook.

And while these may be the flaws of these individuals, I of course have my own flaws. I am so passionate and careful with the knowledge that I choose to freely give out to others, I often fail to speak up against individuals who cannot be bothered to take the time to self educate themselves in fear that I will be using punishing methods on the "bad" trainers. Who am I to talk the talk but not walk the walk? Being a strong advocate of humane and ethical behavior modification plans I also practice what I preach in my own, personal behaviors. It is always a continuing journey for me. I can tell you how nervous the idea of  socializing in a room at a party used to make me feel, now I thoroughly enjoy making new friends and seek it out as opposing to shying away from it. This of course has taken years of work on my own and maybe I would have gotten there faster with a mentor. Regardless, it is a feat that I can proudly claim as my own.

I've come to the conclusion that there is no way to convert people by telling them how wrong, and abusive their animal training is. Because abusive training works, and when it works why change it if it ain't broke?  What they don't know is that their system is broken. There's no other reason to call it breaking a horse. Abusive training works a lot slower for most animals, and it causes way too much distress and no one who has animals willingly wants to cause the animals distress, so their psyche pulls up its shield and pretends what they're doing does more good than harm. I think the route I should take is not to attack those who teach with abuse, but to show them the other very, very awesome way to quickly and humanely train animals.

Copyright 2016 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog