Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today I really got started on my program to rehab my relationship with Peepers. I had put out foraging stuff for him last night, so he woke up with things to do. He had a great time, I could hear when he dropped the nut shells, and sometimes when he tore open a dixie cup. He never came into the bedroom to pick on the dogs, although Sparky still must've caught it from Peepers, as there was an episode of lots of flapping and a little squawking. Still, a vast improvement in behavior from previous days.

Late in the afternoon, I finally set up a training session. I moved from the bird room to the kitchen, and I am hoping that the set up will film better. Plus it's a smaller table, and so I hope to have a little more success with Sparky and the retrieve when she gets used to the area.

I started with Peepers, and I was kind of lucky. Since I am not handling him yet, I had to rely on him to come with me to train (and it's a new area, which could have confused him). He followed me over, and when I pointed to the table he hopped right down. I decided to work with the die on his retrieve. I wanted to see where he is at with this after such a long break, and I also wanted to get my hand close to him at a time that he had something in his mouth. He started a little slow, so I backed up to clicking when he picked up the die. I only had to do that once, and suddenly he was back on track. He even got to the point where he turned his head to put the die in my hand. Nice job! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO_A-ppAkqU

I tried to do Sparky next, and unfortunately not only was she nervous, Peepers came back and interfered with her session right away. I had given him an almond over by the couches, and thought he would do what he had done in the past, which was sit nearby and watch Sparky's session. Instead he flew right into hers, and I mishandled it. I had the target spoon in my hand, and as he got on the table, I shoved the spoon between the 2 of them , and kind of pushed it in his direction. My goal was just to turn him away from Sparky, but you could see by his body language that this was a real mistake. Sparky flew off, and then I decided to work with Peepers again. I wanted to repair what I had just done, and since this is what he seemed to want, it seemed right to give it to him. We were still a little dicey, and I was jumpy thinking he was going to bite me, but Peepers did do well overall with working the retrieve thing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfpjOhu5zkk

After we got done with this impromptu session, I asked Peepers to follow me into the bird room, where I gave him an almond and then closed the door so he couldn't come back and interfere again with Sparky. All I did with Sparky was a little bit of targeting. She really was uncomfortable, so it was a short session that hopefully was a positive experience overall for her. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSZZSW5CaQc

So far, so good. Time to set up the foraging stuff and see what tomorrow brings :)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The big incident and what to do about it

Hey all,

As some of you have seen, yesterday I had a little problem with Peepers. The short story is that he bit the living daylights out of me. The longer one is that he asked me to pick him up, and when I did, he bit the living daylights out of me.

I don't know why he chose to do this, or if he would choose to do it again. At the time, after I pried him off my thumb, the only thing I did was not allow him to come near me for a while (probably an hour). He wanted to sit by me again, but I wasn't going to take any chances, and it seemed at the time to be reasonable to tell him to stay away from me if he was going to behave like that. Last night, I had flyball, so we both had more time to cool off while I was gone from the house.

That also gave me a bit of time to reflect on Peeper's life for the past few weeks, to see if I could find some answers to his behavior. Recently I have been a little bit busy, and haven't been filling the foraging toys as often as I should. In addition, I also haven't been taking him out to the barn for training as much, and I can tell he wants to do more of that. Peepers hasn't solicited pets and scratches in these couple weeks either. So, Peeper's opportunities for positive reinforcement direct from me have been reduced significantly, and his opportunities for appropriate independant play have also been curtailed.

On the other side of the equation, Peepers has also been getting into a little more trouble than usual. He's been into the books on the bookshelves, poking through the trash, and picking on all of the other animals in the house. So, he's been getting told off more than he normally does. In other words, the punishment level has been going up for him. I guess I need to be clear here - punishment in this house means being told to get off, or leave it, or go away. There is no use of physical punishment here, nor do I yell (unless I am currently being bit all to hell, then I spose the neighbors may hear me). Punishment simply means that the focus has been on decreasing behaviors rather than increasing them.

So what does this mean? Well, I'd bet it's been a pretty crummy couple of weeks for Peepers. Studies show that the use of punishment can lead to increased aggression in all species. In Peepers case, he has had very little positive reinforcement to offset the amount of punishment that he's been subject to. He's been constantly told "don't do this", "stop doing that". What a yucky way to live! So thinking back, it is really no surprise that he would finally start to lash out.

All of this describes the setting events leading up to the bite. I can't say for sure what the antecedent to the bite was (well ok, it prolly has something to do with my hand being close to Peepers beak), but I think it is safe to say that in all likelyhood, if all these other things hadn't been happening, the probability of Peepers biting me for any reason would be less. More reinforcement = less aggression overall.

So this leads to what I am going to do to prevent this from happening again. Besides filling the foraging stations more often, I am going to start training in the house again, and when I am more comfortable handling Peepers, I will get back in the swing of taking him out to the barn for training time out there. I will not be directly handling him for a while, because right now I would flinch when he stepped up, and that would be detrimental to our relationship (this is what is preventing me from taking him to the barn now). I am setting up an area for Peepers to chew on sacrificial books. I already did a little bit today - I took some nutriberries and asked Peepers to fly to different spots in the house to get them. This is an activity that doesn't require me to touch him and gives him some exercise. We hung out near each other for part of the afternoon. Now that it is dark, it is time to set up the foraging stuff for his and Sparky's pleasure when they get up in the morning.

I expect that I should see a change in his overall behavior and attitude in a very short time. I will keep everyone updated, and of course will be videoing the sessions in the house. Happy training!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Luring vs Shaping

Hi all,

Since my computer broke, I have had a bit of time on my hands to think about some aspects of training. One of them is the benefits of luring vs shaping, and the disadvantages of each.

I tend to use quite a bit of shaping when I train the dogs, and this has carried over to the birds. Many people know that my first dog, Sophie, was trained using some pretty harsh methods when I first got her. I haven't described what I did with my second dog, Sidney. I went to a very good competition obedience instructor, who used luring in his classes to teach puppies what their jobs were. So Sidney learned to "follow the cookie", and really, he did very very well. He learned each skill quickly, and I found it pretty easy to get rid of the lure.

A while after Sid went through his obedience training, I received my first clicker in a goodie bag at a national agility competition. I had heard about shaping, and how to use a clicker, so I sat down with both Sidney and Sophie to see what I could teach them. I started with Sidney, and thought I would teach him to play dead. While I worked with him, Sophie watched (very closely, I might add).

Poor Sidney. You could practically see the smoke coming from his ears. He was very interested in the treats, and clearly wanted them, but it seemed that without the crutch of a lure to follow, he was completely lost. And, even bigger, he wasn't inclined to offer any behaviors at all. He waited for me to show him what to do, and when I didn't, he gave up the whole project. What happened next, though, was astounding, at least to me.

Sophie moved right into the spot Sidney had occupied, and played dead. The complete behavior, as if she had been through an entire shaping program. Holy cow!

I thought that this just showed the personality differences of the 2 dogs - Sophie was just smart, and Sidney, well, let's just say he was a short bus candidate :(. I was really interested in learning more about using a clicker to train, though, so I joined a bunch of clicker training lists. I soon started hearing something that was really interesting - many professional dog trainers with lots of experience with all sorts of dogs preferred punishment-based trained dogs to lured dogs for retraining projects. The reason? In their experience, dogs whose previous training was based on "following the cookie" were very very difficult to get to offer behaviors, or, in their words, to get to THINK. Hmmm.

My next dog, Bungee, was another learning experience for me. I wanted to do more shaping with him, and learn more about how it works. I found, in Bungee's case, that I needed to be careful with what behaviors I shaped, and even how I shaped them. Bungee tends to really get off on hearing the clicker, with obvious physical reactions to each click. It made a shaping program very difficult to implement, with Bungee jumping around chirping like a monkey and throwing behaviors at machine-gun speed. I learned not only how to use shaping with him, but when not to use it.

I learned to value independently offered behaviors, and an animal that thinks and then has the confidence to act upon those thoughts. So, when I started working with the parrots, I took those values with me. Peepers and Sparky both have played "101 things" to encourage offering new unique behaviors, just like the dogs. I rarely use a target stick to induce behavior from them, because it feels like "follow the cookie" to me, and given my personal experience, and the stories from professional dog trainers, I am inclined to shy away from using lures to get behaviors with my birds.

I've been told that parrots don't really offer behaviors, and that Peepers is a little unusual. I have wondered if this idea is really because of the nature of parrots, or if it has as much to do with the usual training practices. I generally see suggestions on the lists to have the bird follow a target to get a behavior going. I wonder what would happen if many parrots were trained mostly using shaping. Would we find that they throw lots of behaviors? Or would we find that most parrots would quit doing anything when given the option to do anything? As I wonder about this, I keep trying to use as much shaping as possible with Peepers and Sparky, just in case luring has the same effect on parrots as I have heard it does on dogs.

In the meantime... Sparky flew to me for the first time in at least a year and a half the other day. It was a difficult first flight, too, that she initiated. It involved a blind u-turn in a hallway to a room she had never been in. I am so so excited. Since then, she has started flying here and there in the house, and it is so awesome to see her struggling along to get her strength back, all while hearing her twitters that sound so full of pride. I'll have to try and get some pics when I get my camera back.