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!