To Change Your Pet’s Behavior, Try Changing The Environment

One of the greatest gifts that behavior science has given me is the incredible ability to modify behaviors in the least intrusive, most positive way. Often times I can set myself and my pets up for success simply by rearranging the Cincinnati certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, explains how arranging the environment can help to solve many dog and bird pet behavior problems.environment to make the wanted behavior easier than the unwanted behavior.

Sound confusing? It is really not.

 The ABC’s

I write a lot about the ABCs of behavior. It is the foundation from which I analyze what my pet is doing and what in the environment is influencing his learning.

Applied Behavior Analysis is a systematic approach to solving behavior problems by changing the environment in which the behavior occurs. It involves looking at the very specific behavior (such as a dog barking) in terms of what is giving that behavior purpose and value? What happened *immediately* prior to the behavior (antecedent) to set the whole ball rolling? And what happened *immediately* after the behavior to reinforce it (consequence)? It is how I have been taught to look at behavior.

I’m going to focus on the A (antecedent) in this article. It’s important to note that antecedents do not cause behavior. However, they do serve as a sign to the animal that when A is there, that if the animal does a certain behavior, then there will be a consequence.

The implications of understanding this are huge. Here are some ways I can use antecedent arrangement as an effective, non-intrusive and positive way of setting my pets up for success:

parrot enrichmentKnowing that my bird, Chester (he passed away), was an incessant chewer who could easily destroy furniture (and did a long time ago), I changed the setting of his environment and provided him parrot enrichment activities. I made play stations on the floor to keep him mentally and physically stimulated if he got on the floor. I also weakened his motivation for coming off his cage by giving him lots to chew on inside and outside his cage.

To eliminate any possibility of my bird, Barnaby, from chewing on the window shade near his play cage, I moved the cage away a couple additional inches.

To prevent a puppy from grabbing onto my sweater, I can avoid wearing loose sweaters around that puppy or I can have a toy in my hand and make the toy very exciting or I can avoid sitting or laying on the ground near the puppy.

To prevent our dog, Sam, from barking at neighbors’ dogs, I can avoid leaving him outside by himself and unattended for long periods of time. (and also give him enrichment toys and more exercise…but that is another article)

Next time your pet is doing something you do not like, ask yourself, “Can I rearrange the environment somehow to prevent that behavior from occurring in the first place?”

Your answer may be the difference between your calling your pet ‘brilliant’ and calling him ‘stubborn.’ And I’d prefer brilliance any day.







Enriching Your Parrot’s Environment

I was looking at Barnaby’s cage the other day and it occurred to me, there are some ‘toys’ in there that he hasn’t touched. He definitely looked like a little, mischievous guy who needed more to do with his time. So I refilled the adding machine paper roll
holder, wrapped newspaper around the bars and filled an old sock with food.Paper rolls can be great enrichment for pet parrots. For more ideas please read more.

Guess what I found when I returned? A huge pile of adding machine paper on the cage floor, shredded newspaper, and an old sock with huge holes in it.

Yep, I’m figuring it is about time for a reminder about the importance of making our parrots’ environments enriching.

Remember, these are animals that would spend hours every day in the wild searching for food, flying, raising young, or watching out for predators. We take them into our homes, put them in cages and want them to be quiet, non-destructive inhabitants.

They rely on us to not only provide them with safety and nourishment, but also to keep them busy and stimulated. And, if we let our birds down by not providing them these basic needs, then who can we ‘really’ blame if our pets develop behavior issues.

Robin Shewokis, owner of the Leather Elves who helps zoos and other facilities create enriching environments, once told me some considerations to keep in mind are: knowing your bird’s natural history (for example, cockatiels are ground foragers so putting foraging activities high in a cage isn’t the best idea); providing activities that stimulate as many senses as possible; and knowing your specific bird (because really behavior is individual) so that you can give him activities he will interact with. (Remember you can also teach a bird to interact with something – and training is a great enrichment activity for both you and your pet.)

For example – I know Barnaby loves to hang upside, loves to try and figure things out, he chews some especially paper, and he loves bells. When his cage door is open he spends a lot of time hanging upside down from his toy hanger attached to the cage.

So, inside his cage, I have a number of bells. There are beads strung (with knots in between) on hemp string and tied around his cage, paper rolls, food in different bowls, etc. On the bottom of his cage I have a human baby toy that is a cup with a mirror on the bottom which is hung from the bars and filled with some pellets. Many days I find just crumbs so I know he is busy exploring.

Keep in mind, enrichment does not have to be super expensive. I always tell the story of the time I bought $50 worth of toys online. When I opened the box, the first thing Barnaby grabbed was the receipt page…and he played with it for 10 minutes!

Be creative and have fun, but also please keep safety in mind.

Link to great enrichment activity book.

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