A New Year’s Resolution for Building PETential!

Have you made New Year’s Resolutions? Here are some suggestions for pet training – whether you have a dog or cat or parrot.


New Year's Resolutions for Dog Training (and parrots and other pets)I will stop labeling my pet because calling my pet dumb, stubborn, bad, mean or jealous will not help me to solve the behavior issue and may actually prevent me from getting to the root of the cause.

I will pay attention to those behaviors my pet does that I want to see more of and makes those behavior choices more valuable by offering positive reinforcement immediately upon seeing them.

I will give my pet plenty of appropriate outlets to exercise his body and mind in positive ways, and I will include myself in some of those choices. Not only is this a great relationship builder, it is a great way to incorporate positive teaching (and learning), enhance socialization skills, build stronger bodies, and improve quality of life.  Enrichment can be in form of using a variety of my pet’s senses.

I will incorporate training into my everyday life by being conscious that my pet is constantly learning what behaviors to repeat and strengthen vs to weaken based upon the consequences of those behaviors. I will work to not give value to unwanted behaviors and ask for wanted behaviors before offering my pet an activity or something he wants.

Instead of blaming my pet when he does something that I do not like, I will stop and ask yourself,  “What was the consequence of value to my pet in making that choice and what could I have done differently to have not given him that opportunity?,” and “What behavior would I have liked for him to do instead?” … then I will teach him that behavior.

I will incorporate fun into every day and built myself in to some of those opportunities.

Why Is Trust Important In Pet Training?

I was rereading yesterday a 2103 IAATE Conference presentation made by Dr. Susan Friedman of Utah State University and Steve Martin of Natural Encounters.

The paper talks about a very important motivating operation (a change in the environment that temporarily increases the value of a behavior reinforcer) known as ‘trust’.

importance of building trust in dog and pet training - using positive reinforcement

Hmm, what exactly does that mean? Well, let’s begin with a definition. According to the dictionary, ‘trust’ is defined as a confident expectation of something; hope; and a reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety of a person or thing.

As humans, we are much greater inclined to build relationships with others – either personal or for business – when trust is at its foundation. Between each other, we tend to share and empathize more. We are more open to others’ insight, and to compromise. We will work harder for those we trust. And more often than not, we tend to reciprocate trust with trust.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense then that our non-human animals are also greater inclined to build relationships with and work harder for caregivers and teachers with whom trust is at the core foundation.

Let’s look at it from a behavior science perspective.

Susan and Steve wrote: “A useful way to operationalize trust is as a level of certainty that interaction will result in good outcomes and so interaction increases. Trusting animals use their behavior to confidently approach, rather than escape opportunities to interact with people. They not only accept invitations to interact with their trainers, trusting animals create interaction opportunities for their trainers as well.”

Think about this in action.

I had written years back about how my Chester (Alexandrine ringneck parakeet) would scream the minute my dad walked into the house and would retreat on his cage or fly from my shoulder if my dad were to walk into the room. However, a behavior modification plan involved reinforcing Chester for calm body language around my dad that ultimately resulted in my dad always entering the bird room with seeds in hand. (Please click here to read about my behavior change plan for them.) Soon, because my dad was always paired with valued seeds, Chester could reliably predict that interaction with him would result in good outcomes; and Chester began eliciting welcoming body language around my dad (wings slightly out and quivering, body leaning forward while shifting weight from left foot to right foot). Chester had learned to trust my dad.

Months back when I arrived for a first visit with a client whose dog would run away from new people, the sweet little guy was lying under a chair not wanting to come out. When he did venture out, I tossed some food away from me. He ate the food and I threw more food in another direction. Later I began teaching him that when he chose to do certain behaviors, treats would follow. I carefully watched his body language as an indicator of his stress. I was careful to make sure our interactions were very positive. When I arrived for the next visit, guess who was there at the door to greet me! Yep, he learned to trust me.

But what about the dog who returned to his owner when called (after a long delay) and was scolded when he got there? Do you think that dog would turn in an instant the next time his owner called him to come – if the dog was off leash and had the freedom to choose between coming or not coming?

Sure, as in any relationship, it is nearly impossible that every single interaction is going to have a positive outcome. This is life after all. Things happen. I may accidentally step on my dog’s foot or drop a loud object that scares my bird. I may inadvertently have my hand where it shouldn’t be, in front of a sick and stressed bird that may result in a bite.

quote about dog and pet training

“The goal with all our relationships,” Steve and Susan pointed out, “is to build a big enough trust account to withstand the withdrawals that inevitably occur with our animals and each other.”

Building the trust account

As your pet’s caregiver, day in and day out teachable moments happen all the time. Our animals are constantly learning from consequences which behaviors to practice and strengthen, or to reduce in frequency or extinguish. They are building their trust – or lack of trust – in us based upon their history of behavior outcomes associated with us.

Training dogs, parrots and other animals with positive reinforcement strategies is the greatest way to build that trust. When you can empower an animal by giving him control of his decisions, but just making the choices you would like him to make, the most valuable and easiest choices, you will see more of those wanted behaviors. And you will see an animal who solicits learning from you because learning is great.


How have you built your pet’s trust account? I’d love to hear from you.


Can I be of further help to you and your pet? Please contact me!

Understanding Extinction Burst In Dogs and Other Pets

(a past Hyde Park Living column)

Have you ever tried to solve a screaming issue with a parrot or an attention seeking issue with a dog simply by ignoring it?

Oh my. Let’s just say, I have and it was the lesson that got me started 13 plus years ago down this path of wanting to learn a better way to manage pet behavior.understanding extinction burst in dogs and other pets

If you too have ‘tried’ this solution unsuccessfully, let me guess as to probably what happened. In the case of your bird, your ignoring him caused him to scream louder and louder, persistently for longer periods of time until you finally couldn’t stand it any longer and you yelled at him, covered him, or did something else. In the case of your dog, your ignoring him caused him to go from making a small sound to increasing the volume, then bumping or pawing you until finally you give in and tell him to stop or even pet him.

So, to those of you who recognize this scenario, I want to congratulate you. You have just taught your bird to scream loud and strong, and your dog to go straight for the bumping and pawing because obviously you just are not hearing the quieter scream or whine, and your vision isn’t what it normally is because you completely missed seeing your dog sit (a behavior that may get attention in other settings).

What is really going on here? Well, the scientific explanation is called ‘extinction burst’. In operant learning (learning from the consequences of behavior), extinction means withholding the reinforcing consequences of a behavior. While the overall effect of extinction in dogs, parrots and other pets is to reduce the frequency of the behavior, the immediate effect is often an abrupt increase in the behavior known as extinction burst. (Learning and Behavior by Paul Chance)

During the extinction burst, you may think you have just made your pet’s problem worse; however, if and only if you can continue to withhold reinforcing consequences from that behavior, then you will more than likely see a fairly rapid decline in the behavior.

The problem is that it is pretty difficult to just ignore an unwanted behavior. And, if you ‘give in’ and offer any kind of reinforcing consequence to the increased behavior, THAT increased behavior level is what your pet has just learned gets a valued outcome.

This is why, when I talk about modifying behavior in the most positive way and setting both you and your pet up for success, I talk about a multi-tiered program that includes arrangement of the environment so as to try and not set the behavior into motion to begin with, give no value to the unwanted behavior, teach your pet an incompatible behavior that will have a consequence of the same or greater value (to the animal) than the unwanted behavior.

Another benefit to solving and/or preventing a pet behavior problem in this way is that you do not need to use aversive strategies, which serves to build a stronger relationship between you and your pet. And that is the ultimate reward for both of you!


Solving Dog, Parrot & Other Pet Behavior Problems Positively

Something to give you thought…

pet enrichment

Please watch my video, and see how easy it is to set yourself AND your pet up for success.

Stopping Parrot Biting Without Force

Dreyfuss is a bird who – if I’d let her – would spend her entire day sitting next to me or on me, frequently with her head down for rubs. So how was it that this sweet girl (who actually may be a boy but I’ve never had her sexed) would lunge at my arm, and even bite it, when I’d put my arm in front of her body before asking for a ‘step up’ from her inside cage perch?

My education in behavior has taught me that biting doesn’t just ‘occur’ in a vacuum, and that before that aggressive behavior happens, a bird behaves with nonaggressive body language (such as dilated eyes, feathers fluffed) to let me know my arm is not wanted in its space. If I get bitten it is because I did not pull my arm away when the bird dilated its eyes or fluffed its feathers, causing the bird to need to escalate its behavior.

Yes, I know that. But I had been watching Dreyfuss’ body language and I just couldn’t see it. One second her body language was telling me she was eager to step up and the next split second she’d lunge.

My turning point came the moment I had written an email to a trainer I know.  In it, I told her Dreyfuss’ behavior was ‘unpredictable’. I hit send and then had a WOAH moment. Hold on here, Lisa. You know better than that. And you have the skills to solve this without the use of force and set both you and Dreyfuss up for success.

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 bird biting or screaming) and the related environmental context that signals and reinforces it. We ask, “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)?“

There you have it…the A (antecedent), B (behavior), and C (consequence)’s.

So, let’s look at the ABC’s of this situation.

A(antecedent):        Lisa puts hand on cage door
B (behavior):           Dreyfuss either rocks from foot to foot or with slight movement
C (consequence):      Lisa opens cage door

A:                          Lisa moves arm to Dreyfuss saying ‘step up’
B:                          Dreyfuss lunges or bites
C:                          Lisa removes hand

Prediction:              Dreyfuss will lunge or bite more to get Lisa to remove her hand

I know, this doesn’t make sense for a bird that, once is on me, could live there. But obviously there is something about my arm being put in front of her that she didn’t want to have happen. How do I know? Because her behavior of biting/lunging continued and got more frequent.

The thing about studying behavior is that I don’t need to know what Dreyfuss was thinking. I only need to know that the behavior had a function for her in her environment and I can then modify the environment to modify the behavior. I like to think about it as teaching new skills.

So, what did I do? Well, I DID NOT use punishment or any kind of force.

What I did do is create a plan that would set us both up for success.

I taught her the contingency that *when* I put my hand on her door, *if* she moves to the left side of the perch, *then* I will put my arm in front of the right side of the perch. And *if* she walks over to and steps up onto my arm, *then* she comes out for attention, seeds, and more.

The power of deciding whether to come toward my arm to come out – or not – was ALL up to HER. And guess what, given the choice, she not only decided to come to my arm every single time – she runs to it and jumps on board.

How great is that!

So, here is the new ABC:

A:       Lisa puts hand on door
B:       Dreyfuss moves to other side of perch
C:       Lisa puts hand at opposite side of perch

2nd ABC:

A:       Lisa puts hand at opposite side of perch
B:       Dreyfuss moves to hand and steps up
C:       Lisa takes Dreyfuss out for attention, seed and more

Taking her out of her cage is that simple now. The beauty of it is that I never used force or punishment. My ‘unpredictable’ bird when it comes to getting her out of her cage, now reliably runs with her feathers relaxed to my arm and as a result we both have confidence in that situation.

To read my post on why parrots bite, please click this link.

Are Parrots Difficult Pets?

In a recent issue of online Good Bird Magazine, president of Good Bird, Inc. and internationally recognized trainer and consultant Barbara Heidenrich offers a great answer to the question…

Are parrots difficult pets?

“In my experience parrots are neither inherently good companion animals nor inherently bad companion animals. The behaviors parrots choose to exhibit are the result of what earns them reinforcers or what will cause an aversive stimulus to go away. In other words, parrot behavior is the result of our behavior. If we choose to reinforce behaviors we like, we will see those behaviors exhibited more often. If we try to control parrots through unpleasant experiences we are likely to create agressive behavior or fear responses.

The bottom line is parrot caregivers who are armed with tools and information on training their parrots with positive reinforcement are likely to have great sucess with a parrot in their home. Those who rely on coercion are sure to encounter problems and sadly miss out on the incredible relationship based on trust once can have with a parrot.  The methods we choose to influence parrot behavior determine the outcome, not the genetics of the parrot.”

Barbara Heidenrich has been a professional in the field of animal training since 1990. She is president of Good Bird Inc. providing parrot behavior and training products. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos and other animal related facilities. She is past president of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators.

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