Monday, May 11, 2009

A Big, Gray Reinforcer

In my post The Changeability of Reinforcers, I mentioned that treats (food) are only one of several available reinforcers when working with my birds. I am also a reinforcer for example.

Recall that reinforcers are:

1. Changeable

2. Situational

3. Personal


In observing the flock over the weekend, I was able to identify that Sammy can be a reinforcer to Strider. With this, I have an important piece of information to help me further understand flock dynamics, and a potential training tool.

Before I describe how Sammy and Strider may interact with one another, I want to outline a progression of steps available when using a different reinforcer (millet), to later use this as a comparison when working with Sammy as a reinforcer:
  • The millet IS visible to Strider:
    • I offer my finger and ask for a step up
      • Strider chooses to step up
        • He gains the reinforcer (millet)
      • He chooses not to step up
        • I withdraw my hand
  • The millet is NOT visible to Strider:
    • I offer my finger and ask for a step up
      • Strider choses to step up
        • He gains the reinforcer (and made it appear)
      • He chooses not to step up
        • I withdraw my hand
Once the behavior is well established:
  • The millet is NOT visible to Strider:
    • I offer my finger and ask for a step up
      • Strider chooses to step up
        • He gains the reinforcer (and makes it appear), but on a variable rate sufficient to maintain the step up behavior.
Since I have observed that Sammy is a reinforcer to Strider, I am preparing to work with Sammy and Strider together. But first, I must observe the flock and answer the following 3 questions:

1. Is Sammy neutral, reinforcing or aversive to Strider and under what conditions?

2. Is Strider neutral, reinforcing or aversive to Sammy and under what conditions?

3. Is Strider neutral, reinforcing or aversive to Coco and under what conditions?

The responses to these questions, in order are:


1. Sammy can be a strong reinforcer to Strider who strives to be near him, attempts to preen him, and hopelessly sings his little heart out to him. Strider will flee only when chased away.

2. As long as Strider remains outside Sammy's 'personal space', Sammy chirps and sings to him. Through observing Sammy's body language, I believe the Strider is either neutral or slightly reinforcing to Sammy depending on the conditions. Strider is an aversive when he breaches Sammy's personal space.

3. From a distance, Strider appears to be neutral to Coco. She goes about her daily business. However, she will work to avoid him taking the long way through the Fort if he is on one of the perches. Strider is aversive to her at a close or mid-range distance (something she works to avoid).

in my post Consistent, Honest Body Language, I brought out that whenever I am around my birds, they are learning something. Whether I am working with them formally or informally, they are always learning and observing. I am always 'training' and observing.

I must be aware of body language as it pertains to individual birds, groups of two, the entire flock and my own, while being aware of the totality of the environment and what is being expressed. I want to ensure that while I am working with one bird, I am not inadvertently creating an aversive situation, or detracting from the relationship, with another.


With this backdrop, and my observations and knowledge of my birds, I return to my discussion of the discovery that Sammy can be a reinforcer to Strider.

If Sammy and Strider are sitting near one another on Fort Coco, and Strider stepped up but we began to walk away from Sammy, I can predict (and have experienced) that Strider would likely fly off my finger to return to Sammy.


I offered my finger to Sammy to step up. He chose to step up, and I then moved to Strider. Maintaining Sammy's personal space, I offered my free hand to Strider holding it at the same level as, and about 12 inches from, the hand on which Sammy was sitting.

Strider chose to step up immediately. The three of us were then able to walk across the room, first delivering Strider to his area, and then delivering Sammy to his, without Strider flying off my hand.

The straightforward process of Sammy stepping up, Strider stepping up, and then taking them each to their areas could have gone a variety of different directions as each has choice in the various stages of the encounter.

I can use similar steps as when working with Strider and the millet reinforcer, while keeping in mind that inasmuch as Strider can choose to gain a reinforcer (or not), Sammy can as well in this new exchange. I must now consider what is in it for both of them, not simply what is in it for Strider.


Objective: To strengthen Strider's Step Up Behavior
  • I offer my finger to Sammy and ask for a step up
    • He chooses not to step up; I withdraw my hand
    • -or- He chooses to step up and gains a reinforcer
      • Strider sees Sammy on my hand
        • I offer my other finger to Strider and ask for a step up
          • Strider choses to step up and gains a reinforcer (becoming closer to Sammy)
          • -or- Strider choses not to step up; I withdraw my hand
Objective: To increase length of time that Strider stays on my hand:
  • I offer my finger to Strider and ask for a step up
    • He choses not to step up; I withdraw my hand
    • -or- He choses to step up, we move toward Sammy (the reinforcer)
  • I offer my finger to Sammy and ask for a step up.
    • Sammy chooses not to step up
      • I return Strider to his perch; he gains a reinforcer (millet)
      • I turn to Sammy, offer my finger and ask for a step up (to see if he will step up in the absence of Strider, and give him an opportunity to gain a reinforcer)
    • Sammy chooses to step up and gains a reinforcer
    • -or- Sammy chooses not to step up; I withdraw my hand
Once the behavior is well established:
  • I follow the same process as directly above, however as with the millet, the reinforcer is gained on a variable rate sufficient to maintain the strength of the behavior.
In this general outline of working with Strider on the objectives of stepping up and of staying on my finger longer, I hope it is apparent that at each point both Sammy and Strider are both making choices, both able to gain reinforcers if they choose. While I would like to increase Strider's step up behavior, I cannot do so at the detriment of my relationship with either Sammy or Coco. I must know what is in it for Strider, and I must be also be observing Coco during the time I am working with Sammy and Strider.

I must always bear in mind the most important goals (in this order): the flock relationships, and my relationship with them individually. These are the times to follow the Hippocratic Oath: First and foremost, I must do no harm.


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1 comment:

wolfgirl1987 said...

I use Jack all the time as a way to convince Callie I am a good thing. :)

I ask him to step up, then she comes willingly.

Glad that I am not the only one who has used and uses this method

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