Saturday, May 16, 2009

Seizing the Moment

In my post on Science and Art, I touched on the 'art' aspect of training. The other night after arriving home from work, I was able to practice yet another aspect of training that can be equally difficult to describe or quantify.... Seizing the Moment!

In education we speak of looking for a teachable moment... making cookies with the children is an opportunity to review fractions; a walk in the park is a chance to talk of various cloud types and practice identifying leaves, and so on.

When I arrived home, I was in with the birds, and a teachable moment unexpectedly presented itself. I was sitting on the floor near the treat jars. Sammy flew over to me first - the old man (28 year old cockatiel) of the group is well-versed in the ability to recognize when food might be making an appearance. Strider followed suit by landing on my head. Sammy responded in kind by flying to land on the front of my shirt (not to be outdone by Strider or miss out on first dibs on a choice treat). Strider then upped the ante further by flying from my head directly down to my hand!


Cool enough that Strider flew over and landed on my head - but he had now flew from my head directly to my hand without prompting by me.

My mind, sailing through the possibilities of this teachable moment, landed on the shore of: recall training. This may be just the perfect time to set the foundation for this skill. Not that I would have planned this or predicted it... but if a door appears, it never hurts to knock on it and see if anyone is home!

As I have mentioned in many other posts, our birds are always watching us, and always learning from us. And in the course of normal interactions and in relationship with our birds, if we maintain awareness, teachable moments will present themselves. This was just one of those moments for Strider!

I placed Strider down on the table, and Sammy as well, and stood up. With millet in hand and about one foot away I spoke Strider's name. Sure enough - he flew to my hand for which he was amply rewarded. I continued with the process, and within minutes I was standing across the room as Strider was speeding toward me, with the skill of a fighter pilot, landing directly on my hand for his favorite reinforcer. I couldn't have been more happy... but...

When working with a flock of three, there are bound to be unexpected surprises at least once a day! Strider may be working on the very baby steps of what someday will be recall, but Coco already has this skill down. In my post A Big Gray Reinforcer, I mentioned that when working with one bird, I must always be aware of what the other two are doing, what they are experiencing, learning and their reactions and responses.

In my glee over Strider's teachable moment, I temporarily lost track of observing the rest of the flock. I was, as they say, "in the zone"!

Suddenly, instead of speaking Strider's name as I had been, in my delight I looked across the room at Strider and said in a bright, vibrant tone of anticipation: "Come!"

He did - oh yes - Strider came alright..... right along with Coco! Whoops - I wasn't quite prepared for that! I was caught in the moment, and right on cue, Coco came to the 'Come' command as she has learned. (Although the command is prefaced with her name, she nonetheless responded right on cue.) Of course, she had been watching Strider and me all along. I believe it is quite possible that the little lady had been waiting for the perfect opportunity to get in on the fun, the action, and the treats as well!

So Strider landed on my hand, then Coco landed on my outstretched arm directly beside him. Strider then popped straight up like a helicopter and tried to land on Coco's head (still wanting to gain his reinforcer). Coco was moving and swaying; Strider then landed on my arm again beside her.

The look on Coco's face was priceless; I do wish I could have read her thoughts! Her concern disappeared as my other hand appeared with a sunflower seed to reinforce her - most especially for being on my arm next to Strider - and to create a positive experience base of landing in unison with Strider.

Of course Strider received his reinforcer as well, along with the chance to communicate with Coco on a new level. After receiving their just rewards, they both left, circling one another in a figure 8 fashion several times,
communicating on the wing as I call it, before returning to their previous positions on their respective perches.

One never knows when an opportunity to train (a teachable moment) may appear. When it does, I say seize the moment!

(Memo to self: seizing the moment is a bit different than
getting caught up in the moment!)

It was a great time for us and a fabulous experience for Strider and Coco to work together - Coco further demonstrating what recall is all about to the newbie! It is hard to describe in words; it is wonderful to experience birds in the learning zone and enjoying themselves.

Natural enrichment!


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