Sunday, June 7, 2009

Conditioned Aversives - Part IV

First, I wanted to thank everyone for the suggestions as we brainstormed through the various options of addressing the conditioned aversive! I believe one thing we saw is a variety of options. This is good to keep in mind, as at times I have spoken to those with companion birds, frustrated by an undesirable behavior, and they felt as if there were no options... or perhaps there was only one option... when more often than not there are multiple options. We need only choose a path and create a plan. The relationships we share with our birds improve as we see ways to address undesirable behaviors, turn things around, and live at peace in a win-win environment!

I must say that the suggestion (of Anonymous) to use a disposable coffee cup wins the award for the most clever! It represents a compromise of sorts; while not changing Coco's behavior or the conditioned aversive, it would be a way for me to drink coffee, in a cup that holds a fair amount and keeps the coffee fairly warm! And it is changing the antecedent.

Sherry and Shandi offered suggestions for turning around the conditioned aversive, such as Coco riding along to the kitchen with the cup where she would receive a treat. She enjoys riding to the kitchen when we prepare veggies or change water bowls; it is a great future goal. It is addressing the conditioned aversive.

Presently, Coco will not step onto my hand while I am holding the coffee cup unless I am sitting in my chair. When I leave the chair, or approach her with the cup in my hand, the situation changes. In fact, one time she was on my hand and the cup was on a table near the door. I walked over to the table, reached down to pick up the cup to take a sip, and... bam - beak to my hand. I got a strong reminder of what a conditioned aversive is all about.

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So, here we go!

Recall the Half Empty or Half Full post?

I must identify the target behavior (what I want Coco TO DO).

In the past, she has displayed the behavior of flying to me, as I am leaving the room with the cup, to display aggression toward it. So I have chosen the following target behavior:

I would like Coco to remain on her perch, specifically her swing, when I exit the room with the coffee cup in hand.

If she is sitting on the swing, she is not flying toward the cup. By reinforcing swing sitting, I am using a method called Differential Reinforcement of an Alternate Behavior.

General Outline:
  • I am sitting in my chair with my coffee.
  • I pick up the treat jar.
  • With the jar and cup in the same hand, I approach Coco.
  • The jar is closer to her than the cup.
  • I give her a verbal and visual 'stay' request.
  • She is on her swing (or moves to her swing) and receives a treat.
As the training progresses:
  • I give her a verbal and visual 'stay' request.
  • I take a step (or two) away from her (toward the door).
  • She stays on the swing.
  • I approach her and provide a treat.
As training progresses, I am watching her body language. Let's say I take two steps back and she remains on her swing, not displaying any discomfort or appearing as if she is going to fly off the swing. I am now ready to take additional steps toward the door. If after four steps toward the door she begins to display discomfort, or appears as if she may fly toward me, I stop and take a step closer to her, again asking for a 'stay'. I pause, and then provide a treat.

A word about body language:
We know when something is wrong with a close friend by the look on their face, the sound of their voice, or their body language. Because of my relationship with Coco, I am able to observe her and predict when she is likely to (or appears to be contemplating) flying to the cup. I must observe these signs, and her body language, and then react in real time by adjusting my training as we progress.

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