Thursday, October 8, 2009

Working Together With Two

Time for another behavior post! I know how much you all love these! Barney and I had a conversation about it - because he was dying to get to the computer. I promised him that he can write tomorrow's post (so check back), but tonight's post is going to be about behavior.

The topic I have chosen is one that I have seen a number of questions about lately. It is an important topic, especially for those who have more than one bird.

The issue that has been raised are methods of addressing aggressive behavior by a bird against one that is being trained. We can imagine - a bird steps up, or a bird accepts a treat, and one of its friends runs over and gives it an unwelcome and unkind peck or lunge.

At some point along the way in these sorts of conversations, the term 'jealous' will usually come up. Those of you who know of my writings expect that I will always be careful not to assign human emotion to non-humans (birds). So, staying away from any such a description or assignment, we can simply look at what steps could be taken to help resolve the situation. We certainly don't want an interaction with a bird to include receiving aggression from another!

There is one sure fire way of addressing the issue:

- Only working with the bird outside the presence of the aggressing bird.

There may be times, and certain behaviors, when such a remedy would be the best advice. In our example, we certainly would like to be able to have interaction with one bird, in the presence of another, without creating Bird War III! However, working with the bird alone would certainly be an option.

If we would like to have one big, happy, together flock, we will need to consider a different tactic.

The three players in the drama will now be referred to as:

1. The "other bird" (OB)
2. The "interacting bird" (IB); and
3. The human

The human approaches both birds and first reinforces (treats) the OB for staying put (before any aggression is observed). The human asks the IB for a step up, receives it and reinforces the IB. I would want to be carefully observing the OB at this point, and if I saw even the slightest signal that aggression was being contemplated, again treat before the aggression takes place.
The focus remains on reinforcing the OB for staying in place (for not expressing aggression).

I would then return the IB back to its previous (pre-step up) position, and give both the IB and the OB a reinforcer (at the same time with opposite hands).

{A mother does this when she has a phone call to make, wants to take a bubble bath, or company arrives. She gives the toddler a new coloring book with fresh crayons, or perhaps a new toy or one that has not been seen for awhile, that she knows is something that the child really likes.}

What may the OB begin to learn through such interactions?

When the human and the IB are interacting, the OB gets a valued reinforcer/treat for staying put. Further training down the line could expand this in a number of different directions. The dispensing of the reinforcer could be slightly delayed, or the OB could be trained to receive his reward when he goes to the back of a cage, to a different perch, etc. I even might want to add a verbal cue such as 'stay' to the process which may become the foundation for later stationing training.

If I continue with this process, what prediction might I make about probable future behavior when working with the IB in the presence of the OB?

The OB will begin to learn that when I am interacting with the IB, staying put will gain the OB a reinforcer. This 'do nothing' but stay put behavior is actually quite something to me - it frees me and the IB from the concern that the IB will be on the receiving end of aggression.

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1 comment:

Arlene said...

This came at the perfect time. I've been going through this very same thing.
Nicky is very passive and Rosie is the aggressor.
I'll try to give Nicky a little treat while she's busy and she drops what she's doing and runs over to push him out of the way. She has also gotten very demanding. I'm thinking she is the OB.

Since I can't separate them they have to learn together. How can two little birds create so much havoc. My little angels. :-)

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