"While I write," I thought. "I will let my sweet little cockatiel Lennon sit on my shoulder, because I didn't get to spend a lot of time with him last night."
So I walk over to his cage and let him out. He came out and was really snuggly and very talkative. Oh, how I love that little bird.
|What a cutie!|
I still had my yoga clothes on, so I wanted to put on a sweatshirt
so Lennon wouldn't crap all over my bare shoulders to stay warm. I walked into my bedroom, put Lennon down on the bed, and put my sweatshirt on. When I went to pick him up, he started making little Nervous Cockatiel Sounds which he often makes when I leave for work, or when I put him back in his cage for the night.
As my finger approached his face, he lashed out and bit the %&*! out of it.
I recoiled unprofessionally; no animal trainer is supposed to react to unwanted behavior. So fire me. You stay still while an angelic-looking bird rips your flesh open because They Can't Believe You're Going to Leave The House Again!
So I put my sweatshirt sleeve over my hand and asked him to step up. He did, but not without lots of biting. And then he flew to my head (which was securely ensconced in the sweatshirt hood) and whined and bit my scalp through the hood fabric. And when I went to get him off of my head right away, he bit again and again and again.
He eventually calmed down when he realized I wasn't reacting to his biting anymore. I placed him on my shoulder, pet his little feathery cheeks, and told him he was a good bird. Then I sat down and began to write about hypothetical examples of what happens when an animal says NO. I figured hey, this is a question people ask all the time. Plus, my blog's name and theme are about this very topic.
I reached up and tried to get Lennon to step up on my bare hand. This stoked the tiny, angry fire raging inside of his head and he attacked again. I ignored him. I typed and tried to feel inspired while Lennon struck at my face, my head, my wrist, and my hands. I didn't need a hypothetical example for this blog. One was happening to me in REAL TIME. So I had a little conversation with Lennon.
Me: Thanks Lennon, for being such an inspiring muse! This behavior you're exhibiting exactly portrays the topic for my latest blog!
Lennon: WAHHHHHHHH I HATE YOU
His attacks did not stop, so I walked him back to his cage and placed him inside. And now I can hear him, "WEE-WEE! WEE-WEE!" which most scientists agree translate to "DEATH TO ALL HAIRLESS PRIMATES". So I don't think he'll be joining me for the rest of this blog entry.
Okay, let's break it all down. First of all, if you're not an A-hole, you probably subscribe to the whole "positive reinforcement" training concept. That is, you reward desired behavior and don't focus so much on the undesired behavior. Secondly, if you decide to use positive reinforcement training, you're also empowering the animal to decide what they want to do.
How does this work? Well, you find out what motivates the individual, because each animal is an unique. My rabbit will do anything* for vanilla wafers. Lennon is more motivated by attention and affection. I've worked with dolphins who are business-only: They just want fish. Other dolphins are such finicky eaters that I actually have to reinforce them with their favorite toy if they don't play with their fish.
|Behold, the power of the Nilla|
Once the animal knows that you've got what he/she wants, then training can start. Essentially, if the animal wants to do what you expect of them, then they will do it. If they don't care about what you have to offer, then they may choose to decline.
What are some of the reasons for an animal to blow you off? Well, I can't read anyone's mind. I can barely figure out my own (and I'd venture to say most of you who know me would say the same thing about me). Sometimes it's because:
1) You haven't rewarded them properly for that behavior
Dolphin: Wow. Another fish? How original. *rolls eyes*
2) The animal is scared or anxious of something
Seal: There is a blue heron standing over there, plotting my demise I JUST KNOW IT! HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO FOCUS AT A TIME LIKE THIS?!
3) The animal is distracted by, erm, "Facts of Life"
Boy Penguin: Wow, you're hot.
Girl Penguin: Yeah, you too. What's that blond haired girl doing over there?
Boy Penguin: Don't pay attention to that trainer, baby. It's you and me.
Girl Penguin: Oh baby, oh baby.
4) You've accidentally rewarded them for doing the undesired behavior
Parrot: *screaming incessantly*
You: OMFG SHUT THE EFF UP!!!! CAN'T YOU TELL HOW SERIOUS I AM BECAUSE I AM YELLING REALLY LOUDLY IN A DISCIPLINARY WAY USED TO TELL SMALL CHILDREN TO BEHAVE!
Parrot: MY OWNER IS SCREAMING TOO! PARROTS LOVE TO SCREAM! IT IS HOW WE COMMUNICATE! WE ARE COMMUNICATING!! THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!!!!!!!! I'LL NEVER STOP SCREAMING!
|SCREAMING IS MY FAVORITE|
5) The animal has no clue what you're asking him/her to do because you haven't actually trained them
You: Sit, Fido. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit.
You: Sit. Sit. Sit! SIT! SIT! FIDO! SIT!
Dog: This is boring. I need to sit down.
You: Oh! My dog is trained!
When the undesired behavior is in progress, marine mammal trainers employ what we call an "LRS" which stands for "Least Reinforcing Scenario", which means "Just Ignore The Behavior For Like 3 Seconds." You don't yell, you don't punish, you don't draw attention to the undesired behavior. Why? Because you want the following two things to be crystal clear to the animal:
1) You are allowed to do whatever you want without fear of anything bad happening to you
2) But I am only going to reward desired behavior
Here's an example of good response to an undesired behavior:
You: Sit, Fido!
Dog: Did she just say down? *lies down*
You: *Wait for dog to stand up again, then LRS*
Dog: Oh rats, I guess that wasn't the right response.
Dog: Sit! I can sit!! *sits*
You: Good dog!
Here's an example of a bad response
You: Sit, Fido!
Dog: Did she just say down? *lies down*
You: No! Fido! Sit! I said sit!!!
Dog: Oh! Mom is so excited!!! I am such a good dog!!!!
You: FIDO! SIT! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!
Dog: I LOVE LYING DOWN!!!!
So you can see, there's a lot to consider when an animal doesn't do what you ask them to do. So how do you handle that situation? How do I deal with an emotionally wrecked cockatiel with abandonment issues?
Sparing you the details of my behavioral plan for helping poor little Lennon, I can just say it involves changing my predictable behavior and spending a lot more time with the dude.
But when an animal says NO, you need to listen as a trainer. It's not a time to get frustrated long-term. It's a time to sit back and re-evaluate your situation. The real art of training is understanding and practicing the two-way communication between the trainer and the trainee. The animals are allowed to say no. You need to figure out how to sweeten the pot. You have to ignore the undesired behavior but also make certain you're rewarding the animal when he or she is doing what it is you want them to do.
|Training should be fun for human and animals alike!|
So I guess when you get the Middle Flipper, or Paw, or Wing**, look at it as a positive challenge. And if you're not an animal trainer, realize that the name of the game isn't compliance. It's making the game fun for the animal so they choose to participate more times than not...but also making sure you're not whoopsie-daisy rewarding undesired behavior by drawing attention to it.
So now readers, I have to go. I have to go practice what I preach with a sad little birdbrain.
*This is not an admission of guilt for any crimes that may or may not be connected to my rabbit, Kenobi "Bunny Balls" Rust.
**Sorry reptile-lovers, I'm not sure how a snake would flip you the bird.