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We've tried that and it's not working...

Discussion in 'Behavior Byway' started by BraveheartDogs, 3/16/11.

  1. BraveheartDogs

    BraveheartDogs Cruising the avenue Mayor of the Avenue

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    I am writing this post because I come across this statement both on internet forums and in real life as a behavior consultant.

    Many times when people complain about problem behaviors in their animals (regardless of species) and are given advice they respond that "they have tried that and it didn't work". It is important to keep in mind that in order for our animals behavior to change we have to change our own behavior. As a species, we tend to blame the issues on someone else. The bird is being (insert any label here) hormonal, dominant, mean, jealous, stubborn, etc. when the fact is that the behavior has simply been reinforced (consequences) and the stage has been set for the bird to do it (antecedents). As owners we can control and change antecedents and consequences. In other words, the behavior is sandwiched between two things that change behavior, both of which we can control.

    When people tell me that they tried something already and it "didn't work", I don't usually have to look far to see why it didn't work. While not every solution will work for every animal, learning theory doesn't change from individual to individual or even from species to species. Learning theory remains the same across the board. Functional analysis (antecedent-behavior-consequence) remains the same across the board. So, it isn't that it simply doesn't work for that animal, it usually means that there is a problem with how it's being executed.

    How a behavior modification or training plan is executed is important. The skill of the trainer comes into play here. For some things, the timing is critical and if it's not right the bird will be confused and may be reinforced or punished for the wrong thing. For instance, let's say that a person asks their bird to step up and the bird bites the owner's hand, which causes the owner to pull their hand away. The bird was probably reinforced for biting. The owner is upset so then asks the bird to step up onto a stick which the bird does and then puts the bird in a time out to negatively punish the behavior. What message could the bird be getting? Probably that biting makes hands go away when he doesn't want to step up and that he got timed out in his cage for stepping up on the stick. It is important and critical even to look at what happens just before (antecedent) and just after (consequence) a behavior to determine if and how it can be modified.

    Another problem with owner's execution is with extinction. We know that any behavior that is not reinforced will go away or go extinct. There are some exceptions like if the behavior is a response to stress. If a bird is screaming because he is not getting enough attention, exercise or enrichment then that screaming will not likely go away from ignoring the bird. In this case, the screaming is a symptom of being ignored and is a sign of stress. But, in cases where the bird's needs are met and the bird is screaming for attention ignoring the bird will cause the screaming to go extinct or go away. This is one where people constantly say "we tried ignoring him and it didn't work". The fact is, while they may have tried ignoring the bird, they simply didn't do it long enough. If the bird has learned that screaming brings the outcome of attention, any attention, the bird will keep screaming. Once the owner starts to ignore the screaming to extinguish the behavior, the bird will have an extinction burst which is when the behavior gets worse before it gets better. Many times it is during the extinction burst that the owner caves because the screaming gets worse and they can't cope with it which only cements the behavior even further. The bird has now been taught that if they just keep pushing and persisting, the desired outcome will eventually happen.

    When a behavior has a strong reinforcement history meaning that the animal has practiced doing something and then getting the desired outcome for a long time, the behavior will be more resistant to extinction.

    In the case of screaming, another thing that happens is that the owner "thinks" they are ignoring the behavior, but they aren't. Birds (and dogs) are very good at reading our body language and some of our body language can unintentionally reinforce behavior. I once had clients who had an American Bulldog who would bark at their back door and they said they couldn't get her to stop. She was a big, goofy funny dog and just looking at her made you smile. I asked them if they ever laughed while she did it, they said "yes, all the time". Bingo! When a bird is screaming for attention and the owner is attempting to ignore it, there are a million things the owner could do to reinforce it including, but certainly not limited to flinching, covering their ears, looking in the direction of the cage, turning up the TV, etc, etc. So, keep in mind that the animal, not us, get to decide what is reinforcing and you may have to look at other things going on.

    The fact is, extinction can take some time. A bird who has been screaming for attention for 2 years is not going to miraculously stop after 10 minutes of being ignored because there is too much reinforcement history that has supported the behavior. The bottom line is, it takes time. I am not saying it's not frustrating, I wouldn't want to try and ignore a screaming bird for 2 hours, but I didn't make the rules, science did. It isn't always fun, but it IS the way it is.

    So, keep in mind that if a behavior modification plan feels like it isn't working, you may need to adjust how you are doing things. You may need to wait longer. You may need to adjust how you are putting the plan into action. You may need modify the consequences or adjust the antecedent, but you will get there.
     
    Last edited: 3/16/11
  2. Bokkapooh

    Bokkapooh Ripping up the road Avenue Spotlight Award Avenue Veteran

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    What an awesome very well written article!!:D
     
  3. JLcribber

    JLcribber Joyriding the Neighborhood Celebirdy of the Month Mayor of the Avenue Avenue Spotlight Award Avenue Veteran Shutterbugs' Best

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    A+ Vicki !! :hug8:
     
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  4. tammie

    tammie Rollerblading along the road

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    Thanks Vicki, I always enjoy reading your posts! And excellent information for everyone.
     
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  5. The Cozy Nestbox

    The Cozy Nestbox Rollerblading along the road Avenue Spotlight Award

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    Fabulous post, Vicki. Thank you!
     
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  6. Holiday

    Holiday Mac Mama Mayor of the Avenue Avenue Spotlight Award Avenue Veteran

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    Great information :) Thanks, Vicki.
     
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  7. BraveheartDogs

    BraveheartDogs Cruising the avenue Mayor of the Avenue

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    Thanks you guys!!:hug8: I get frustrated hearing "it didn't work" all the time, and that the animal is a just a this or that, when really, the owner needs to adjust what THEY are doing;)
     
  8. luvsgreys

    luvsgreys Biking along the boulevard Mayor of the Avenue Avenue Spotlight Award

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    Fantastic Vicki! :hug8:
     
  9. jasminlana

    jasminlana Rollerblading along the road Celebirdy of the Month Avenue Spotlight Award

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    Very good information. Thanks.
     
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  10. love4birds

    love4birds Rollerblading along the road Celebirdy of the Month

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    Awesome post!:highfive:
     
  11. suncoast

    suncoast Cruising the avenue Celebirdy of the Month Avenue Spotlight Award

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    Really great read. This should be a sticky IMO.

    Ginger
     
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  12. Holiday

    Holiday Mac Mama Mayor of the Avenue Avenue Spotlight Award Avenue Veteran

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    I agree :)
     
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  13. dolldid

    dolldid Riding the Skies Mayor of the Avenue Avenue Veteran Avian Angel

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    i have found out with Mango if he does something i dont like
    i scold him and leave the room
    hes free flighted and can and does follow me but im findig out by turning my back to him walking away he understands what im meaning
    my actions speek for me i do it same way all the time hes learning,,lol

    as for his screaming it not often so im lucky there

    so i do understand what you were saying i might not do it as you would but i make sure he knows what i will not axcept
    thanks for posting
     
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  14. Harley's Mom

    Harley's Mom Rollerblading along the road

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    Vicki
    Well done! I don't know much about training birds (I'm learning) but I do know how to train dogs.
    I've feel that because of my K9 experiences, I can read my birds pretty well. Some of the same things work for both, I just have to adjust how I execute with the birds.
    I also read a lot of the advice on this forum and I've learned a lot!
    Thank you everyone!
     
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  15. Welshanne

    Welshanne Ripping up the road Celebirdy of the Month Mayor of the Avenue Avenue Spotlight Award Avian Angel

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    A lot of what is needing to be put right with our birds is really being "trained" in how to proceed ourselves. Often think our problems with our birds has really been an offspin of what we or previous owners have started. In other words it comes back to us humans once again! :(
     
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  16. Mystics Mom

    Mystics Mom Biking along the boulevard Mayor of the Avenue Avenue Spotlight Award Avenue Veteran

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    Fantastic post!!!:D
     
  17. BraveheartDogs

    BraveheartDogs Cruising the avenue Mayor of the Avenue

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    Thanks guys! It's a sticky!

    Doll,

    It's not really even that we need to all do the same things, we just have to be willing to really look at what is driving the behavior and then change what we can to modify the behavior. It sounds like you are doing that with Mango! We are totally on the same page;)

    The cool thing about animal training is that learning theory doesn't change from species to species. You have to learn the body language of each species you work with and you need to have an idea about where the animal comes from, what they do naturally, etc, other than that, behavior mod is behavior mod:D

    Totally agree!! It doesn't HAVE to be us that has built the reinforcement history, it can be the previous owner (or the previous five owners) that did it. I think that the stress of being rehomed along with the bird already having a reinforcement history of undesired behaviors can be a recipe for disaster:(

     
  18. Saemma

    Saemma Ripping up the road Celebirdy of the Month Mayor of the Avenue Avenue Spotlight Award

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    :hug8: Thank you Vicki!!
     
  19. gritsinct

    gritsinct Sprinting down the street

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    Great post! Thanks
     
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  20. Christina71

    Christina71 Sprinting down the street

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    I finally had a chance to read this whole post. I completely agree! I took some behavior modification courses in college a few years ago and tend to forget what I learned sometimes, but after some frustration after I first got my lovebirds, I had thought about it.

    They were not at all tame when I recieved them and it was very frustrating to get them back into the cage, I was toweling them at first (which made us all unhappy). I finally realized that it was me, and that I needed to have patience and remain calm.

    With the right timing, reinforcement (millet), and some signals from me ...they get back into thier cage without any problems most of the time. The only time I do have problems is when they are let out at an odd time during the day, but I just walk away if they are not ready and try again a while later. Normally I can just tell them and and kind of wave my hand toward the cage.

    It has helped in the taming process also, we still have a lot of work ahead of us but they do trust me enough now to preen me and hang out on me,lol. They just don't like my hands much, although Serenity will let me touch her now before taking a step away from me.
     
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