Sunday, November 10, 2013

Stick Training Charlie

Charlie is my 20 year old White Fronted Amazon. When I adopted Charlie a few months ago, he was very fearful of the stick. He would sometimes step onto a stick for someone, but only after he felt he had no choice. This is using negative reinforcement, which means that something aversive goes away, in this case, the stick stops chasing you, when you do the behavior...stepping onto the stick. As you can imagine, it can be relationship damaging but it can also make the stick a scary thing. Also Charlie is more comfortable with men than women and part of what I am trying to do is make him more comfortable with me.  Doing something frightening, like chasing him with a stick, would not be helping to further our relationship and take it in the direction I want to go. I want Charlie to feel comfortable and safe around the stick and around me.

I set out to stick train Charlie using positive reinforcement and by shaping the behavior. Shaping means that you slowly build the behavior and reinforce all approximations towards the complete behavior.  Essentially, I started out by reinforcing Charlie for looking at the stick, then moving towards it, for staying near it, for putting a foot on it, then two feet one it, etc. 

The process can vary in how long it takes to get to the goal behavior. It depends on many things including the animals learning history, their individual personality and temperament, the skill level of the trainer, how often training is done, past life experiences for the animal and so much more. It probably took a couple of weeks of my working on this sporadically for us to get to where we are. Had I worked on it more often, we would have gotten to our end goal much faster.

The most important thing with this training is that you take your time and allow the animal to take their time. Do not push or force or pressure the animal. Instead, take what the animal can give you and reinforce that.

In this video I am usually using pieces of cashew, sometimes a safflower seed and on a few occasions a sunflower seed to reinforce Charlie's behavior.