I’m just getting back in town and bringing April to a close with speaking at the Michiana Bird Society in Mishawaka, Indiana and a presentation at PEAC Cleveland yesterday. Two great groups of fantastic people. I could talk about behavior, training, and enrichment all day long because each are so entwined in each other and have a great deal of impact on one another.
My true fascination is behavior change. When I see an animal with behavior issues I like interacting with the animal to begin changing behavior. This is done with working with and identifying reinforcers and punishers in the animal’s environment. When the animal begins responding to your interactions and behavior begins changing, training is happening. Positive reinforcement training is the best and most effective line of communication I have found in working with animals, which is my reinforcer for why I continue to use it. Positive reinforcement training has also been listed and stated in studies as being a preferred form of enrichment by animals under human care. This is evident when working with an animal. Seeing a bird fly to the front of its enclosure upon your arrival vs flying to the back to get away as it once used to do, always brings a smile to my face because it shows the line of communication has changed for the bird and the caretaker.
Through positive reinforcement training, one can take a once fearful animal or bird and show it a new way of life in our care. Life in our care does not have to be stressful, fearful, boring, predictable, or paired with aversives. Once a bird or other animal begins learning through you, the trainer that life in our care is enriching and empowering, the bird or other animal can begin to become dependent or over-dependent on us. This is where providing an enriched environment through objects to manipulate, slight changes in complexities in the environment, and the opportunity to interact with others becomes important. My goal with every bird or animal in which I interact is to create independence through environmental enrichment beyond the caregiver or trainer. Hence the reason I am heavily focused on enrichment tools.
Stagnant environments create behavior issues. That’s a powerful statement and one I have observed over the years that could not be truer. Stagnant and predictable environments do not empower the animal which can do many things such create stress, anxiety, abnormal repetitive behaviors, and worst of all…cause an animal to do nothing but just sit there or perch there only moving to eat or drink.
Positive reinforcement training creates choice in the animal’s environment and provides mental and physical stimulation for the awesome creatures in our care. Showing an animal a new way of communication changes behavior and empowers the animal. Seeing a bird or other animal independently interacting in its environment and eager to welcome a caregiver or trainer in its environment is a powerful statement. It is a statement that attracts attention and when attention is attracted, people want to learn how to create environments for animals under their care and when information is shared, education is happening.