Archive for February, 2008

ABCs … a training tool

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Earlier I discussed the major terms that are used in behavioral analysis and training; I would like to briefly write about the use of these terms in performing a functional analysis of behavior and how this analysis is the foundation of training decisions.

By using functional analysis a trainer is able to develop a training plan that may be used to reduce unwanted behavior or to increase a desired behavior. It is a systematic way of observing, documenting, and discussing behavior. I would recommend reading “The ABCs of Behavior” by Dr Susan Friedman for an excellent article on the subject.

There are three elements to a functional analysis; antecedents, behavior, and consequences. The antecedents are those things that precede the behavior and the consequences are what happen right after it. In a very simple example:

A – Trainer presents their hand to the bird to step onto.

B – Birds steps onto hand.

C – Trainer gives bird a reward.

The probable future outcome is that when the trainer presents their hand for the bird to step onto the bird will willingly step onto it.
In considering this example we can learn some important lessons. One could say that the probability of the bird stepping onto the hand depends on if it considers the potential reward valuable enough. While this is true one should remember that the probability the behavior will be performed or repeated also depends very much on the antecedents too. Although in the above example I simply stated a single antecedent there are in fact many and they all play a part in the performance of the behavior. Here is an expanded list of antecedents:

  • The bird is comfortable in the environment.
  • Are there new sights or sounds in the environment the bird may not be familiar with?
  • The bird understands the training process, i.e. performing a requested behavior earns a reward.
  • The bird understands that presenting a flat hand is a request to step onto the hand.
  • The bird has a trusting relationship with the trainer.
  • The bird is physically capable of stepping onto the hand in the position presented.
  • etc …

As you can see failure to perform the desired behavior may be because the trainer did not really set the bird up to succeed rather than the bird not valuing the reward enough. This is a subject of a future Blog post about motivation and how novice and/or uneducated trainers often resort to only manipulating the obvious motivational elements rather than considering the extremely important antecedents.

The lesson here is to be systematic in your approach to training your bird. Write down the ABC for the behavior you are trying to train and also keep careful notes about each training session. I recommend running a video camera for all your training sessions. You will find that you will see your own mistakes and miscues when you watch the video; it is an invaluable self-training tool. Plus, I find it very useful to look back to where each bird started. It is often quite surprising how far they (and the trainer) travel on the journey of learning!

Tomorrow I leave for the IAATE board meeting and annual conference in Holland so there will be a longer gap to the next Blog entry. Don’t forget to email you questions or queries about training  (TrainingBlogatAvianAmbassadorsdotcom)   to me so that I have some challenges when I return.


Positive good! … Negative bad!

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Positive good! … negative bad!

It is unfortunate that the words used to describe behavior in the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are words that are very familiar to English speakers. I say unfortunate because some of these words are so familiar that they bring their own “emotive” baggage along with them.

For this article I will concentrate on four words; Positive, Negative, Reinforcement, and Punishment. These words are used in pairs to describe four different types of consequences that a trainer may apply after a behavior.

Let’s begin with Positive and Negative. When used in general language these words are often used to qualify something as good (positive) or bad (negative). A simple example would be having a positive attitude or a negative attitude. No problem understanding their use in that context. However in the context of ABA they have quite different meanings. Positive means that something was added to the environment and Negative means something was removed. There is no good or bad connotation implied. Hold on to that proposition while we deal with the other two words for a moment.

Reinforcement and Punishment are used to communicate the effect of the trainer’s action on the behavior that occurred immediately before the action. So, if the consequence an animal experiences right after a behavior increases the likelihood it will repeat the behavior then that consequence is Reinforcement. On the other hand if the consequence serves to reduce the behavior then it is Punishment. Now I can almost hear cries that one should never use punishment … remember I mentioned that some of these words come with baggage! Well Punishment is the grand-daddy of all of them for that. In general language punishment is loaded with emotive meaning and one of the challenges of understanding ABA and training is setting aside the preconceptions of this word. In an ABA context it simply means that the behavior is likely to decrease. For example; a parrot loves the company of its caregiver, when it screams for attention the caregiver leaves the room and that action reduces the screaming … that in ABA terms is punishment.

Let’s quickly review:

  • Positive – add something
  • Negative – remove something
  • Reinforcement – increase the likelihood behavior will be repeated
  • Punishment – decrease the likelihood behavior will be repeated

Now let’s put them together to build those often misunderstood ABA phrases.

  • Positive reinforcement – A consequence that adds something to the environment that will increase the likelihood the behavior will be repeated.
  • Negative reinforcement – A consequence that removes something from the environment that will increase the likelihood the behavior will be repeated.
  • Positive punishment – A consequence that adds something to the environment that will decrease the likelihood the behavior will be repeated.
  • Negative punishment – A consequence that removes something from the environment that will decrease the likelihood the behavior will be repeated.

Now that you have the basic terms down I recommend reading the article “The Facts about Punishment” by Dr Susan Friedman. In this article you will find some excellent information about punishment and also information about the downside of this all-too-often “go-to” strategy.

Finally don’t forget that if you have a question about what you read either here or in the referenced article send email to me at The Training Blog  (TrainingBlogatAvianAmbassadorsdotcom)  .


Welcome to the Bird Training Blog

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Welcome to the blog; the idea of this blog is to have a place where I can answer questions about training in general and bird training in particular. You will see that this blog does not display comments on the posts. This is by design; the blog is where you read my training philosophy and my understanding of Operant Conditioning and Applied Behavior Analysis.
I have set up an email address  (TrainingBlogatAvianAmbassadorsdotcom)   where questions about OC and ABA may be posted. As and when time permits my idea is to select a question and answer it in the blog. Hopefully the blog will become a good gathering place for some of the concepts of OC and ABA and at the same time looking at the questions will enable me keep on top of the subject too.
There are several documents that I consider as prerequisites for training and I ask that everyone read them before posing a question. They are:

  1. The ABCs of Behavior – Dr. Susan Friedman PhD
  2. First published in 2001 this paper gives a really good practical outline to the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. It is on my list of prerequisites because the first step in being able to address training and behavioral issues and goals is to be able to describe the training goal or behavior problem in a way that is precise and therefore more widely understood.

  3. Training Animals – The Art of Science – Steve Martin (Natural Encounters Inc.) & Dr. Susan Friedman PhD.
  4. This paper was first published in 2004 at the Animal Behavior Management Alliance Conference and I include it because it is essential for trainers to realize that although the sciences of Operant Conditioning and Applied Behavior Analysis appear to provide a very well defined set of rules that govern behavior modification they are only the start of a life-long journey of learning how to apply the science, in other words the “art” of training.

  5. What’s in it for me? – Steve Martin (Natural Encounters Inc.)
  6. This is perhaps the most important question a trainer can ask on behalf of any animal they are training.
    The writings of Dr. Susan Friedman, Steve Martin, and the staff of Natural Encounters provide a wealth of information and I encourage you to visit the web sites and read as much as you can.

I have one more short article that I wrote for Good Bird Magazine (itself a great resource) called “Science and Art in Training“, it outlines by background and my training and teaching philosophy.

So, read and enjoy and email  (TrainingBlogatAvianAmbassadorsdotcom)   your training questions to TrainingBlogatAvianAmbassadorsdotcom.