Archive for October, 2011

Behavior and Learning Defined

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Although this is the third in the series of short articles I realized that perhaps it should have been the first and this realization will hopefully enable me to present future articles in a better sequence, one that builds a foundation to support the subsequent articles.  This article addresses two fundamental terms; behavior and learning.


Anything a person or animal does that can be measured. In practice, the term usually refers to publically observable overt behavior. However, behavior that is available only to the person performing it (such as thinking) may be included if it can be reliably measured.
“Learning and Behavior”, Paul Chance

This short paragraph contains so much valuable information that we can use in our interactions with our birds or indeed with any animal including our fellow humans. For me a crucial element is that behavior is anything a person or animal does that is “publically observable.” The science of behavior change deals with observable behavior. One of the first steps in learning the application of behavior science to changing the behavior of our birds is to train ourselves to observe and report the behavior we see rather than attempting to divine their inner state. By focusing on what we see them doing we can devise a plan to work on the behavior and easily assess if the is actually working.


A change in behavior due to experience.
“Learning and Behavior”, Paul Chance.

Notice that learning is defined as a change in behavior, Chance points out his book that behavior scientists prefer this word over “acquisition” because learning does not always involve acquiring something, when learning is happening behavior continues to change. In my opinion the use of the word acquisition also suggests that the behavior is acquired quickly and in short order, whereas change suggests an ongoing process and for me that better describes learning a behavior.

The nature of the change in the behavior can be in any dimension. It may be a change in the speed, duration, intensity, frequency, or indeed any combination of these dimensions.

What actually changes behavior is experience. Experience is a smell, a touch, a sound, a taste … etc. It is a physical event. Although this may sound like a circular definition, experience is exposure to any event that changes observable behavior.

While on this fundamental definition I would like to point out that teaching and training may be used interchangeably when speaking of the person working to change the behavior of another person or animal. Almost by social convention we speak of teaching humans and training animals. I believe this division has grown out of social stigma directed against early behavior scientists and their animal based experiments. For me the two words are pretty much interchangeable.

If this is the first of my behavior and training terms articles you have read please visit the list of articles to read more. To be kept informed of new articles as they appear use RSS subscription link on the right of the article, or sign up for email notification of new blogs posts on the form provided here.

Should you have a term you would like included in this glossary or if you have a question about a term please feel free to send me an email  (TrainingBlogatAvianAmbassadorsdotcom)  .

Keep soaring,



Training and Behavior Terms – Punishment

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Welcome to the second in this series of short articles about training terminology. If you missed the first installment you can find it here.

All of the definitions used in this series are taken from “Learning and Behavior” by Paul Chance. Anyone who is interested in getting good solid information about behavior science should seriously consider purchasing a copy of this book.

Let’s take a look at one of the most emotive of all the behavior science terms and one that is probably the most misunderstood and sadly among the most common of strategies used for behavior change in our society.


The procedure of  providing consequences for a behavior that reduce the strength of that  behavior.
Learning and Behavior, Paul Chance.

Once again, like reinforcement, punishment is a procedure and not a tangible object or thing. It is the process of applying or removing a stimulus immediately after a behavior and observing that behavior reduce in strength or frequency in the future. What punishment is not is something the bird deserved or “had coming.” There is no judgment involved in punishment from the behavior perspective.

I have seen it written that if behavior reduces then punishment must be the procedure being used. This is not absolutely true and in a future article we will discover other procedures that while they may reduce a behavior they do not involve the use of punishment.

It is worth noting here that using punishment is a strategy that brings a number of unwanted side effects. These side effects not only undermine the relationship between bird and caregiver they also may have profound effects upon the bird and its future behavior.  In our hierarchy of choices of strategies for behavior change punishment falls well below reinforcement.

I hope you enjoy these short articles, if you have a term that you find confusing or would simply like better defined and explained please feel free to email me.

Keep soaring,

Training and Behavior Terms Defined

Monday, October 17th, 2011

As with all aspects of life, clear communication between  caregivers, trainers, and behaviorists is vitally important if we are all to help each other solve behavior problems with our birds. One tenet of clear  communication is the vocabulary used for such communications. To foster clear  communication I will be posting a series of short articles here that define and examine some of the most used and abused terms of behavior science. This will  not be a complete list, merely an attempt to improve all of our communication skills and through that improved communication develop our relationships with our birds through better training.

All of the definitions used in these articles will be taken from “Learning and Behavior” by Paul Chance. Anyone who is interested in getting good solid information about behavior science should seriously consider purchasing a copy of this book.

I will begin the series with a term that many people feel they completely understand. However, one only needs to monitor a few of the many Internet lists and forums to realize it is often misused.


The procedure of  providing consequences for a behavior that increase or maintain the strength of that behavior.Learning and Behavior, Paul Chance.

This single sentence embodies several important concepts that many people appear to either gloss over or misunderstand. First and perhaps most misunderstood is that reinforcement is a procedure and not a tangible thing or object. One often hears people say “I offered reinforcement …” Reinforcement cannot be offered like a peanut. It is the process of giving the bird a peanut immediately after a behavior and seeing a future increase or maintenance of that behavior. This is the second important point in this sentence; the process followed by the trainer/caregiver is only defined as reinforcement if, after the consequence is provided, the behavior it follows actually is maintained or increased. No matter what our intention reinforcement has only been used when one is able to observe its effect on future behavior.

Closely related to reinforcement is “Reinforcer.” This is not a term directly defined by Chance in his book, however I will write about Reinforcers and Punishers in a future article that addresses the term “Stimulus.”

I hope you enjoy these short articles, if you have a term that you find confusing or would simply like better defined and explained
please feel free to email me.

Keep soaring,