Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

14th Annual Raptor Handling Class

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

The original motivation behind starting to teach this class was to raise the bar for those people working with raptors in public education. What I saw back then was that while driven by the best possible motives many, if not the majority, of those doing this work were unaware of the fact that the techniques being taught to them relied heavily upon the use of coercion and aversives. In fact, when viewed from a behavior science perspective the prevalent technique was that of flooding, with its fallout effect, learned helplessness.

When new birds came to a facility, often from either a rehabilitation facility or department, they were subjected to all kinds of stimuli that the birds were just supposed “to get used to.” The more benign technique was to enter the birds’ housing and sit for hours, reading a book. At the other end of the coercive scale was keeping birds in dark places until they ate in the presence of the “trainer.”

One example of such coercive training I remember witnessing was that of a Great Horned Owl, it was an exhibit and educational bird. I saw the handler enter the exhibit (in public view) and use a large butterfly-type net to capture the bird, equipment was placed on the bird while restrained, and then it was taken to do a program. Again, all of this in public view. When I asked the handler about the catching of the bird he said, “Oh he’s just stubborn, once he’s on the glove he’s fine, look how calm he is.” What I saw was a bird that was terrified and had just plain given up, he had no control over any outcome during this process, a classic example of learned helplessness.

So, here we are almost 15 years into these classes and the sad part for me is that while many facilities have made huge changes to the way they train and handle raptors for programs there still remains a way to go. Part of the issue is what I call the “Always done it that way and it works” attitude. For me it is important to remember that effectiveness alone is not enough. Our primary concern must be the welfare of the birds, their quality of life must be raised to the highest level. Indeed, they must not only survive in our care they should thrive.

I invite you to join us this summer in beautiful New Mexico, attend the 14th Annual Raptor Handling Class and raise the bar for the birds in your care. Please visit our web site for details and to register for the class. Act now and secure the early-bird discount.

Keep soaring,


The Instant Expert

Friday, May 24th, 2013

I have a new post over on the Companion Bird World Blog … just a short one. Hop over and take a look.



Extinction Defined

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

One often hears about this procedure in connection with undesirable behaviors such as excessively loud vocalization by companion parrots. It is also a term that is often used incorrectly so here is a short discussion of extinction.

In operant training, the procedure of withholding the reinforcers that maintain a behavior.
Paul Chance – Learning and Behavior.

While this is fairly simple to understand there are a couple of challenges with the use of this procedure. First it requires that the trainer really knows what the reinforcers are that are maintaining a behavior. In addition to this the trainer needs control of those reinforcers and sometimes the reinforcers are not in our control, making the application of extinction just not possible.

There is one more term that is worth discussing here with extinction and that is the extinction burst.

A sudden increase in the rate of behavior during the early stages of extinction.
Paul Chance, Learning and Behavior.

This effect of the extinction procedure is one that can set the caretaker of the parrot up to end up reinforcing a higher level vocalization just because they cannot stand the extinction burst level and they reinforce the higher level by reacting to it. This reinforcement, because it is not delivered after every vocalization is what is called intermittent reinforcement. A term to be discussed in a future article. For now the important part of understanding intermittent reinforcement is that it builds behavior that is more resistant to extinction. This serves to make the effective application of an extinction procedure even more difficult.


Raptor Class Testimonial

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

We are in the process of organizing and promoting the 2013 Raptor Handling Class. This will be the 10th year of presenting this class that was was conceived to raise the bar for anyone working with raptors in education programs. Over the years we have collected some wonderful comments from our attendees with our end-of-class survey. However, just a few days ago I received the following in an email from Joan Cass who came to the 2012 class from the Tucson Wildlife Center in Tucson, AZ.

Hello! I took the class last summer, and I wanted to tell you of my progress. When I returned to Tucson Wildlife Center here in Tucson, I began working with our three-year-old imprinted American kestrel falcon. She was used to coming to the glove for food but not much more. After new jesses were put on, I went daily for three weeks, using yummy mouse organs for rewards. I built her a small transport box and one for our GHOs (photo attached). (They are so wonderfully light and easy to carry!)


Over the weeks and months I slowly introduced out little Kiki to the world, and now she is happy to attend whatever gathering we ask her to. She is used to dogs, generators, running children, and umbrellas. When the breeze comes up she opens her wings (I call it glove surfing) and shows off her lovely tail.

Only once she worried us by ducking and scanning the area. We noticed two Harris’ hawks circling far above us. She had seen the shadow from under the pop-up tent.

Thanks for providing this course and giving me the credibility and the confidence to move ahead with her training!

Thank you
Joan Cass

This is exactly why I present this class and this note from Joan is great reinforcement. Please visit this link for information about the 2013 class and raise the bar for the birds in your collection.

Keep soaring,

Punishment and missed opportunities

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

I have to admit it is very encouraging to see the growing number of people talking about training these days who are becoming more and more familiar with the science of behavior change. Just every now and then however I am having a conversation or sitting in a meeting and I hear something that makes me think … really? That happened recently and I thought that maybe a short blog telling the story might help people understand this valuable science a little better and also to really think about places in everyday life where we can apply our most positive, least intrusive strategies to behavior change.

The story begins with our “hero” walking in a park behind a group of several young women. The young women are deep in chatter and generally having a great time. They, and our hero, continue through the park in the same direction, at one point one of the young women finishes the candy bar she had been eating. Don’t you hate how young people can eat anything and not gain weight? Anyway, I digress. With the candy bar finished she purposefully throws the wrapper onto the beautifully kept grass alongside the path. Now our hero, who considers herself a good trainer, formulates a plan to attempt to change this behavior. She walks over and picks up the wrapper, taps the young lady on the shoulder, and tells her she dropped something. The young lady sheepishly walks over to a trash can and while being teased by her friends she drops the wrapper into the trash. Feeling pleased to have applied her training knowledge our hero happily sets off home.

In relating this story our hero tells us that as she walked away the teasing of the friends continued and she can imagine that the friends would continue the teasing as their walk continued. She tells us this would lead to reducing the wrapper throwing behavior in the future.

So, do you see what made me think to myself … really?

Here we have an example of focusing ONLY on reducing, or punishing the unwanted behavior with no attempt to build the acceptable behavior. Because of the focus on reducing the wrapper dropping behavior our hero missed a golden opportunity to use the most powerful strategy in our trainers’ toolbox. The power of positive reinforcement. The moment the wrapper was dropped into the trash she could have heavily reinforced that behavior, instead she walked away pleased that the aversives would continue to flow from the friends.

While this is a simple story it nicely illustrates the approach that says rather than focusing on the behavior you don’t want, focus on the behavior that you do want to see and use positive reinforcement to build that desired behavior. It almost makes you want to have a candy bar in your pocket, ready to reinforce the wrapper going into the trash … but not eating the candy bar oneself is a whole other behavioral issue ;o)
Keep soaring,