Archive for June, 2017

I don’t use rewards for training!

Friday, June 30th, 2017

I recently have seen an increase in the use of the word “reward” when speaking/writing about training. One of the tenets of my teaching is the use of the correct terminology when speaking or writing about behavior and training. The science is clear about the correct term for a stimulus that increases or maintains behavior when delivered contingent on and contiguous with the behavior; it is reinforcer. By using this term one communicates clearly that the stimulus is proven to increase or maintain the behavior, this proof comes from previous presentations of the stimulus and the observed maintenance or increase in the behavior. The term “reward” is not a part of the lexicon of the science of behavior change, its definition is:

… a thing given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.

“the holiday was a reward for 40 years’ service with the company”

synonyms: recompense, prize, award, honor, decoration, bonus, premium, bounty, present, gift, payment;

More: fair return for good or bad behavior.

“a slap on the face was his reward for his impudence

“a sum offered for the detection of a criminal, the restoration of lost property, or the giving of information.

synonyms: recompense, prize, award, honor, decoration, bonus, premium, bounty, present, gift, payment;

The important point to note is that a reward does not imply any change in the future behavior. However, with the term “reinforcer” the stimulus only gets that name if in the future the behavior it follows is maintained or increased.

An important part of behavior and training is communication, and communication only works when those communicating speak the same language. Learning and using the correct terminology is a part of being a good, effective trainer. It empowers the trainer to communicate clearly, and precisely, with their peers and leads to a better understanding of the behavior.

If you would like to learn more about training and behavior, register for the 14th Annual Raptor Handling Class. Register before June 12, 2017 to receive the benefit of our early-bird price.

Keep soaring,


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,


Pavlov … always on your shoulder

Friday, June 9th, 2017

Just recently a very good friend who was visiting Europe brought back some of my favorite candy from England. I love Bassett’s Licorice Allsorts, and she was kind enough to bring back several one-pound boxes. In addition, she gave me a small notepad and pen.

So, what does this have to do with the title of this short blog and more specifically what has it to do with Dr Pavlov? Well that notepad and pen are the clue.

Many years ago I remember Dr Susan Friedman saying “Pavlov is always on your shoulder.” It is a phrase I have used in pretty much every class/workshop/seminar I have given. It is also a concept that many people have trouble seeing in their everyday training sessions, let alone in the regular daily lives.

Remember Pavlov discovered what has become known as classical or respondent conditioning. He paired a bell ringing with the presentation of food to a dog. After a few repetitions of the pairing found that ringing the bell alone elicited salivation from the dog.

Back to the Allsorts, when I see the bag on the kitchen counter I salivate and invariably reach over and take one, or two! What I have found is that catching a glimpse of the notepad, or even just the pen, on my office desk elicits the same response and, for the sake of my waistline, I must work hard not to go in search of the Allsorts bag.

This smart marketing campaign is a great example of respondent conditioning, Allsorts are easily recognized by their color, just seeing those colors in combination reminds me they are around and the salivation starts.

There are many examples in marketing of respondent conditioning … challenge yourself to find a few today!

Keep soaring,