ABCs … a training tool

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.


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