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How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

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How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby Michael » Tue Nov 03, 2009 10:56 pm

Kili was always a very docile parrot and I never had any problems grabbing and handling her. One problem that I recently developed was that she inadvertently learned to fly away from me when I would try to grab her from a perch. When she started flying, she was fine with me grabbing her. However, more recently she realized that most of the time I grab her is to put her away or force her to do something she doesn't want to. What was happening was that if I had to leave in a hurry, was mad at her and wanted to put her away, or if she flew off in the middle of a training session, I used to walk over and grab her which often resulted in getting put away in the cage or returned to training.

The mistake I made was the excessive use of negative punishment and I created a cue for it! She knew the cue and she would only fly away from me when I approached her in the way that I do when I grab her to put her away when I'm mad. One evening this got really bad. She flew off during training in the middle of a trick and I stomped over to get her. As I reached to grab her, she flew across the room to the other perch. I walked over to get her there and just as I got there she flew back to her cage. This got really ridiculous and I was going back and forth and couldn't get her. I was getting really really frustrated and lost my head which I really shouldn't have done. As a side note, the rational thing to do would have been to either ignore her and wait for her to get bored and come to me or to use a cued behavior to get her to step up or fly to me. But in the moment I felt like I had to grab her and the more I tried, the more she'd fly away. It got so desperate to the point where I was trying to catch her in a towel and it was impossible cause she kept flying off. I think that all ended eventually where I tricked her by not giving away my intentions to grab her and then grabbing her anyway. But by the end of this escapade, I knew I had a problem on my hands.

The following night, when I was in a more rational mood, I wanted to check if Kili's fly away reaction would continue or if that was a one time thing. Well sure enough when I approached her looking like I was about to grab her, she would fly away to the other end of the room. Here's what I did to untrain this fly away behavior that I inadvertently taught my Senegal Parrot by being an idiot.

I covered Kili's cage (which was the place she'd fly off the perch to when I tried to grab her) and I had her on the training perch. I approached her like I was going to grab her (which is basically with my arm raised and hand open, reaching in to grab). Surely the first time I did this she flew off but when she approached to land on her cage, she panicked because it was covered and turned around to land back on her perch but I stood there so she turned and flew to her cage but turned around once more. She flew 6 laps of the room this way until she became exhausted and crashed into a wall, bounced off, and landed on the floor. This was completely an unintended consequence but actually it really helped because in effect she punished herself for flying off when all I would have done is grabbed and held her. Because she ended up punishing herself, I was not to be associated with the aversive. I did not rush over to pick her up off the floor either but eventually went over and got her. While she was still gathering her energy on a perch I walked over being subtle about grabbing her and grabbed her but then immediately gave her a treat.

I gave it some time and trained other behaviors but would occasionally walk over with clear intentions that I will grab her and would grab her and give her treats or petting while in my hand. Remember that it's not the grab that Kili is scared of but the after effects of the grab like being locked in cage. So I completely stopped using grabs in the aversive manner as before. I've pretty much given up on using negative punishment in that way with a flighted bird (somebody help me find a better way to dissuade biting behavior). While I may have gotten away with the negative punishment technique of putting bird away in cage for biting, this cannot be used on a flighted bird for sure because it will just learn to fly away and you won't be able to put it away.

The strongest technique, however, that I used to undo the fly away from grab behavior is to turn around the punishment and turn it into a positive reinforcement. For the last week, at the end of every training session, I would send Kili to her perch and then I would stomp over acting really mad and abrupt and grab her and then I'd praise her, pet her, and put her back into a cage to enjoy her evening meal. I previously wrote how certain reactions can be perceived as positive reinforcement or punishment depending on the context. Getting put away into cage during normal out time is perceived as negative punishment. Getting put away at cage after training and receive a meal is positive reinforcement. So instead of changing the purpose of "grab parrot from perch" I just changed the context from being bad (get put away during fun time) and made it good (go back to cage to eat and sleep).

I think that because I caught the problem early on, it was much quicker and easier to remedy than if I had ignored, neglected, or not realized the issue. Now the aversive cue of me walking over with open hand has become a positive cue. In fact it's kind of funny because I have made it overly positive. When Kili sees my hand coming in to grab her, she makes a couple steps over toward my hand and nudges herself into my hand! So it actually became a quasi-trick behavior. The grabbing motion cues her to nudge herself toward my hand! :lol:

Several lessons can be learned from this exchange:

1) Punishment can hurt your relationship with parrot
2) Flighted parrots will not tolerate punishment at all
3) Clipped parrots can still be negatively affected by punishment and may learn to bite rather than fly as part of fight or flight response. Kili chose to fly but clipped parrot may bite!
4) If you will use punishment of any kind (better not be hurtful!), then you better make damn sure that the precursor to punishment is not predictable or #3 will happen
5) A good way to untrain an undesired response is to change the trigger into a positive trigger instead (like turning it into a trick)
6) I have not had any success with punishment, Kili can be just as nippy even if I put her away in cage. If I take her back out later the same day, she's just as nippy. On another day she could be totally sweet. Punishment doesn't work, so don't use punishment on parrots.
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Michael
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Re: How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby Mona » Thu Nov 12, 2009 5:50 pm

Hi Michael:

It sounds like you had quite an adventure with Kili!

Punishment is decreasing behavior. Whenever you focus on trying to "decrease a behavior" you are probably going to be creating a conflict with your bird. As you have learned, if the bird is flighted and has their freedom, it's really tough to win that conflict. The reason is that the bird can and will fly away.

As you write, this is why "positive reinforcement" should always be your first strategy with a flighted bird. Reinforcement means that instead of focusing on "decreasing" a behavior (creates conflict) you focus on "increasing a behavior" (creates cooperation). The more cooperative scenarios you set up with the bird, the less you are going to get bit and the less the bird will choose to fly away from you.

Now having three senegals, I will tell you that they are high energy birds and it's easy to misread them and I do have biting issues from time to time....no matter how hard I try to focus on positive reinforcement. For this reason, I have a ton of different strategies for getting my birds back in their cages but none of them involve grabbing the bird.

My favorite strategy is just "get on your perch". Basically, instead of putting the bird back in their cage, I lure them into their cage for a treat. This is pure positive reinforcement because
A) The birds fly...which they like to do
B) It is entirely the birds own idea. If they don't want to do it, they aren't going to go in the cage
C) Of course, they get a TREAT..Reinforced for the behavior "fly into your cage"

What I have found is that even with a nippy bird, I build up a strong history of cooperation and nobody gets bit. I also have birds racing to get to their perch when cued.

As far as "grabbing the bird".....If I'm going to grab Babylon (and she's the only one I will do this with), I watch her body language very carefully. If she doesn't want to be grabbed, I don't. If she's receptive, I will play with her and quite simply reinforce THAT behavior and only THAT behavior. I do not make it contingent on another behavior because after all, a girl gets to have her space if she wants it and I want the behavior to always be reinforcing for her in and of itself.

Thanks for the interesting discussion. You have obviously put a lot of thought into this and every day is a work in progress, isn't it?
Mona in Seattle
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Re: How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby Michael » Thu Nov 12, 2009 6:02 pm

But Mona,

What if you absolutely must get the birds away quickly. Perhaps they are used to a routine like going back into cage at a certain time. What if you are called out and must put them away prematurely. How can you leave it entirely up to the birds to decide to work for the treat? What if they just prefer to be out? You don't use food management so how is the treat even important enough? They could always go back into their cage to feed, so how can you effectively "lure" them into the cage?

What's good about grab or another hands on technique, gives the animal handler complete control. Kili is so used to this that most of the time she waits for me to take her in or out of the cage rather than doing it herself. Yesterday I was busy and just threw the door open to her cage so she can come out and freefly and several minutes later I still hadn't heard her come out. I went over to investigate and Kili was still sitting there like, "Uhm, excuse me Mr. Jail Warden but you forgot my cage open, I'm just gonna stay here rather than cause any trouble." But really this is good for me because this makes her look forward to seeing me and it makes her dependent on me for going in/out. This creates a relationship of dependence that gives me more power over manipulating hre rather than the bird manipulating me.
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Michael
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Re: How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby Mona » Fri Nov 13, 2009 12:31 pm

Michael asked:

"What if you absolutely must get the birds away quickly. Perhaps they are used to a routine like going back into cage at a certain time. What if you are called out and must put them away prematurely. How can you leave it entirely up to the birds to decide to work for the treat? What if they just prefer to be out? You don't use food management so how is the treat even important enough? They could always go back into their cage to feed, so how can you effectively "lure" them into the cage?"

Hi Michael:

I used to ask this very same question. If I leave it up to the bird, how will I be able to get them in? This was before I had solid training. Now, I see how effective training flighted birds can be. I can pretty much get all five of my birds into their perches in their cages....most times of the day....in less than three minutes. I couldn't do that even if they WERE receptive to being carried because I physically can't run around and grab birds and haul them into cages that fast.....

The answer is in the training. If you focus on increasing the behavior (bird flies to perch) eventually this will become an extremely reliable and immediate behavior. IF you are grabbing the bird, you won't get the same reliability out of the behavior. By grabbing the bird, you dilute the effectiveness of the training.

So, to answer your question, in short....you train "fly to perch" using ONLY positive reinforcement. At first, it isn't going to be 100% reliable because the training won't be there. Resist the temptation to grab the bird or use any thing aversive to get them in the cage. Focus on daily training and if the bird doesn't go in the cage....the bird doesn't get reinforced - but don't dilute the training by adding an aversive to the training process. Just let the bird hang outside the cage. Don't give them a treat when outside of the cage.

Also, very important.....Work on training when you have the time for this. Don't let the bird out if you are putting yourself into a bind in terms of time or you will dilute the effectiveness of your training.

Eventually, the bird will become extremely reliable about going into the cage. Flying into the cage on their own will become more reliable than picking them up and putting them into the cage on their perch. I have this situation with Babylon. It is much easier to get her into the cage by using a lure than it is to physically place her on the perch inside her cage.

I do vary methods for putting my boy senegals into their cages. They are stick trained - again using ONLY positive reinforcment methods AND they are target trained using a lure.

Jack's story is a long story, but there was a time when I was afraid to handle this bird because he would bite and he would also fly away. Now, he will actually lean over and grab the ladder with his beak and pull it close so he can step on it. All of my birds know the integrity of the cue, "Go to your perch." I do not dilute the integrity of that cue. Once I use it, they will ALWAYS be treated as soon as they "get on their perch". This particular cue is too important.

More often than not, I do not use the ladder to step up for the simple reason that I want to continue training "fly to your perch" on cue......but if I am in a hurry and they are dithering around a bit, I do use the ladder. The ladder also helps if I have a birdsitter or somebody unfamiliar working with the birds that might not give the cue correctly or understand how to read the birds.

Babylon will not step up on a ladder. She HAS to be lured where I want her to go for the most part and she is one of my most consistently trained birds. Basically, she prefers to fly and she prefers to go in on her own.....so...that is really quite fine! A girl is allowed to have her space.

If you are grabbing the bird, you are diluting your training and you are going to have problems.....which is why grabbing really isn't a very good strategy unless the bird is 100% receptive to it and really likes it.

Good conversation, a lot of good talking points.

Thanks!

Mona
Mona in Seattle
Phinneous Fowl (aka Phinney) TAG
Babylon Sengal
Doug (spousal unit)
Jack and Bailey (Gremlins)
Kiri (CAG)
http://www.flyingparrotsinside.com

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Re: How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby Michael » Fri Nov 13, 2009 3:06 pm

Kili does like being grabbed. The problem was that the consequence of the grab was becoming aversive. By using positive reinforcement for the grabs and not using grabs in an aversive way, I completely annihilated the grab-phobia early on. Kili likes being grabbed otherwise. I grab her and hold her close to me and pet her. She's totally responsive to that. If I grab her and put her in the cage when she wants to go back that is fine too.

Have you considered using a variable ratio of reinforcement for going back to cage rather than continuous?

I started a new topic to discuss the merits and differences between continuous ratio, fixed ratio, and variable ratio reinforcement here:

viewtopic.php?f=17&t=340
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Re: How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby Michael » Tue Nov 17, 2009 5:10 pm

As an update, I wanted to mention that the process in which a stimulus is reverted from being aversive to desired is called counter conditioning. The trigger remains the same which is the preceding behavior (me walking over to grab her). However, since the consequence for being grabbed was changed to something desirable (positive reinforcement), she readily allows herself to be grabbed.

This is a great lesson for parrot owners. If you find that there is something you do that your parrot doesn't desire or find something your parrot does that you don't desire. You can counter condition the behavior by altering the consequences.

Here is a classic example. A parrot owner reaches into a parrots cage trying to get the parrot to step up and the parrot bites. This is because the parrot is either preemptively defensive or knows that what happens after being taken out is undesirable. The owner can countercondition this response by using positive reinforcement to train the parrot to step up as outlined in this article.
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Michael
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Re: How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby Manziboy » Sun Nov 29, 2009 11:59 pm

Manzi has never really had an issue with being put back in his cage. This year I noticed that he sometimes would run away from me when I told him he had to "go home." Because of that, I began putting treats in his cage to get him to "go home." That worked really well. Now I usually just tell him the command and stick a pine nut or something in his cage and he will go within a few seconds all by himself. Sometimes I am in a hurry and don't have time so I do just grab him and put him back really quickly, but since he is so receptive to treats, I do try to use that method as much as possible. I don't think larger birds are as flighty as smaller birds such as Kili. Manzi will become flighty if he is chewing on something he isn't supposed to have such as my keys. Then, if I catch him, he will immediately fly back to his cage or play stand.

I do have problems with him getting into trouble with chewing "off limit" items and am still not sure how to stop this behavior.
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Re: How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby Becco Lunatico » Fri Nov 12, 2010 9:23 am

yes Yes YES! My Nanday and I are both on a learning curve, thank you all for taking time to communicate (and very well I might add!) what you are learning/have learned about your birds. It's interesting to me that my daughter and I have become parrot owners around the same time and often match notes on behaviors, ours and theirs :D What wonderful magic to be tuned into these heavenly creatures!
"She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot." ~Mark Twain
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Re: How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby MickeysMommy » Wed Apr 06, 2011 5:15 pm

I know that I'm posting in an older thread, but I wanted to graciously thank you, Michael, for your very specific instructions on training your feathery friend not to run (er...fly) away from you! My parrot, Mickey, is a sweet bird, but he's very fidgety and if I simply OPEN up his cage, he zips away! I haven't used any of the techniques you mentioned, but I'll certainly try to "tame this beast." LOL. Mickey's lucky that I love him! Hee hee.

Anyway, these are some great tips. Many of the things you advised people NOT to do were things I unknowingly found myself doing. Nothing harmful, of course. . .but it's more like repeating actions that let Mickey know that he can dart. Then again, I guess they're fairly common mistakes.

Well, wish me luck! I'm about to get started on training that darn bird. I'll get him to behave if it's the last thing I do. Ha! I'll let you know how I do. Take care, Michael. . .and take care, EVERYONE else! I can't wait to meet you all soon! =)
LeAnn
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Mickey's Mommy! :)
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Re: How I Untrained Flying Away From Being Grabbed

Postby Michael » Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:54 pm

Hi LeAnn. Don't forget that this post was specifically about a well trained parrot with a good relationship but just one phobic condition. If, however, your parrot is not extensively trained and you do not have the relationship where you can hold/handle it in all but specific cases (as presented here), then you are better off paying attention to my Basics of Taming and Training Article on my Parrot Blog. That is better suited for establishing the original relationship and taming/training methodology. The post you read here is much more specific to fixing only a specific case single issue. Good luck.
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