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Which bridge is better? A click or a verbal "good"

Exchange information about how to teach specific tricks to parrots. Most of these techniques should apply to all bird species. Share your success stories.

Which bridge is better? A click or a verbal "good"

Postby Mona » Fri Oct 30, 2009 11:27 am

There are generally three components to reinforcing new behaviors. One component is the "cue". The cue precedes the behavior and signals the behavior. When initiating a trained behavior or a trick, cues are often the last thing taught (but not always). That's confusing, so to say this simpler, once learned a cue precedes the behavior but when learning a new behavior (especially if the behavior is difficult) cues can often be the last thing taught.

The second component is the "bridge". The bridge is the word preceding the behavior that lets the animal know that the behavior was correct and reinforcement is forthcoming.

Reinforcement follows the bridge. Most of us typically associate "reinforcement" with a reward like a treat but reinforcement does not have to be a reward.

I'd like to focus on the bridge. Some of us use a clicker as a bridge and some of us use a word (such as "good") as a bridge. What are the pro's and con's for using each with our companion parrots?
Mona in Seattle
Phinneous Fowl (aka Phinney) TAG
Babylon Sengal
Doug (spousal unit)
Jack and Bailey (Gremlins)
Kiri (CAG)
http://www.flyingparrotsinside.com

youtube: Avian Flyers
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Mona
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Gender: This parrot forum member is female
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Types of Birds Owned: Senegal Parrots, Congo African Grey, Timneh African Grey
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Re: Which bridge is better? A click or a verbal "good"

Postby Mona » Fri Oct 30, 2009 1:11 pm

Okay...answering my own question (since I have time)...advantages to a verbal bridge (like GOOD) are:

1) Your hands are free
2) It's easier to be spontaneous because you don't have to look for a clicker if you want to bridge a behavior
3) If my bird is going to mimic a sound (and they will definitely mimic a bridge sound) I would prefer to hear "good" or "very good" rather than click, click, click.
I actually have set up training sessions in front of my TAG Phinney. I ask the Senegals to fly to different perches. The sessions go like this:

Me: Babylon fly to your perch
Babylon flies to her perch
Phinney: Very Good
Phinney: Fly to your perch
Babylon flies to her perch
Phinney: Very good

(At this point, I don't need to say any thing any more, Phinney has it handled...Click, click, click just doesn't make things as fun)

4) For different species of birds, clicks can actually mean something. I am sure that for Senegals, a click is a friendly gesture..similar to a dog wagging a tail; however, I was just reading an article in Parrots Magazine this month (November 2009 I think) by Greg Glendall. He posited that a click can be an aggressive sound to a grey. I do not know if this is true but I do know that greys certainly have a better verbal aptitude than many other species of parrots

Disadvantages to using a verbal bridge are probably:

1) Karen Pryor argues that the click is discrete and that it has inherent biological function in the brain. (I'm not sure if they studied this with birds, though)
2) Words can become confusing. It is possible that birds just hear "yadda, yadda, yadda" while a click certainly is clear
3) Words can look sloppy. I watch videos of myself and I do look pretty silly chatty.

I think people should use whatever they prefer to use. Personally, I prefer the verbal so for you clicker afficionados...Your turn...What's your list of advantages vs disadvantages?

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

youtube: Avian Flyers
User avatar
Mona
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Gender: This parrot forum member is female
Posts: 271
Number of Birds Owned: 5
Types of Birds Owned: Senegal Parrots, Congo African Grey, Timneh African Grey
Flight: Yes

Re: Which bridge is better? A click or a verbal "good"

Postby Michael » Sat Oct 31, 2009 11:39 pm

Mona wrote:advantages to a verbal bridge (like GOOD) are:

1) Your hands are free
2) It's easier to be spontaneous because you don't have to look for a clicker if you want to bridge a behavior
3) If my bird is going to mimic a sound (and they will definitely mimic a bridge sound) I would prefer to hear "good" or "very good" rather than click, click, click.
4) For different species of birds, clicks can actually mean something. I am sure that for Senegals, a click is a friendly gesture..similar to a dog wagging a tail; however, I was just reading an article in Parrots Magazine this month (November 2009 I think) by Greg Glendall. He posited that a click can be an aggressive sound to a grey. I do not know if this is true but I do know that greys certainly have a better verbal aptitude than many other species of parrots


I will mostly disagree with you about these. I would say my hands are pretty free with a clicker. I keep mine tucked inside my hand and it has almost never hindered me from using both hands for a trick. I wrote an article about holding a target stick, clicker, and treat in one hand in order to teach targeting your bird onto your hand:

http://www.birdtricks.com/blog/single-h ... your-bird/

Which brings me to a good point that clicker goes much better with target training because you can click the exact moment the beak makes contact with the stick rather than the aftermath of the bird biting the stick aggressively. The click may distract the bird just enough and make it realize the behavior is complete that it will not continue chewing the stick and learn to bite hard.

Now for #2. I don't see clicker training holding you back from being "spontaneous." First off, I have several clickers lying around and could grab it and use it quite quickly. But the biggest thing is that even if you normally clicker train your bird, there is NOTHING stopping you from not using a clicker during a really spontaneous moment. If you could get a treat into the bird's beak quicker than saying good or clicking, then you're all set. Otherwise you can still use good or make a click sound with your mouth as a bridge to be spontaneous. I click and say good to Kili. Usually my sequence is: trick, click, treat, good. I praise her while she is eating her reward and developing the praise as a secondary reinforcer.

#3. I think this is a very good argument for your side. With my Senegal it's not an issue because she doesn't imitate the clicker but I could see it get annoying to listen to that all the time. To offer one counter argument to you though. I've watched videos of talking african greys that are praising themselves all the time and it is kind of silly and would hurt a serious training session. They will sit and be like "Say peanut. Peanut. Good bird, that's a good bird, very good." This ends up ruining the "trick" of just saying peanut. Of course it just shows how smart they are and that they could learn much more.

#4 Actually Kili clicks her beak rapidly when she gets excited and if I tap my teeth back she gets excited and clicks her beak so perhaps in senegals this works great. I would be interested why greys may find this aggressive??

I like clickers because they are consistent, reproducible, easy, saves my voice, rewarding to parrot. And believe me, I've been straining my voice calling Kili to fly to me across 60ft many times in a training session so any less talking ends up making it easier. Clickers make training more reproducible where other members of household can do it. If one person says good and another says great, that is completely different to the bird. And because the praise is merely a secondary reinforcer, results are sketchy.

The clicker is also just that, a secondary reinforcer. For me it is. Because I don't give treats absolutely every time there is a click but rather on a variable frequency of reinforcement schedule. But every time the correct behavior is completed I click.

Here's another great example to support clicker training. Watch this video from 0:25-0:34

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-cdanh5Xzw

I have Kili do 5 tricks straight for a single treat. If I stopped after every trick to say even "good," it would interrupt my vocal cues and it would drastically slow down my run through those tricks. On the other hand, omitting any sort of bridge may confuse the bird and it would be wondering if it was doing the trick correctly or not. Sometimes Kili will keep retrying a trick until she gets at least bridged if not rewarded. For play dead, the click clearly marks the termination of the dead behavior and releases the parrot to get up.

My philosophy on the clicker is the same as with eating utensils. I believe that Americans are the most rational people when it comes to using proper eating techniques for food. Asians eat everything with chopsticks, even if it is really difficult to eat in such. Middle Eastern folks eat everything with their hands. Europeans eat absolutely everything with knife and fork (even a hamburger). Americans on the other hand use a bit of everything where appropriate like knife/fork for greasy foods that need to be cut or scooped, their hands for quick foods like hambugers, and chopsticks for sushi and asian take out. So I think clickers definitely have their place as a tool for training but it doesn't stop me from using other methods when necessary. The clicker is simply the easiest tool for training most tricks and trainer convenience is a lousy excuse to forgo it. Being the more highly intelligent being, it is up to us to do everything right on our part to make the learning as simple and effective as possible to our feathered friends. I think it is quicker for us to learn to use the clicker and to apply such training techniques than to teach the bird with more wishy washy methods.
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Michael
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Flight: Yes

Re: Which bridge is better? A click or a verbal "good"

Postby Mona » Sun Nov 01, 2009 3:07 pm

Hi Michael:

You make a lot of good and valid points. I don't really have a problem with any of my birds become obsessed with "good" or "very good". They just tend to say it at unexpected moments.

You have some great videos and have done very well with Kili so I won't talk you out of using a clicker. Why mess with success? I will say that my house is a bit different because I tend to focus more on "play behaviors' rather than "precise behaviors". I like to rip a little bit off of learned trained behaviors......maybe a little bit like a jazz session. To that end, I talk a lot. My birds also tend to talk a lot....

Having said that, we probably drive my husband a little crazy :lol:

I also have never really ever used a clicker so I can't really speak for it. I have friends that use clickers and I think that it is great that they do. I think this is a personal decision for every body.

By the way, the verbal "good" is also a secondary reinforcer, just like a click.

My friend Tani, however; will say that the problem with a clicker is that it "stops the action" and cannot convey subtleties. She found it more helpful to use a verbal bridge when she was chaining many behaviors together. For example: "Good" means something different from "very good". If you have a complicated chain...oh, like....bird pushes shopping cart across table, then bird turns shopping cart, then bird stops at a shelf, then bird stocks the shopping cart with items on shelf, then bird rings bell, then bird uses a credit card, then bird pushes shopping cart back.....You don't want the bird to stop the action at any time but you do want the bird to continue the sequence.

Tani would use a verbal bridge like "good" as a secondary reinforcer, then differentiate that with "very good" at the end of the sequence at which point the bird receives the treat. You can't do that with a clicker.

Tani also used the verbal "do better" if the behavior was close - but no cigar. I'm not sure if you would call that a "bridge word" because the bird would not receive reinforcement after "do better" but they would understand that if they did get it right, they would get the reinforcement. I'm sure there is a technical training term for that......

I tend to use "do better" now as well. It might be as important for me because I get impatient when training and I just need to DO SOMETHING when the behavior isn't quite right as it is for the bird.

Thanks for the fun discussion! Training is definitely fun!

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

youtube: Avian Flyers
User avatar
Mona
Poicephalus
 
Gender: This parrot forum member is female
Posts: 271
Number of Birds Owned: 5
Types of Birds Owned: Senegal Parrots, Congo African Grey, Timneh African Grey
Flight: Yes

Re: Which bridge is better? A click or a verbal "good"

Postby Michael » Sun Nov 01, 2009 6:45 pm

For training chains I have two kinds of chains and methods of doing them.

Chaining a specific sequence and a random chain of behaviors.

When I ask Kili to fetch all coins to piggy bank, that is a specific chain. I expect her to fetch all coins every time but I don't care about the order of the coins. For this trick I started by having her fetch one coin at a time and rewarding each time she dropped a coin into the piggy bank with a click and a treat. Once she had the motion down, I moved on to clicking every time she dropped a coin in but only giving a treat upon completing the sequence. Finally once she was consistently fetching all coins to piggy bank I stopped clicking at all except for a click for the completion of the entire sequence of retrieves. So this becomes a one click for complete sequence kind of chain. I don't need to reinforce the intermediary steps at all because she already knows what she is doing.

On the other hand, sometimes I like to chain random tricks in random order and I do NOT want her to infer any kind of specific sequence to perform them in. Let's say I ask her to turn around, shake, wave, nod, wings. I would click each one to signify that she carried out each command properly and then reward her at the completion of the sequence. And believe me this does not stop the motion one bit and often times Kili will get ahead of herself shooting off further tricks before I could even cue them.

I honestly believe that Tani Robar is in a serious state of cognitive dissonance over clicker training. The arguments she presents against clicker training are all flawed or misdirected. Of course I understand where this stems from: admitting the merits of clicker training would negate the validity of all of her previous work, methods, and products. But I don't buy it. Dedicating 5 pages of her book to explaining why she won't cover clicker training despite most other books/trainers supporting it just shows how feeble her arguments are. :violin:

Sorry Tani, I think you are a great trainer and very knowledgeable about parrots with very much to offer, but the persistent excuses and undermining clicker training are pathetic.
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Michael
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Gender: This parrot forum member is male
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Location: New York
Number of Birds Owned: 3
Types of Birds Owned: Senegal Parrot, Cape Parrot, Green-Winged Macaw
Flight: Yes

Re: Which bridge is better? A click or a verbal "good"

Postby Michael » Mon Nov 02, 2009 12:28 pm

I started a new topic (or more like wrote an article) specifically to provide counter arguments to Tani Robar's opposition to clickers.

viewtopic.php?f=17&t=278

From here on out, the discussion of Tani Robar's arguments for/against clicker training go there. If you are providing your own personal arguments for or against clicker training they should go here.

By the way, Mona, I think your argument about the parrot mimicking the clicker is probably the most compelling anti-clicker argument I have yet heard but Tani Robar did not provide that one so I feel her entire position holds no ground.

When it comes to the parrot mimicking the clicker, it becomes a question or rather debate of whether the clicking vocalizations or the benefits of clicker training outweigh each other. Feel free to submit your thoughts.
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Michael
Macaw
 
Gender: This parrot forum member is male
Posts: 6068
Location: New York
Number of Birds Owned: 3
Types of Birds Owned: Senegal Parrot, Cape Parrot, Green-Winged Macaw
Flight: Yes


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