I’m giving an On-Line Behavior Consultation this afternoon and just took this video to share in my consultation. Since I just sat here and downloaded it, I thought I would use this as the topic for this post.
First of all, shaping is the procedure of reinforcing small approximations toward a desired behavior. Shaping can, and usually does happen in very small increments. In this video I am reinforcing very small increments of training Suki, our blue-fronted amazon, to touch a stick with her foot. She thinks she has to touch it with her beak.
Second, a target is an object. Any object. In training, you want the target to be predetermined and you want an animal to touch a body part to it. In this video, my predetermined object is the ball at the end of the stick. I want to train Suki to touch the ball at the end of the stick with her foot.
Target training is one of the first things I train any and every animal that comes through the center, or that I am working with. This afternoon, I am helping a client teach her moluccan cockatoo that she just took in from a shelter, to touch his foot to a target stick. Why? Because one of the issues we are working on is his biting. The target stick can get her to move her moluccan from point A to point B with no initial use for physical contact in the beginning of our training, as you see Suki does at the very end of this video. Suki has to take one step to be able to reach the target stick. That is the beauty of this behavior.
Teaching the moluccan to touch the target stick will help my client develop the trusting relationship with her bird and the bird with her. If effectively using positive reinforcement training, the bird will want to begin completing her requests because it will be of high value to him. Reinforcers are always delivered for touching the stick. Soon she will be able to set the target stick down and ask her bird to touch his foot to her finger. Once he begins doing this consistently, she can then target his feet to her arm and she can then move him from point A to point B by herself.
The target is a prop used to a predetermined end, which is her being able to pick up the bird without fear of being bitten. There are several key factors here. One is to never push the bird past his comfort level. If the bird hesitates, there is a reason for it. If you think you are going to get bit, you have probably pushed the bird too far by asking a behavior beyond his comfort level. Second, is to never push yourself past your comfort level. If you are not comfortable with a request you are giving your bird, you need to back up and keep working at the previous step in which you are or were comfortable. If you are not comfortable, it is because you are not sure if you are going to get bit. If you aren’t sure, that means your bird isn’t sure either.