Target training, teaching an animal to touch a body part to an object on cue, can be a great place to begin introducing new people to an animal that needs additional socialization. Target training helps create that interaction and training without having physical contact.

Target training, teaching an animal to touch a body part to an object on cue, can be a great place to begin introducing new people to an animal that needs additional socialization. Target training helps create that interaction and training without having physical contact.

This photo means so much to me. As many of you know, this bird means the world to me and I almost lost him in an accident. This is Rico, our eleven year old Umbrella cockatoo. The bond him and myself was strong before his accident in August of 2014, but what we went through together for his survival has boosted that bond beyond anything I could put into words. I’d do it all over again for his recovery but it comes with its behavioral consequences. He’ll attack anyone that gets near me or near both of us when we are together. When I am in his cage I have to be very careful if someone gets near us or walks by, he’ll bite the living bajeebers out of me. If the cage didn’t separate the person walking by, the attack would be on the person.

Anxiety has developed in both of us since his accident. If new people came in the room, he would get very stressed and almost every time he started flying at and attacking the side of the cage closest to the people. I am bound and determined to change all of this for his future. If something were to happen to me, his future could be rough and probably not favorable for him.

Several months ago I put a behavior modification plan into place. I started reinforcing with attention when new people came in the room. This would redirect his attention to me before the lunge would occur. After that behavior modification was taking effect, then all of us would reinforce with attention when new people came in. I then began going in his cage and snuggling with him when familiar people were in close proximity, slowly changing that behavior. Then I would do this shortly after new people came into the room. A process called ‘shaping’ we covered as the topic in last month’s on-line membership program offered through The Animal Behavior Center. Then I taught him to station on the rock perch you see in this photo. Every time he said “Hi” I would reinforce with an almond sliver when he was on this perch. Then I started generalizing that behavior to when anyone other than me that was standing there when he said “Hi” on that perch. Now he does this all the time and from several different perches within his enclosure. We have new volunteers in the center and do you know what I see? I seen him intentionally seeking out the new people, stationing next to them and saying “Hi”. The cooler thing is he’s stationing and saying “Hi” for the opportunity to be near the new people! We’ve shaped new people as highly valued enrichment for him!!! His body language is calm and I can tell he’s looking for the attention and interaction from the newbies. I LOVE this for him!!!

This month’s topic in our membership program is “Targeting, target training and it’s importance with all animals.” About a month ago I started target training Rico again. (this particular target is him touching his beak to a stick/this needed to be taught) Target training is a great way to get new people involved and engaged with an animal labeled as ‘Off Contact’, which Rico is labeled….for now. I WILL change this because his future depends on it. I’m not one that wants the thrill of being the only one to be able to interact with an animal and being the preferred person. This is not good for the health and future of the animals or for anyone living with the animal. Believe me, I love that close interaction with the animal but when an animal is extremely bonded to one person, I guarantee you behavior issues will follow along with stress and anxiety of the animal and the people involved in the life of that animal. Seeing and hearing stress and anxiety in an animal greatly increases my stress level. It is my mission to make all environments as stress free as possible for the animal.

In this photo you will see our new volunteer, Katy Masters target training and reinforcing Rico with an almond sliver. Katy has been here two weeks. That’s great work and great training and very desirable behavior change we’ve seen in Rico. This photo makes me smile very big for Rico and very big for someone who wants to know more about birds. Happy Holidays & Happy Training!

For more information and upcoming programs, take a look at our website.