Two-way Communication

8-5-16 Carson station.jpg
Carson quickly learned where her training station is and will often wait there for the next training session!

When I first met Carson (our red-tailed hawk), I raised my leather handling glove to her feet and she hopped away to the other side of the mew.  That’s one of the unique challenges of a living collection: the bird can choose whether she wants to participate or not.  Carson was telling me that she was not comfortable stepping on my glove and immediately the gears in my training brain started turning.  Why did she avoid my glove?  How can I make the glove a positive place?  Operant conditioning, positive reinforcement, bridging, and shaping discussed at length in my books and papers on animal training hold most of the answers to these questions.  I decided to start from a different place, however.  I’ve found that for all of these technical theories to work, you need one simple thing: two-way communication.  I was already listening to Carson’s body language, which told me I needed to back up in our training.  I also need to be consistent with my actions so she knows what to expect.  If she steps on the glove, I give her a piece of food; if she does not step on glove, I leave the mew along with her opportunity to earn treats.  When I am consistent and respect her body language, she gains the power to control the outcomes and will work harder to earn the positive ones.  We established a training station, a specific perch where we train.  This allows her to choose if she wants to participate in the training session.  Training with respect to the bird’s comfort level may take longer than other methods, but it is less stressful for the bird and we will build a strong relationship.

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One thought on “Two-way Communication

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