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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Catgasms and Pecking orders.

While I haven't trained other species as thoroughly as dogs, I do have more experience than the average bear, with more species than most people would ever hope to own. :)

One thing I learned, early on, with the parrots, was to ignore biting, and praise the good things. With parrots, offering a treat for "good things" didn't even cross my mind, but yet they learned all sorts of words and behaviors, didn't bite me, all using just my happy voice.

They learned nearly nothing from the other keepers, and in fact would bite them quite regularly. Som'thing I found amusing, if it weren't for the other keepers smacking the birds across the head when it happened.

now for anedote's...

one thing I have noticed in other species is retention. The seem to remember the behavior the next session better than dogs. If I don't cue the behavior again, for YEARS the behavior still gets offered, perfectly, every time the animal wants som'thing. Its almost like the behavior is more resilient to extinction. They also seem to have greater understanding between reps, with in "ah ha, I see where you are going with this" vs alot of dogs don't really know where you are going, but are following your directions, rather then skipping steps...once again, purely anecdotal.

Manipulation. While dogs do this also, the other species seem to be very, very quick to put that behavior into their repertoire of other, natural behaviors. Its like they instantly realize they now have a new tool or skill for getting what they want. The dogs figure out this also, but its not as quick, and seems to generalize slower. Teach a dog to sit up for a treat in the living room, a then move into another room and eat dinner. The dog, will likely not understand that he can use that behavior to manipulate the situation to earn a different reinforcer, right away.

Take a cat and teach it "sit up". The cat will, take that behavior and immediately begin to implement it in every situation it sees you have som'thign it wants. Theres no reteaching it in multiple places, contexts. They just get it. Its like they immediately generalize behaviors, granted heavy distraction would likely be an exception.

Buffy, my chicken, was taught to peck me (gently) on cue. She quickly learned that this is the bird equivalent of shouting "HEY YOU" at me. If I ignore her, she will very deliberately peck me for attention. But whats interesting, is she will peck me, then once I look at her (I try to ignore this, but being human...well, oh well) she then offers ANOTHER behavior. Shes literally cueing a "watch me", and oh boy am I trained.

The biggest hitch so far I have found in clicker training cats, is a phenomenon, I affectionately call the "catgasm".

Get about ten reps in, clicker training a cat, and then the cat has a moment of "OH EM GEE we are TRAINING!!!!!' and then the cat rolls around uncontrollably, purring as loud as possible, obviously in pure bliss...but also in their own world. You cannot train during a catgasm, you should not pet (will make the bliss worse) you cannot bribe or feed also I have just have to wait it out. If you are lucky, you can get through the session without a relapse. Generally tho, you will have 1-2 catgasms per training session.

Annoying as these are, if you are in a hurry, I have learned som'thing very important. In a world full of dogs and dog training, we neglect to see how truely happy clicker training makes our subjects. For a dog that is happy all the time, its hard to dissect the emotions and see how much of the "happy" is because the dog likes training, and how much is the dog just a happy dopey dog.

Other species, however have greater happy/indifferent contrasts, so its really plain as day, easy to see that this way of training, builds strong bonds and associations :)