Humans: “Random Signal Generators”

Posted by Raz on Jun 28th, 2010
Jun 28

I just came across some books by Dr. Patricia McConnell, an applied animal behaviorist, that are very intriguing.  One is called The Other End of the Leash: Why we do what we do around dogs. She discusses human-canine communication and reading each others’ body language.  It seems to me it could have some great insights for parrot behavior as well, especially regarding what we humans do around our birds.   I don’t know how many times I’ve had conversations — including with very experienced trainers — where one of us was wondering with frustration what kind of body language we might be sending out that inadvertently reinforces or punishes something our bird does that we don’t intend to.  Here are some of the first sections in the book:

  • Little movements have big effects
  • Hey Human! I’m trying to tell you something!
  • Humans as Random Signal Generators
Sound like it might be applicable to parrots?

I’ve just ordered it, but thought I’d pass along the title and link to her blog: The Other End of the Leash, which also has some interesting posts.

Patricia is not of the Millan persuasion, and in other books debunks the “dominance” theory.  She is from an ethology (biological and genetic basis of behavior) background, but her training methods appear to be entirely based in applied behavior analysis and positive reinforcement.

Another book recommendation I have that is more species specific but still has lots of insights worth sharing is a book called Cat vs Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat, by Pam Johnson-Bennett. A friend sent it to me (thanks Russ mommy!) when I was dealing with the prospect of getting my old kitten used to a new kitten, and then “rehoming” my older cat back into our household after he’d gone AWOL because the old kitten was just wearing him out. I think many of the ideas in here are useful in thinking about working with a multi-parrot household as well.

The concepts are grounded in ABA also, including suggestions for using positive reinforcement to make certain behaviors worthwhile (such as being in the same room together!), using very small approximations to work toward an end behavior, and using “diversionary tactics” (reinforcing alternative behaviors) to prevent unwanted situations.  (And I just noticed one of her books is recommended on Dr. McConnell’s web site!  Small world of animal behavior.)  The recommendations appear to be working.  We went from hissing and growling in all directions to this in about a week:

Gatos negros



Pam also has a blog and web site with great behavioral tips, many of which can be translated into Parrot.  For example, on her blog is this wonderful post about the dangers of falling into constructs like attributing behavior to anger or spite, instead of relying on what we can actually see:

All about Cats and Dogs: Is your cat mad at you?

Happy reading!