That thing you just did (IAATE Conference 2010)

Posted by Raz on Mar 22nd, 2010
Mar 22

Back from the IAATE mega-road trip and easing back into the blog life…. Here are a couple of great quotes I saw as people’s signature lines today:

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.  — Bill Gates

A learning experience is one of those things that says, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.” —  Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Yeah, success is sure fun, but it doesn’t always teach you everything you need to know.
Susan Friedman gave an excellent talk at the IAATE meeting in Albuquerque this month, and one of my favorite lines was how you don’t need to be a chemist to be a gourmet cook, or be a scientist to be a good trainer. But the science of applied behavior analysis is what you use “when the souffle doesn’t rise.” I actually used that in my talk a couple days later, because that’s what ABA has been for me, and why I have written blog posts like Beyond the How-To. The basic training recipes are great and should be learned and practiced. But even the best trainers know things can and do go wrong. That’s when it pays to know some of the science behind behavior and to try to use it to think through your own unique situation, the one that’s not covered in the cookbook. And in daily life with our birds, there is a lot that’s not in the cookbook!

The talks at the meeting were consistently excellent. On the subject of learning from failures, Jeff Ewalt from the Beartooth Nature Center (Red Lodge, Montana) gave a hilarious account of using these experiences to make oneself a better trainer, called, “Relax, It Will be Funny One Day.” It’s great when we can all share in these and get a laugh as well as learn from someone else’s experiences. But the main message was: relax, things happen to everyone. The important thing is to use that information to change your future behavior. Hey, sounds like applied behavior analysis! And reminds me of another favorite:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. — Albert Einstein

Yet how many times do we just keep doing the same thing interacting with our birds because that’s the way we’ve always done it, then put the burden on our animal to figure out what it is we want? Expecting them to change a behavior that is apparently reinforcing to them, for no reason they can possibly recognize? Fortunately there are those infamous learning experiences where something comes along and smacks us over the head hard enough that we finally realize, “hey, that thing I just did….” The cool thing about studying behavior however is that you start to train yourself to question methods that aren’t getting results before the big smack on the head comes. Sometimes.

Since I wasn’t able to prepare the presentation until after the deadline for the conference CD, here is a link to the slides online.

The last segment of the talk is a short video, from very raw footage that Pablo Anchante is putting together as a story called Wind and Whispers. Sneak preview!

Carly Lu, “Wind & Whispers” raw video

I’ll be posting more on some of my favorite talks which were about falconry, and interesting similarities between very old and new approaches. The highlight for me was Steven Bodio’s keynote address about hunting with eagles and large, lanky sight hounds, including his experiences in Central Asia. Here’s a sneak peak of that, a blog about Lauren McGough (below, on left), who is learning to become the first female “berkutchi,” (Kazakh eagle hunter) in Mongolia, on a Fubright Foundation scholarship. (Click on image to go to web site.)

My traveling partners on the road trip were Carly, Piper and Peter Topping. Critters came because I’ve been so busy the last couple months I really didn’t want to board them for a week, so all they had was a few days in Albuquerque at an avian vet’s office where I could visit. Peter now has more bird trainer friends than any 15 year old alive, and I’m hooked on Lada Gaga.

Cassie and Helen train Peter on the latest techniques for getting birds out of trees

All in all it was a fantastic meeting and learning experience. Sid Price and Nance were unsurpassable hosts. I hope they are taking a well-deserved rest now!