Success with Kathy: Reba:
Reported by L. McGuire and S.G. Friedman, PhD
The S Files are real case studies of behavior challenges faced by
companion parrots that were successfully resolved using systematic, non-forceful
behavior change strategies. In all
cases, the interventionists were the parrots’ actual caregivers, most of whom
had a strong commitment to changing behavior with the most positive, least
intrusive effective strategies but little or no prior experience applying the teaching
technology of applied behavior analysis.
The S Files are not behavior-change recipes. Train-by-numbers approaches
often fail because every bird is a study
of one and every relationship and setting is unique. However, the steps
used in these case studies can provide the scaffolding to better understand,
predict, and change behavior. Appreciation and admiration is extended to the many
caregivers, families, and precious parrots for their willingness to share their
dedication and behavior programs here.
Kathy Wells (Caregiver),
(17 month-old Solomon
(16 month-old cockatiel)
BEHAVIOR -- What is the one problem behavior you want to change? Describe it in
unambiguous, observable terms.
Kiki. She lowers her head, flies at Kiki, pounces and bites him. Kiki has
learned it is safer to fly off when Reba approaches but Reba follows in hot
pursuit. Sometimes Reba stays where Kiki was and snoops around Kiki’s food
dishes and toys. Other times she just goes back to her own play area after
II. ANTECEDENTS – What events or conditions
immediately precede the behaviour that may set it off? Specifically, consider
the following possibilities:
A. WHEN is the problem behavior most
likely to occur?
It occurs when Reba is already free and
Kiki has just been let out of his cage.
B. WHERE does the problem behavior occur?
It occurs in the living room where their
cages and play stations are kept.
C. WHO is present when the problem behavior occurs (people and pets)?
It occurs no matter who is there - Kathy and/or any other family members (husband, 3
kids and a dog).
D. Are there any other antecedents that precede the
problem behaviour such as a demand or request, person entering or leaving the
Kathy is giving attention to Kiki
but other times Kiki is busy eating his food or perching and playing on a play
gym minding his own business. One time, Reba actually flew off Kathy to chase Kiki.
E. When is the parrot most successful, that is, when
doesn’t the problem behaviour occur?
Reba has Kathy’s full attention she
doesn’t usually chase Kiki, or when one of them is caged.
F. How might the behaviour relate to behaviour in the
Chasing off other birds may increase the pursuer’s resources
(food, nests, mates, etc.) and increase that bird’s chances of survival.
III. CONSEQUENCES – What is the “payoff” for engaging in the behaviour?
Social: To stop Reba,
Kathy talks to her, approaches her, and
picks her up to move her back to her play gym or cage. Kiki squawks.
Tangible: Kiki flies
off; Reba gets Kiki’s perching spot, food and toys.
Activity: Reba flies and
B. Negative reinforcers removed, escaped or avoided:
when he flies off.
IV. SUMMARY – FUNCTIONAL ASSESSMENT OF THE
Background: Reba is out of her cage.
Antecedent (A): Kiki is let out of his cage
Behavior (B): Reba lowers her head and chases Kiki
Consequence (C): Social, tangible and activity
(see III. above)
Prediction of future behavior
if nothing changes: Reba
will continue to chase Kiki.
V. REPLACEMENT BEHAVIOR - What alternate behavior(s) could
meet the same function for the parrot if the environment was carefully
rearranged? In other words, what do you want the parrot TO DO?
Rather than chase
Kiki, Kathy identified the following
alternate behaviors: 1) Reba stays on her play areas longer eating her own food
and playing with her own toys; 2) Reba stops preparing to fly when Kathy says “stay” and returns to perching, eating or
playing; 3) Reba calmly engages in activities or quiet perching close to Kiki.
PRELIMINARY STRATEGIES– How can you adjust the environment, including what you
do, so that the behaviour doesn’t occur in the first place? And, what behavior
can you teach or re-teach so the parrot will successfully demonstrate the
Antecedent Changes to
Prevent the Behavior
Consequence Changes to Reinforce Alternate
New Skills and
Let Reba out of her cage by
herself for a few hours to burn off energy before letting Kiki out of his
Give Reba her daily shower right before
letting Kiki out of his cage – its harder to fly with wet feathers.
Put Kiki on the one perch (boing)
that Reba never lands on.
Move the cages as far apart as possible to increase the
effort Reba must expend to fly there.
Reinforce both birds, but especially Reba, with attention
and treats whenever she engages in eating, playing with toys, preening and
any other “non-chasing” behaviors.
Shape calm co-perching by
reinforcing successive approximations toward one another.
- Teach Reba to stay on cue and increase the duration.
VII. PRINCIPLES, PROCEDURES AND
By engaging in the process
of systematic observation,
assessment, planning and intervention, Kathy
treated her parrots with utmost respect and met all of her behavior goals. She avoided
spraying ineffective, random fixes all over the place that could have made
Reba’s behavior even harder to change in the long run. What made this case study
particularly interesting were the many strong reinforcers available to Reba for
engaging in the problem behavior that were outside of the control of the
caregiver, namely automatic reinforcers associated with flying, landing and
displacing Kiki. As a result, we put a lot of emphasis on brainstorming and
implementing the widest range of antecedent changes we could think of,
including setting events, establishing operations (EO) and cues.
Setting events are the
context, conditions or situational influences that affect behavior. Kathy changed the location of cages, play stations and perches, and ensured that they were
similarly and amply provisioned. This set the occasion for Reba to stay on her
own gym more as she quickly learned more effort was required to fly to Kiki’s
dishes and little was gained. An EO, also called a
motivation operation, temporarily alters the relative value (effectiveness) of a
reinforcer by the process of satiation (or deficiency). Kathy
reduced the value of both rigorous activity and Kathy’s
attention by letting Reba have her fill of both of those reinforcers before
letting Kiki out of her cage; thus, Reba was less motivated to chase Kiki – she
did it less. Kathy also removed one
of the cues for chasing by reinforcing Kiki for staying on the one perch Reba
didn’t fly to. These three changes immediately reduced Reba’s chasing behavior
to near-zero occurrences.
Kathy further reduced Reba’s chasing by
providing a higher rate of social, tangible and sensory reinforcers for staying
on her own play gym, eating, playing and other appropriate behaviors than
previously earned for chasing Kiki. This principle,
called the matching law, states that given a choice between two different
schedules of reinforcement, animals tend to demonstrate the behavior that
produces the higher frequency of reinforcement. Kathy
also taught Reba the cue “stay” by reinforcing her for abandoning her
pre-flight behaviors of lowering her head and stretching forward when the cue
was given. Careful observation of Reba’s body language was the key to
effectively timing the cue and delivering the reinforcement for responding to
it. As a result, Reba learned what to do
to gain reinforcement rather than solely what not to do (which is the
insufficient outcome of most punishment strategies).
After six months, Kathy is
extremely pleased to report that Reba continues to not chase Kiki and both
birds have learned to perch together with Kathy,
without any agonistic behavior. The cages and play stands have been returned to
their original positions and these new behaviors have generalized to other
locations. Well done Kathy, Reba and