Here is what not to say during behaviour training.
Have you ever found yourself saying these words when someone gives you advice? You probably have. We all have! Haven’t we? I am guilty of it too.
But now I try really hard to catch myself if I feel those words creeping out. Here is why. When we respond with “Yeah, but….” it pretty much puts the brakes on receiving assistance from the person trying to help.
Here is an example:
Question: My Parrot screams when I leave the room. How can I get him to stop?
My Response: It is really important to not reinforce the screaming. And therefore heavily reinforce another sound that will work to get your attention.
Owner’s Response: Yeah, we have tried that, but it doesn’t work. He just keeps screaming.
My Response: Well, there are a few things that could be going on. You could still be inadvertently reinforcing screaming. Birds are very perceptive to little responses.
Owner’s Response: Yeah, but we are definitely ignoring the screaming. We turn up the TV louder or go over and cover the cage.
My Response: Actually going over to the cage or making any sounds that the bird perceives reinforces the behaviour. Everyone in the family needs to be on board and act like they have vanished into thin air the moment the bird screams in order for him to understand screaming doesn’t work to get attention.
Owner’s Response: Yeah, but that is not possible in my house
Many times every solution I offer is countered with a “Yeah, but…” and eventually I am so beaten down I just end up saying “Yup, you are right! It can’t be fixed in your case.”
It is very disheartening especially when you know the problem is fixable and there is pet and household that could really use your assistance. But every time you try to help you are being told no your advice won’t work or doesn’t work or has already been tried.
Those who do provide professional science based services and information on addressing behaviour training problems with animals can tell you that the methodologies do work.
If they are failing there is usually a problem in the application. Professional consultants are usually excellent detectives at helping uncover where the application is failing. They are going to ask detailed questions about your process. This is where it can be tempting to say “Yeah, but…”
This is because most believe they have followed instructions to the letter. But in reality what was described by the consultant, what was heard and what was actually done probably were all somewhat different.
Sometimes it can be difficult to have clear communication. But the good news is we can keep the lines of communication open. We can continue discussions about important details that will be helpful to both owner and consultant trying to come to the solution to a behaviour problem together.
I recently had a phone call with someone having a hard time getting a bird to go back into his enclosure. I asked the person to describe to me how she asked the bird to step up and go back to the cage.
The person suddenly got defensive and said “Just the way you told me.” I had to reassure her I was just collecting information so I could help her and that I had only seen her with the bird once and needed more details.
Part of her defensiveness was that she was frustrated by the problem she was having with the bird and angry in that moment. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves it really is about getting the problem solved and putting our emotions to the side for a moment.
People who provide information on addressing behaviour problems really do want to help. So the next time you find yourself tempted to say “Yeah, but…” ask yourself if maybe some other phrases might be more helpful such as “I think so, but maybe I didn’t apply it correctly” or “I am not sure, can you give me more information?” or “Can you help me understand how I can do that in my situation”
You will find the person trying to help you will be even more eager to give you guidance towards a solution. And best of all you will get resolution for that troubling pet behaviour problem.
Read more about training your Parrot here.
Do you have any behaviour training tips?
Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provide animal training DVDs and books, webinars and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in over twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.