One is never supposed to gush. It’s just not done, not if you want to be cool. Luckily, I’ve never been so constrained, so…. wait for it…. I’m going to gush.
I’m mid-week into the Natural Encounters Animal Training and Management Workshop with Steve Martin and Dr. Susan Friedman, and my brain is smoking. In the best of all possible ways. Steve and Susan have created a remarkable learning experience, using lecture and hands-on training to apply the science of behavior analysis and positive reinforcement to train corvids and parrots. Half the day is lecture, half is training a crow or our own Macaw. My Macaw, a Scarlet, is named Iago… rather an unfortunate name for an animal with a beak that can break your finger, so I’m going to call him George. (Why George? I don’t know. Hey, it’s five o’clock in the morning, the only time I have to write this before starting lecture and training again today.)
I’m able to be here because I retired from teaching my University course and can afford the time, and because I’ve seen Susan Friedman talk and think the world of her knowledge, presentation style and perspective. A dear friend, Meg Boscov, came last year and raved (yup, more gushing) and came again this year because she had enjoyed it so much. Best BFF event possible for an animal trainer, you definitely want to do this next time if you can possibly manage it.
The week is brilliantly designed and balanced beautifully between lecture and hands-on training with a coach right beside you. (Thank you Wouter!). Working with the parrots, no surprise here, is amazing. Even for those of us who know a lot about learning and operant conditioning (which describes all the participants, it’s a fascinating and highly educated group, about 1/2 dog trainers, 1/2 zoological park trainers), we can all learn more. Which I am, lots and lots, as you’ll read in many articles to come. I am also loving the opportunity to work with a different class of animals. I’ve done a little bit of work with parrots, but never so much (and never Scarlet Macaws or crows), so I’m pretty much in animal trainer heaven.
Time for me to go over my notes from last night, but here’s a collage of photos from the first three days.
Meanwhile, back on the farm: Jim is holding down the farm and taking care of all the animals. As always, I miss them all terribly. Jim would love it here, but I’m afraid the vocalizations of several hundred parrots, corvids and raptors (ear plugs are provided) would turn the Border Collies into jelly. But all is well at home, including these lovely eggs from some dear friends and neighbors, resting in a bread bowl crafted by one of them.
Here’s a photo of a lovely sunrise that Jim sent:
Where do the birds in the program come from? Rescues? Breeders?
Wow, what fun! It must be fascinating to work with such completely different subjects from your usual canine trainees. I’ll be so curious to read about your experiences on the differences (and similarities) in how the species learn.
BTW, your parrot’s name is no doubt a reference to the animated Disney movie Aladdin–the villain’s red parrot sidekick is named Iago. He was voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, so I hope *your* Iago had a more pleasant voice! 🙂
gail lilly says
How wonderful it sounds! Perhaps you or someone there can help:
Am hoping to get to know the crows who live around the very small farm here in Vermont. I work with people who have behavioral and emotional challenges by having them get to know and better communicate with the animals who live here. Have been putting unsalted peanuts out in the same place at the same time for some months now and crows are coming to snack and are calling out when they see me walking around outside. They still fly off when I get closer than about 25 feet from where they are. My end goal is for the crows to trust me and some of my clients enough to allow us to sit and observe them from a few feet away. Advice re: shortening the flight zone???
Oh Trisha! I am so envious but also thrilled for you too and can not wait to hear all about it! Loving the pics (beautiful!!!!) and a sneaky peak of your post has provided some much needed motivation during day 2 of 5 of an intensive exam based Project Management course. I am a huge admirer of Dr Friedman and hope you have a fantastic time in animal training heaven!
Betsy Calkins says
So jealous! Two of my favorite behavior heroes (Trisha McConnell and Susan Friedman) working together! Can’t wait to hear more.
Oh my gosh I am Soooo happy you get to experience NEI and Dr. Susan and Steve Martin.
Its an awesome experience… like opening a door from a dark room into the light…
(Too much gushing?????)
First, I’m completely envious of your time at Natural Encounters. What an amazing experience and I can hardly wait to hear more about it.
Second, I’m loving the photo of the eggs. It reminds me of a visit to my parents who keep a mixed flock of chickens. My children were charmed by the discovery that “Grandma’s chicken’s lay Easter Eggs.” Until then they’d believed chicken eggs only came in white or brown shells.
Ellen Jefferies says
Laughing over this. We have a macaw (domestic hand raised), acquired in 1990 as a still down covered infant in a 10 gal fish tank being hand fed. We became mom&dad to him, but the great thing was that he became our child. He was a great child. Learned to speak english appropriately, called us all by name and said things like “Harley loves Ellen”, “Harley loves Marc”, etc. He answered the phone, told the dogs “QUIET TANK!” (knew all the dogs’ names). I held him laying on his back for a couple of hours while I applied pressure to stop the bleeding of a broken beak. Adolescence was tough. Maturity is a great improvement. He no longer talks as much but still interacts with us and everyone else who will look at him. Flirts, dances and so on. I am personally convinced he was very smart, but with a different kind of intelligence. Obviously he learned a lot of things, and still knows them, but I just cannot imagine trying to train him, even with positive reinforcement.
Alice R. says
Wow! Sounds fascinating! I look forward to the articles. It’s very generous of you to share that knowledge with us. Have fun even though you miss your babies (and Jim!).
Trish, I am jealous of your retirement and eagerly anticipate hearing more about what you learned from the workshop.
I have had a few interactions with a neighbor’s lovebird (small parrot). It is surreal to experience what feels like near-human intelligence coming from a creature that small. How does so much intelligence pack into such a small brain?
Speaking of gushing, I was quite proud of Red Dog at the dog park this weekend. She met a Rottweiler puppy about half her size. This was the first meeting between these dogs so I observed closely. After a few minutes of wrestling, the Rottweiler puppy rolled onto its back and made a play-bite face. Red Dog responded with an open-mouthed pounce towards the puppy’s neck.
I was just about to intervene when I realized that Red Dog was not actually touching the puppy when she “pounced” – I could see several inches of air between her teeth and the puppy’s neck. After some more wrestling I called off Red Dog, at which point the Rottweiler puppy immediately bounded after her to invite more play.
Red Dog behaves respectfully to older dogs, but she is sometimes too exuberant for young or timid dogs. I was delighted to see her self-handicapping successfully with the Rottweiler puppy (who granted, seemed like a pretty confident dog).
Pat Herrington says
I am fascinated about training parrots and your experiences in this workshop. I would think it is quite different than training dogs. True? Please share all the info you can.
Too tired tonight to answer many comments, but I’ll ask about where the birds come from tomorrow. And, Pat, training parrots (and a crow which I got to do today) is JUST like training dogs, and is TOTALLY different! More to come, stay tuned. Brain full, going to find some foolish movie to watch and get up at five to go over all my notes. Think I need some of that ‘unconscious processing” time. (I’m sure there’s a term for that!)
I also am really enjoying the workshop! SO MUCH. I am learning enormous amounts and absorbing the high quality information and loving the practical coaching. And the company is excellent! I badly want my own Corvid to train (why does my iPad keep capitalising that word?), but it’s probably a good thing I can’t have one. I can’t imagine they would necessarily be easy to live with. Super fun to train, though. Our African Collared Raven is a potent reminder of why I train animals in the first place. She is fast, smart, and so eager. Just like that Swedish vallhund called Erik that I am so addicted to training.
I’ve trained dogs professionally for over 7 years. I recently switched jobs and now I put my positive reinforcement training knowledge to use in training primates. This conference sounds amazing and right up my alley.
I’ve been a wary of parrots since childhood, when a macaw tried to go after my toes at a bird park. I do admire their intelligence and know they often bond very closely to one or two people. Are the ones at Natural Encounters particularly people-social? They must get workshop students in pretty regularly, so the birds must be able to adapt.
The term is the movie “Clue”. Hope you found it, or a worthy contender!
For those who have birds (not for Gail Lilly and her shy crows):
Have you all read _Alex and Me_ by Irene Pepperberg? She found rivalry to be the most successful training process.
Natural Encounters looks amazing. Can’t wait to hear about the week. We had a Blue Front Amazon parrot for many years, his name was Earle. We got him from someone we knew that couldn’t keep him any longer. Such a different creature and his vocalizations were loud and funny (he could mimic the phone answering machine tape rewinding, he could mimic my laugh, he would say Ow, bad bird before he bit you, and he would chase our 90 lb golden retriever around the yard). He died of liver failure most likely from a bacteria or mold in the seeds that were part of his diet. I loved living with him but it also made me very sad — there was something about keeping a wild-caught, flock-driven, bird that used to live in the trees in a cage in my house. Unsettling.
I was just reading this article in NYT magazine about parrots and ptsd:
I echo Lacey’s recommendation of Irene Pepperberg’s _Alex and Me–. I enjoyed the book greatly. It proved to me that what we call “intelligence” is so highly variable as to be nearly undefinable. Great book.
Awesome! I’m so pleased for you, enjoying this opportunity. I’m eager to hear all about it. Also, what pretty eggs! I briefly flirted with and only reluctantly abandoned the idea of of keeping (illegal in my village) chickens just to have a supply of beautiful fresh eggs like those.
Sounds like a wonderful experience, looking forward to your stories about it!
On a different note: I’m looking for information about dog food & mood & bowel disease, any tips welcome! We’re struggling with Spot, chronic colitis and he is on an elimination diet with special kibble form the vet but we’re not getting anywhere yet and I cannot help wondering about the connection between his mood swings, impulsive behaviour and his tummy.
I keep trying to learn more and more, even though animal behavior is more like a “hobby” since I cannot devote the necessary time for anything else (or money for professional seminars). Thank you for sharing your time and great references so I can keep learning from good sources – time to check out Dr Friedman! (p.s.: cool egg pic)
Alva Hughes says
Trisha, thanks for the posts from the workshop. I’m not fond of parrots but I love corvids.
Mireille, I have a 7 year old poodle. He was a happy socialized puppy who became anxious and dog reactive as his IBD and chronic pancreatitis worsened when he was around 2. His health and behavioral issues are managed not cured, and I definitely think they are related.
Caroline McKinney says
On the subject of inter species communication and good body language, i thought of you when I discovered this
Chris from Boise says
Caroline – “How a shepherd approaches sheep” is a brilliant demonstration of using cross-species body language. Thanks for sharing! Here’s another thought-provoking learning video selected by the New York Times as a Ten Best of the Year: http://www.nytimes.com/video/science/100000003142326/marmoset-see-marmoset-do.html.
Trisha – Your workshop is inspiring! Thanks for sharing. It must have been a fabulous week.