Posts Tagged ‘operant conditioning’

by , Behavior Consultant
I've been working with the museum since 2009 as a Behavior Management Consultant. I work with keepers and staff to gain the voluntary cooperation of the animals in their own care through operant conditioning.
You can find me teaching at Davidson County Community College, or through my business website Animalworksconsulting.com.

Let’s all get weighed!

July 20th, 2013

Keepers are enjoying the new scale in the farmyard, and so are the critters.  Here’s some video of Max and the alpacas getting weighed.

Max’s training focused on keeping him calm as he walked from his enclosure to the scale – he tends to get excited when he goes for a walk.  And 1600 pounds of excited steer can be difficult to manage.  But look how calm he is!

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The alpaca training is more focused on helping them tolerate the brief separation from the rest of the alpacas as they walk to the scale.  Its helpful for them to learn to be separated for short periods of time so they can more easily tolerate vet visits and shearings in the future.  Lots of good clicking and treating going on in the farmyard by keepers Kent, Sarah and Jill!

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  1. Good to see our Animal Department is steering in the right direction!

    Posted by Wendy

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by , Keeper
I'm extremely excited to be working at the Museum since October 2010. My favorite part of this job- besides working with the animals- is listening to all of the Keeper stories, I hear a new one each day. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, belly dancing, and vegan cooking.
I work Sunday through Thursday. I can be found mostly behind the scenes or training the Ring Tail Lemurs.

Lemur Training Update

March 7th, 2013

 

The red ruffed lemurs have been off exhibit since December. We have just a couple of weeks left until it is warm enough for the ring tailed lemurs to be outside during the day and the red ruffed lemurs to move upstairs, on exhibit. Here is where we were last time I updated about training- click here.

While our focus was going to be crate training we also added the behavior of station. Station is a way to 1) separate the lemurs if necessary 2) keep a lemur in one spot while working with the others.  The red ruffed have access to three stalls. In each stall we have a shelf attached to the door. These shelves are where we would like the lemurs to ‘station’. But how do they know which one of them should station on which shelf? Great questions- we hang up symbols on the doors, above the shelves. Each lemur has their own specific symbol. Stationing is going great!

Crate training is also going well. The door has been shut on Cynthia and we’re very close to shutting the door on Jethys and Iris.

The ring tailed lemurs are still doing great with their crate training. Dr English will visit in the next few months and our oldest lemurs Lycus (almost 28) and Cynthia (almost 32) will have to be crated and brought to the building to get their eyes checked out.

 

Jethys symbol for station is a star

Iris’ symbol for station is a moon

Cynthia symbol for station is a diamond

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by , Keeper
I'm extremely excited to be working at the Museum since October 2010. My favorite part of this job- besides working with the animals- is listening to all of the Keeper stories, I hear a new one each day. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, belly dancing, and vegan cooking.
I work Sunday through Thursday. I can be found mostly behind the scenes or training the Ring Tail Lemurs.

Red Ruffed Lemur Training

December 21st, 2012

I recently mentioned we’re now working on crate training the red ruffed lemurs. It’s been quite awhile since they have worked on this behavior. The last couple days have been very successful. All three lemurs have gone all the way into their crates. :)

This is just the beginning so check back soon for updates.

Keeper Marilyn and I training the three red ruffed lemurs

 

Iris going into the crate

  

Iris is going into the top crate at the same time that Jethys is going into the bottom crate.

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by , Keeper
I'm extremely excited to be working at the Museum since October 2010. My favorite part of this job- besides working with the animals- is listening to all of the Keeper stories, I hear a new one each day. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, belly dancing, and vegan cooking.
I work Sunday through Thursday. I can be found mostly behind the scenes or training the Ring Tail Lemurs.

Ring-Tailed Lemur training update

December 12th, 2012

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated and we’ve seen a lot of progress. My last post was about Cassandra exploring the vet room. We allowed her to do this once more and it went about the same as the first time. I believe the second time, she took longer to come down, seemed like she was enjoying exploring too much. Before that I wrote about crate training, which has been my biggest goal with the ring-tailed lemurs. (now it’s our biggest goal with the red ruffed lemurs too, check back for future posts about that)

Their physicals were way back in September, on that particular day I was only able to crate Cassandra. The boys both went into their crate but then bounced right back out, Sherry said catching them was very easy that day.  We also changed where the lemurs wait for sedation. We started using a metal cage located in the vet room. It’s roomier which makes it easier to get the lemur out of.

Cassandra just outside the cage we use in the vet room

This is an added part of crate training. I bring the lemurs into the building and then open this cage and their crate door and ask them to go inside.  I have also been practicing this behavior with the lemurs down at the lemur house. We took an extra vet room cage and placed it inside their holding space in the lemur house. It’s big and silver and makes a lot of noise when the jump on it, but the good news is, this behavior is working. They are not afraid of it and have no problems climbing all over and inside of it, making their visit to the vet room much less stressful.

About a week later we needed to get blood work on Cassandra again. It was very easy to crate her using training which made everything run smoother.  Then in November I noticed Lycus was holding his left hand across his chest. It seemed like a shoulder injury. Dr V came in to check him out and decided she wanted to do hands on with him. This meant getting him into the crate and bringing him to the building. Using training it was super easy. I still practice crate training a couple times a week. It has helped the process of vet visits tremendously and it’s something I want to continue working on. Next challenge is crate training the red ruffed lemurs.

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  1. Many many Kudos to all your lemur training (and also to all the other keepers)!!! The lemurs seem so stress free with their physicals…more like an outing in a cool playground!!

    Posted by dj
  2. Thanks so much DJ!

    Posted by kimberly

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by , Keeper
I've been at the museum since 2010. I love to read and learn; it's rare that a day goes by at work when I'm not suppressing the urge to spew out something cool I just learned to my coworkers. In my spare time, I play the 'cello, snuggle my dog and reminisce about snowmen and Nor'easters.
I work Sunday through Thursday. You can find me raking the Farmyard in the morning or training the donkey and dwarf goats in the afternoon.

QuickPic: Goats on Spools

October 23rd, 2012

The bears and lemurs have stumps to learn to station with and the little goats have spools!

goats

Even Lightning, the donkey, gets into station training. Teaching “station” or “place” is a great way to get an animal to give you some breathing room when you’re training multiple animals at once.

donkey

 

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  1. Love this!

    Posted by kimberly
  2. This looks photo shopped to me! :)

    Posted by Jill
  3. Amazing!! More info on how you get the little goats and Lightening to do this…. please.
    Know trust in the keepers must be very important.

    Posted by dj
  4. Keeper Comment :

    Hi DJ,
    Training the donkey and goats to step up onto spools just takes a lot of patience and a really good idea of what the final behavior looks like. Goats are natural climbers, so teaching them to step up onto something doesn’t take as long to teach as some other behaviors. It started with a click and a treat when they interacted with the spools and then it progressed into a click/treat when they put a foot onto it, then 2 feet, then all 4 feet, and then finally, all 4 feet on the spool and staying up there until they’re released.

    Lightning learned to step up in pretty much the same way. He had the advantage of already having learned a behavior to put his feet on an object when asked to, so he got right on the spools in less than 5 minutes.

    Posted by Sarah Van de Berg

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by , Behavior Consultant
I've been working with the museum since 2009 as a Behavior Management Consultant. I work with keepers and staff to gain the voluntary cooperation of the animals in their own care through operant conditioning.
You can find me teaching at Davidson County Community College, or through my business website Animalworksconsulting.com.

What’s That Click?

September 7th, 2012

Have you watched a training session at the museum lately?  (Click here to see an old video of Marilyn training Chummix) If you see Kent training Max, or Kimberly training the lemurs, or Sarah working with Lightning, you’ve probably heard a clicking sound while they train.  What is that thing?  It’s called a clicker, and it’s used as a conditioned reinforcer.  You can establish any arbitrary sound as a conditioned reinforcer, but clickers and whistles are the two that seem to be preferred by animal trainers.

Remember last time I posted, we talked about using food treats in a reinforcement contingency?  A reinforcer is anything that, when presented immediately following a response, makes the likelihood of that response go up in the future.  Food is a primary reinforcer, a reinforcer that an animal (or person) doesn’t have to learn is reinforcing.  Primary reinforcers satisfy a biological need.  They include food, water, access to mates.  The sound of the clicker is a conditioned reinforcer, a reinforcer that an animal (or a person) has to learn is reinforcing. If you follow a specific behavior with a reinforcer, either primary or conditioned, the chance of that behavior occurring in the future will go up.  So when you watch keepers train the animals, you’ll hear the click immediately following a behavior that the keeper wants to see again in the future.

There are a couple things that are important when you are trying to change the frequency of a behavior with reinforcers.  First, timing is critical!  The reinforcer has to be an immediate consequence of the behavior.  Immediate, like touching in time.  If a reinforcer is delayed by even a few seconds, it looses a bunch of its reinforcing power.  So keepers work hard to click at exactly the moment when the behavior they are watching is completed. Reinforcers that are delayed by a few minutes will have almost no effect on the behavior.  (That’s true with people, too!)

Another important variable is the value of the reinforcer (not monetary value, but how much does the animal value that reinforcer as a special treat?).  We don’t get to define which reinforcers are going to be high-value – the animal gets to decide that.  And part of our job as trainers is to figure out what’s on that list.  For some, it might be favorite food items.  For others, a scratch on the nose could be a high-value reinforcer.  For some, it may be access to a favorite toy or activity.  Every animal has a list of high-value reinforcers, and for training, I always try to work with the Top Five.  Those most favorite reinforcers are reserved for training only, which increases an animal’s motivation to engage in the behaviors that have been reinforced by those items in the past (that’s called a motivating operation).

If food works as a primary reinforcer, why would we bother to establish a conditioned reinforcer for training?  Well, there are a couple reasons that clickers work well with animal training.  The first is precision.  Remember, timing is critical to the power of the reinforcer.  And getting a food item to an animal can take awhile – you have to get the item out of your pouch, reach toward the animal, they have to take the item from your hand.  That takes at least a second or two!  Much too long for reinforcement!  A click happens instantly, with perfect precision.  There’s no delay between the completion of the behavior and the delivery of the reinforcer.  That makes the reinforcer much more powerful.

Another reason is distance. Clickers are wonderful because you can deliver reinforcement even when the animal is out of arm’s reach.  Imagine trying to train a bear to station on exhibit (a project on which Katy is currently working).  To station, a bear will move toward a designated log in the exhibit.  Because we can’t go in with the bears, we can’t be right next to the bear to deliver the primary reinforcer the instant the bear is next to their log.  The clicker allows Katy to reinforce the bear from a distance (and then the primary reinforcer is thrown to the bear from the top of the building).  Without the clicker, there’s no way we could deliver reinforcement at exactly the right time from that far away.

It’s pretty easy to establish a conditioned reinforcer – just reliably pair an arbitrary stimulus with a primary reinforcer.  For a clicker, we normally pair the sound with food.  The first session with most animals that are new to training is used to establish the conditioned reinforcer (to power it up) – and it’s not a very exciting session.  Click, treat….click, treat…….click, treat…click, treat.  It doesn’t take long before the click has reinforcing power all it’s own, just like the food item would.  And voila!  You can now begin using it in contingencies!  But it won’t keep it’s power for long all by itself – you need to continue to pair it with food in order for it to maintain it’s value as a reinforcer.  That’s why, in most animal training settings, trainers will follow every click with a treat- so that the clicker continues to work as a reinforcer.  If you clicked too many times without treating, the clicker would lose its power and wouldn’t work to increase the future likelihood of a response.  (That, incidentally, is why we don’t use our voice as a conditioned reinforcer.  The animals hear us talking all the time, and every time they hear our voice and it’s not followed by food, our voice loses its power as a reinforcer.  So I always suggest, if you’re establishing a conditioned reinforcer, don’t use a word like “good” or “yes”.  Much more powerful to give the reinforcing value to a sound the animal ONLY hears in the context of training.)

So get out your clickers and start powering them up!  With good timing and by pairing them with high-value primary reinforcers, conditioned reinforcers are powerful tools in our training toolbox!

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by , Keeper
I'm extremely excited to be working at the Museum since October 2010. My favorite part of this job- besides working with the animals- is listening to all of the Keeper stories, I hear a new one each day. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, belly dancing, and vegan cooking.
I work Sunday through Thursday. I can be found mostly behind the scenes or training the Ring Tail Lemurs.

Cassandra explores the vet room

September 1st, 2012

Ring Tailed Lemur training is going well! Here’s where we were last time Lemurs in Crates.

Cassandra sitting on the exam table

Last week with  guidance from Julie Grimes and assistance from our Vet Keeper Katy, I let Cassandra, our female ring tailed lemur, out in the vet room. The idea was to let her out of her crate into a vet room cage. This is where she will spend a little time on the day of her physical. In training terms we are desensitizing her to the vet room. After awhile, I asked her to go back into the crate- but she was quite curious and had other plans. Cassandra slowly made her way around the vet room checking things out. Lycus was in the vet room (he stayed in his crate), she spent some time visiting with him and even explored the cage on her own again. Then she climbed the vet room cages for a couple minutes, she made her way down quickly for a couple craisins. When it was time to go back into her crate- she did!

She went back in the crate on her own. Success!!!

It took some time and patience but seeing her explore in such a stress free manner was quite amazing! Katy was great back-up when I ran out of training treats and Julie helped keep me calm when I began to worry. Overall it was a great experience for all of us and we plan to do it a few more time before lemur physicals in Sept.

Katy snapped a few pictures too.

Cassandra checks out the vet room cage

Cassandra visiting Lycus in his crate

exploring

Climbing up

Cassandra exploring

Queen of the vet room

Climbing down

Notice Max’s neck cradle?

the power of craisins

Cassandra reaching out for Lycus

 

Join the conversation:

  1. Have you ever considered writing an e-book or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my audience would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

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by , Keeper
I'm extremely excited to be working at the Museum since October 2010. My favorite part of this job- besides working with the animals- is listening to all of the Keeper stories, I hear a new one each day. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, belly dancing, and vegan cooking.
I work Sunday through Thursday. I can be found mostly behind the scenes or training the Ring Tail Lemurs.

Lemurs in Crates

August 11th, 2012

I’ve posted about lemur training before and wanted to give an update.

Click here and here to refresh your memory.

Ring Tailed Lemur physicals are in September! That’s so soon. But we are making progress. Lycus actually had to be seen earlier than expected. I noticed a change in his eyes, a white cloudiness. We had a few days until Dr. Vanderford would be able to see Lycus so I began using the ophthalmoscope (a lighted instrument that is used to exam the inside of the eye) during training. Luckily, they are curious little animals so it didn’t take long for me to be able to hold up the ophthalmoscope and shine the light into their eyes.

Demonstrating the ophthalmoscope on a stuffed lemur

To exam Lycus’ eyes Dr.V came down to the lemur building, we actually have shelves on each stall door. I called Lycus up to the shelf and she checked out his eyes while I supplied the treats. She also checked out Cassandra’s eyes, for comparison. Dr. V thought it was best to have Dr. English come check out Lycus.

For Dr. English‘s visit we had to bring Lycus down to the vet room, which is in the main building. That meant being crated and a ride in the vehicle. Dr. English confirmed that Lycus, who is 27, has old age related cataracts. Although it was earlier than expected, Lycus did very well. In fact, two days later I tried crate training (while crossing my fingers) and he went right in without issue. Him and I have been taking short rides in the vehicle as part of training. He’s doing great!

Lycus on one of our rides around campus

Julie Grimes and I plan on bringing Lycus to the vet room and using training to call him out of his crate. With hopes that he doesn’t bounce around the room and that he goes back into his crate on his own.

So that’s were we are at. I feel like Cassandra is ready to take some short rides in the vehicle and Satyrus has been doing great as well.

Lycus relaxing in his side-yard doorway

Join the conversation:

  1. How exciting! Well done Kimberly. Will you treat Lycus’ cataracts?

    Posted by leslie
  2. Keeper Comment :

    Thanks Leslie! Dr English isn’t overly concerned with them, we’ll just monitor them for now.

    Posted by Kimberly Lawson

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by , Behavior Consultant
I've been working with the museum since 2009 as a Behavior Management Consultant. I work with keepers and staff to gain the voluntary cooperation of the animals in their own care through operant conditioning.
You can find me teaching at Davidson County Community College, or through my business website Animalworksconsulting.com.

Contingencies

July 3rd, 2012

Hey all!  Have you ever wondered, “How did they get that animal to DO that??”  It’s all about contingency management.  What’s a contingency, you ask?  A contingency is a relationship between a response (or a behavior) and some environmental consequence.  (And by consequence, I don’t mean the normal, everyday definition of that word…like when a small child does something wrong and the parents say, “You’re going to get a consequence!”  Nope, that has an implication that consequences are always bad.)  A consequence, when you’re talking about contingencies, is anything that happens immediately after a behavior.  And in general, there are two types of consequences – the type that make the behavior more likely to occur in the future (reinforcing consequences), and the type that make the behavior less likely to occur in the future (punishing consequences).  At the museum, the keepers work mostly with reinforcement contingencies – we’re always looking for ways to increase the frequency of the behaviors we need to gain the voluntary cooperation of the animals in their own care and management.

If you want to increase the frequency of a response, there are two ways you can do it.  You can either add something that the animal likes, or you can remove something the animal finds aversive.  If the immediate consequence of a response is the addition of a small, favorite food item, then the future likelihood of that response will go up.  If the immediate consequence of a response if the removal of something the animal finds aversive, then the future likelihood of that response will also go up.  Those two contingencies are called Positive Reinforcement (Positive = addition) and Negative Reinforcement (Negative = removal).

 

Imagine you want your lemur to voluntarily go in a crate so you can transport it to the hospital for a vet visit.  If, every time the animal went into the crate, the keeper delivered a small bite of a raisin, then the lemur would be more likely to go in the crate in the future.  And the likelihood will go up even more if that lemur especially loved raisins, and the only time the lemur got raisins was when he went in the crate.  His motivation for doing the response would be high, because he has to work for that high-value reinforcer (raisins).

Now imagine (and this isn’t the case here at the museum, but let’s just imagine) a lemur that was housed in sight of one of its natural pedators (like a Fossa).  The sight of that predator would be an aversive stimulus – something the lemur really didn’t enjoy.  If, every time the lemur went into the crate, the immediate consequence was the removal of the sight of the predator (because the lemur can’t see through the walls of the crate), then the lemur would ALSO be more likely to go into the crate.  The likelihood of the response goes up because the immediate consequence of the response is the removal of a stimulus that the animal doesn’t like.

Both are reinforcement contingencies, because they both result in an increase in the frequency of the response (going in the crate).  But one contingency is the addition of a stimulus (the raisin) and the other is the removal of a stimulus (the sight of the predator).

Here at the museum, we focus mainly on positive reinforcement contingencies.  Keepers reinforce responses with favorite food items that are reserved just for training.  For the lemurs, dried fruit is a favorite.  For the pigs, popcorn is a big hit.  Max loves his hay.  The bears enjoy apples.

 

 

 

Each individual animal has their list of favorites.  What would be a high value reinforcer for you?

Join the conversation:

  1. Popcorn!

    Posted by Shawntel
  2. vegan cookies!

    Posted by Kimberly
  3. Vacation!

    Posted by Sarah
  4. Keeper Comment :

    Sushi!

    Posted by Marilyn Johnson
  5. Keeper Comment :

    Hey Julie, I just wanted you to know that your lessons about reinforcers are used beyond training. For instance, I like to annoy Kimberly sometimes because her reactions are very amusing to me when she gets all riled up. I finally had to tell her yesterday, “Kimberly, I’m sorry I annoy you, but Julie is right. You see, I have a certain behavior that elicits a desired reaction from you. Therefore, the likelihood of me repeating that behavior increases.” And she responded with, “Oh my gosh, you’re right! Hahaha!” :)

    Posted by Marilyn Johnson
  6. Behavior Consultant Comment :

    I’m so glad you are able to apply the principles to your everyday life, Marilyn! (Kimberly, we need to talk about extinction.) :)

    Posted by Julie Grimes

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by , Keeper
I'm extremely excited to be working at the Museum since October 2010. My favorite part of this job- besides working with the animals- is listening to all of the Keeper stories, I hear a new one each day. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, belly dancing, and vegan cooking.
I work Sunday through Thursday. I can be found mostly behind the scenes or training the Ring Tail Lemurs.

Training Progress

June 7th, 2012

I posted in March about my progress training the Ring Tailed Lemurs. At that point they were staying in their crate for about 4 minutes on average. I’ve worked up to about 10 minutes, including taking them right outside of the lemur house. Yay! But here is where it gets tricky- we spoke with our vet about giving them one or two treats the morning of their physicals. Since the lemurs have to be sedated, she does not want them to have any food in their system at all. The reason is -they could aspirate during the procedure. Which is when someone vomits and then inhales the regurgitated food into their lungs, which could cause death so……… we do not want that to happen!!

The problem is keeping the crate a positive thing for them and without getting a treat for going into the crate how can we do this?

I discussed with Julie Grimes my options. She suggested that I start mixing up how I reward the lemurs for going into the crate. Up until today I was treating them as soon as I shut the door and if they were in the crate for several minutes they received a treat after 1-2 minutes. And another treat for coming out of the crate. So with Julie’s advice- today I asked them to go into their crates- which they did. I shut the door and clicked (used my clicker) but did not treat them. After a short amount of time they were let out of the crates and given a bigger reward than usual. Cassandra and Satyrus did fine with this but Lycus started reaching through the crate, possibly wondering where his treat was. The idea of this is to make it so they will not be able to predict when they get a treat for the door being shut and when they get lots of treats for being in the crate. So that on the day of their physicals in October, it won’t be a huge shock to them that they didn’t receive a treat for going into the crate.

Satyrus and Cassandra in their crates during training

 

Both coming out of their crates

 

Lycus going into his crate

 

Lycus: Just for fun!

Join the conversation:

  1. Hi Museum of Life and Science Blog writers,

    In light of World Oceans Day, I wanted to pass along an infographic from Oceans Initiative that I thought would be a good fit for your readers. The graphic takes a look at how container ships, oil tankers, and other large travel vessels are producing noise that disrupts vital whale activity and daily life.

    Let me know if you run into any questions. Thanks all – Have a great weekend!

    Infographic: The Secret to a Sound Ocean
    http://www.oceansinitiative.org/2012/06/08/happy-world-oceans-day-the-secret-to-a-sound-ocean/

    Best,
    Kelsey
    kcox@columnfivemedia.com

    Posted by Kelsey

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