Parrots and Horses (or other animals we train)

I could have sworn I started a thread on this subject way back when, but I can’t find it. There are several of us here that have or have had horses, and I know I’ve speculated in the past about similarities and differences.On an unrelated thread I posited that horses are very responsive to body language whereas parrots are more verbally oriented. Patdbunny suggested that birds also pick up nonverbal signals about our moods. I agree with that statement, but I still stand by my original assertion. When training a horse, what we do with our body is paramount, what we do with our voice is of limited relevance, and tone and intonation are far more important than actual words. For example, if I want to turn my horse at liberty in a round pen, I use my whole body to suggest that I may block the path, at first actually stepping into that direction, but later virtually just thinking it, and a horse can very acutely read that and respond to it. A small subtle hand gesture would be MUCH harder to train a horse to respond to (although not impossible). I think a bird can pick up on our attitude but I have the sense that they read our faces, hands and voices to a much larger extent than they do our overall posture. We tend to use verbal cues and hand cues more than whole-body signals.Another major difference IMO is that, while all animals can learn from all types of training, with horses most work is done using negative reinforcement and great skill is needed when bridge conditioning (Clicker training) is attempted. Pressure and release is the basis of virtually all horse training for normal handling. I’ve personally found clicker training useful to teach tolerance of procedures, where you want them to put up with pressure, not yield to it, and it is good for teaching tricks, but trying to teach under saddle work that way is practically difficult. Plus horses are SO food oriented, great care is needed to keep the interaction respectful. With parrots, positive reinforcement with or without a bridge is the go-to approach and negative reinforcement is very rarely useful.A final difference is that while both are group-oriented animals (unlike cats), horses tend to live in herds that have a very clear hierarchy extending to many levels, and they have a persistent inclination to test the leadership. A horse that does not feel it has a leader may put itself into that position and express behavior that is problematic as result – for example, looking for all the tigers in the world. With parrots, although some literature written 10-20 years ago espouses desire for dominance as a driving trait, modern thinking seems to be more that they are cooperative equal-independent flock members rather than hierarchical with a dominant flock member. So with birds we worry more about cooperation and less about being an authority figure, although we do need to be confident and impose a certain level of discipline, it is not as important to be “in charge” all the time.On the other hand, as prey animals, both are very aware of their environments and both will tend to flee first and ask questions later. Both birds and horses can spook, although having a bird fly off your shoulder is considerably less of a problem than having 1200lbs of horse disappear out from underneath you. Force, harsh dominance and positive punishment using force/pain are not very useful with any animal as far as I can tell. A dog may take it and still try to please, but neither a horse nor a parrot is likely to willingly come back for more.

I think there is some sort of hierarchy with birds. I might be wrong, but doesn’t the pecking order apply to all flocks of birds? You can really see it in domestic chickens. And I know that sometimes, mother birds will kill one of their chicks if it appears to be physically disabled. I remember watching the documentary “The Parrots of Telegraph Hill”, and they mentioned how weaker birds would get pecked and attacked by the rest of the flock. As for horses, I agree that they do base things on body language. And they do have a set hierarchy. We used to have two horses, Max the thoroughbred, and Buddy the Quarter horse. Max was very violent towards Buddy. He would try to stop him from drinking and eating.And last night I watched a documentary on the Wild Stallions. There was a really disturbing clip, where a stallion from a separate herd, violently kills a foal. I’d supply the link to the clip, but I think it would probably be too graphic for some people. It was really interesting behavior though.

Entranced (sorry I always want to call you Scooter),I would agree with the majority of what you wrote about how horses respond to negative reinforcement. I wanted to elaborate on the pecking order bit, especially in relation to horses to help clarify for those who aren’t familiar with equines. With horses, you [the human] MUST establish that you are the head honcho and that what you say (whether verbally or with body language) is law. Body language, whether with birds or horses (both “flock” or “herd” animals who are used to living in social groups) is something that you must always be aware of. Horses show fear in a certain way. In my experience, while the cues of each species are subtle, you learn to look for signals. The open beak signaling fear (in turn, the potential bite), the slight tucking of the tail on the horse when they might kick, subtle ear movements, the working of the jaw (signaling acceptance) or the grinding of the beak, the quietness when your bird might be ill…all of these things as responsible owners we train ourselves to know.I think what makes birds and horses so similar is this need to “listen” for physical cues - and I say listen and not watch because when you are around another animal for any length of time you learn them, and it becomes less of watching and more like checking to make sure your piano is finely tuned. We become attuned to the little changes from a fluffed up feather to the tiny hitch in the step of a hoof. I think that’s why I love both horses and birds, because it is a relationship and not strictly a pet-owner situation. I know my horses and my birds always know when I need love or I’m feeling a little down…even before I do.

You can call me Scooter if you want ta, to paraphrase a cartoon skunk.I agree, but I think with horses these days a lot of people have taken the “must be alpha” thing the wrong way and have become rough and demanding rather than establishing quiet influence, so I tend to be a bit careful how I express it. You see people chasing horses off their feet in round pens because they “need to control their feet to establish dominance”. I feel it is more like being a good general or good boss, not like being an evil totalitarian dictator. Birds I can’t read to the extent I can horses yet, but I’m working on it.Zaza, it is my understanding that behaviorists no longer think parrots strive to be “top bird” in the flock. Nor do they think that height reflects dominance as was recently the case. Height dominance was cited as a reason to always keep birds below shoulder level, whether perched or carried. Now the main arguments against shouldering seem to be mainly safety related. Do those of you with multiple birds feel they establish a true “pecking order”? Or do they act more as independant, loosely aggregated individuals?

If I may add my two cents, I have no professional training but I have been helping train horses since fourth grade. when it comes to the “must be alpha” I really think it depends on the horse completely. Any method I use bends to the horses personality, I have owned the bottom of the pecking order to a horse that can’t even be in the same room as another gelding. they required much different approaches, and both came from abusive pasts. now please let me explain myself a bit, I teach english hunter. All the horses I have owned have been trained with only me in the saddle. I found from a traumatic past I have become well, determined to be perfect when riding. Max was my first horse, he was six, and came with scars from a lung whip down his sides. after a lot of trust based excersizes we became best buddies. I found a lot of showing him me do things first made him triumph, no negative reinforcement or he would stop, and refuse to move. He was at 3ft jumps upon his retirement and winning! Joker is more work then I could have hoped for! he fights his own reflection. He came with scars up and down his legs, although the same light approaches just made him walk all over me. I think in the beginning I was more on the floor than in the saddle and that was with out jumps. (never buy an ex bronco, just kidding) With guidance we could come to an agreement, and he would win anything with the confidence of a champion. I had to use negative reinforcement with him it wasn’t an option. Lyrick our sun conure did get very nippy and fussy when we used to let him on the top of his cage. we stopped letting him on top of his cage and now even his bad days don’t seem as bad, I guess it could of been him figuring out boundaries too…? I am not sure on that one.

I don’t know about training either animal. I haven’t trained anything other than my dogs. I’m more about day to day living with them and behavior management. My horses are not allowed to: buck, be pushy, mug me for food, run off with us, run off to evade capture; They are expected to: wait a respectful distance while I put down their food, stand patiently while being groomed and saddled, lead in the correct position, behave under saddle.With my horses I am cognizant that I must reinforce some behaviors each and every time I interact with them: discipline for pushiness, maintain respectful distance, insist they stand patiently.I am also cognizant that certain behaviors will not be perfect due to my neglect and I must work with them, but I expect they very quickly get back to what’s expected of them: After not being ridden for six month - behaving under saddle, bucking.My birds are not allowed to: wander freely around the house, bite aggressively or unpredictably, display aggressively towards people they don’t like, scream excessively, wander freely about our bodies without permission, mug people for food; they are expected to: allow hands into cages at will for feeding and maintenance, allow gentle handling by anyone, learn to play independently, allow themselves to be suddenly grabbed by a trusted family member (I have all my pets birds accustomed to being grabbed in case I must do so in an emergency), allow being grabbed and held for grooming, step up without fuss.With my birds I am cognizant of their needs that influence some behaviors: screaming and biting (is it hungry, thirsty, something scaring it, has it been a long time since we’ve gone out for some excitement, tired, or just being a brat), playing independently (making sure all needs are met, providing new toys, foods, sources of entertainment)I discipline to obtain other behaviors: wandering, aggressive displays, biting aggressively or when there’s nothing noted to warrant biting (despite what the good reason was in their head), muggings.I respect my birds, give them choice when possible, keep their mood in mind, and make it a positive experience: stepping up followed by scritches or raspberries(stepping up may be optional if I just want to play with it, I offer my finger and ask. When I insist, the bird knows it’s not optional and steps up without a fuss. I don’t sweet talk and cajole, I am firm about it.), allowing gentle handling by anyone and for strangers to give treats and scritches(If I know he’s tired, hungry, thirsty, fearful I preempt any poor behavior not allowing strangers to handle him. I also don’t allow ham fisted louts to handle him.).I guess by having the above rules and behaving with them like that gives them trust in me that I won’t hurt them, so they allow themselves to be grabbed. Yes, some don’t enjoy being grabbed at all. They know they are allowed to growl, protest, beak repeatedly but not bite hard. They also allow freely reaching into cages for feeding and maintenance since they know aggression is not tolerated. I don’t consider any of the above as formal training, but I guess it can be construed as such. Then again, I guess the birds are training us every day when they bite and we instantly stop what we’re doing; when they scream and we go to them, etc. From a training perspective they’re really good trainers. When you apply a punishment to a dog, the response you want is for it to stop what they’re doing. So I guess birds are successfully training their humans for the most part.

Rinnith wrote: I found a lot of showing him me do things first made him triumph, no negative reinforcement or he would stop, and refuse to move. Negative reinforcement is not punishment. Negative reinforcement is using pressure and release. If you put your hand on your horse’s shoulder to ask it to move away and you remove the hand when he steps over, that is negative reinforcement. When you use leg to ask for forward and you stop squeezing when the horse has reponded, that is negative reinforcement. It is very nearly impossible to work with a horse without it.You are probably thinking of positive punishment, which is when you apply an aversive stimulus with the goal of stopping an undesired behavior. patdbunny wrote:I don’t know about training either animal. I haven’t trained anything other than my dogs. I’m more about day to day living with them and behavior management.That’s training too, really. A horse definitely learns something every time you interact with it, and I think that is true of parrots as well. Training isn’t tricks in my book, it is anything done with the intent of modifying or reinforcing behavior.My horses are not allowed to: buck, be pushy, mug me for food, run off with us, run off to evade capture; . So what do you do to prevent these behaviors? Bucking, in particular, is a tough nut – you need to know why the horse is bucking. If it is sheer exuberance, if I were in the saddle I would try to keep the head up and the horse moving forward so as to keep my backside safe, but I’d also look at my management program to see if I’m providing too much food and not enough exercise. If my horse suddenly starts bucking at the canter depart, I’d be looking at saddle fit, hind-end soundness and my own riding before I got out my stick and attempted to use punishment. With horses, I do what needs to be done to keep the situation safe, but with persistent or sudden behavior changes I always rule out a physical cause before I assume I need to apply discipline. Smacking a horse for bucking if it is bucking due to pain will either result in sullen obedience from a submissive type or strongly escalating behavior from a more dominant specimen. There are rules, but IMO you also need to be very fair about enforcing them. Especially if you are dealing with a sensitive, fit, athletic horse. The horse will always win a contest of physical strength so it is important not to go there!. Then again, I guess the birds are training us every day when they bite and we instantly stop what we’re doing; when they scream and we go to them, etc.That’s true for sure. Scooter has taught me to pet him when he nips at me if I’ve been sitting at the computer and ignoring him. I’m aware that I’ve let him train me, and I’ve made it clear that this is not a generalizable behavior.Horses will do this, too. I rode a horse at one point that was quite lazy. You’d use some leg and he’d ignore it. But if you used the dressage whip to touch his side as a reinforcement he’d bounce up and down – then go right back to plodding. (Note to non horse people, one doesn’t beat the horse with a dressage whip, one uses it to reinforce or clarify an aid, with a gentle touch or a tap, only under very rare circumstances with an actual smack). Rather than me teaching him to listen to my leg aid, he taught me not to use the whip! Once a trainer on the ground pointed this out to me (while smirking, of course) I then had to ride through a lot of bouncing up and down before I got untrained and he got retrained. Would have been much easier all around if I’d realized who was training who earlier in the game.

buck - I know exactly why my fat, spoiled quarter pony bucks. She’s a brat. She was a pampered pet for 8 years. She doesn’t feel like being ridden, she bucks you off. The first time it happened to me, I almost did the wrong thing and put her away. Instead I took a deep breath and lunged her. Then got on and went for our ride.be pushy - little “smacks” with the lead line (you know what I mean - the tossing it in their face until they get a clue). The bay whacked me hard with his head once (pretty much gave me a black eye) and I reacted with a hard whack at him with a stern “NO”! Now he understands that I will put force behind it if he doesn’t catch the subtle clues.mug me for food - “shoo! shoo!” with flailing arms. I stop when they are at a respectful distance and stand there.run off with us - learned the one rein stop. Be sensitive of extreme mental pressure so they don’t “explode” and run off.run off to evade capture - make them run until well past their desire to run, and make them run a little longer.Funny what you said about the bouncing around. Our grey (horse) did that in the beginning. I just thought he had a very peculiar uncomfortable gait. I couldn’t stand it. How I inadvertently stopped it was by turning into a moron and flailing and bouncing uncomfortably on his back. Huh, mysteriously he no longer has that peculiar gait. I don’t know if this is negative reinforcement or what. But this is how I teach birds how they can and cannot use their beaks on people. I turn any nippy episodes into 10 minute sessions of presenting my hand for the bird to nip. The bird’s allowed to beak and chew which I reward with kisses and cuddles. When it’s too hard I do the hand wobble with a verbal “no”. The degree of wobbling decreases or escalates in relation to how hard the bird’s biting. Seriously hard biting gets the going from hand to hand with a more stern “NO”, then we go back to allowing beaking and chewing. That’s how I teach how hard is too hard. Once they learn this then they catch on with the more subtle verbal warnings.Roz.

Different strokes for different folks. My gcc I will allow her to nibble or do what I call beaking, where she will kind of chew on you lovingly. She is the ONLY bird I have who is allowed to do this, because she knows e rules. My lovebird has no limits-when she bites (always giving you fair warning) she bites to try and make you never touch her again. The parrotlets, who I just can’t seem to “get” don’t generally bite but are fairly fearful birds…calm once they are in your hand or shirt but otherwise terrified. Its like trying to catch a finch.Baby only being a week old in this house has an entirely different set of rules. We don’t do things or put him in situations where he feels unsafe. He has a known history of biting to the bone and holding on, so even threatening is something I won’t allow at this particular point. I won’t let him train me that if he threatens he gets what he wants, so I will do the shaky hand and do whatever I was going to do, (eg. Pet him) then I reward him. He has bitten a couple of times but thankfully he hasn’t bitten hard and those bites were before I learned what was scary for him and were my fault, so he wasn’t “punished” or disciplined for those, just told “no”. He knows what the word means.Roz, your horse points are almost exactly how I handled my horses when they acted like idiots. I miss mah ponies.

patdbunny wrote:buck - I know exactly why my fat, spoiled quarter pony bucks. She’s a brat. She was a pampered pet for 8 years. She doesn’t feel like being ridden, she bucks you off. I ask, why doesn’t she feel like being ridden? Is it an unpleasant experience for her? Sure, some horses do learn to take advantage, but in a lot of cases there is a physical issue underlying the behavioral one. In some cases the discomfort is historical, but as with a bird, I think you get a lot of mileage out of making the right answer easy and out of trying to understand why the “wrong” answer is being offered. little “smacks” with the lead line (you know what I mean - the tossing it in their face until they get a clue).A popular trainer has a couple of things he says that I like even though he’s a coffee table book kind of guy. One is “It takes as long as it takes” – you can’t always expect to get the result you need immediately. Another is “ask, Ask, TELL!”. I think smacking with the lead line is definitely a TELL. IMO, you are missing the “ask” in a lot of the scenarios you describe. A quiet type of horse may take that and deal with it, but if you put too much pressure on a younger, hotter horse, you may find it does not work nearly so well. The bay whacked me hard with his head once (pretty much gave me a black eye) and I reacted with a hard whack at him with a stern “NO”! Now he understands that I will put force behind it if he doesn’t catch the subtle clues.How did this happen? Why was his head where it could whack you? IMO this is a bit like a preventable bite from a bird, it is way better to prevent the situation than to consider punishment. IME you have to be very careful if you consider using a physical blow to discipline a horse around the head. Many will miss the point and become head shy instead, and if you don’t respond within about 3 seconds, they definitely won’t make the connection, so you have to be quick. Way better not to get into that position in the first place. run off with us - learned the one rein stop. Be sensitive of extreme mental pressure so they don’t “explode” and run off… A trained response to the one-rein stop is a great emergency brake, but it is very dangerous at speed and can cause a fall. Being aware of how much pressure a horse can take is very important, but it is also the case that if the horse TRUSTS your leadership and is paying attention to YOU a spook resulting in a bolt is pretty unlikely.run off to evade capture - make them run until well past their desire to run, and make them run a little longer. This can work, although I think sending them away and then inviting them in again is more effective than running them off their feet. Conversely, with a bolter than does it to get out of work, doing this from the saddle can be quite effective. Almost all of these scenarios describe positive punishment rather than negative reinforcement. The one example of negative reinforcement was waving your arms until the desired distance was reached and then stopping. The stopping is the reinforcing behavior, not the waving. That is negative reinforcement. A one-rein stop also starts as negative reinforcement, but when used in practice it’s basically a conditioned behavior, with picking up the rein more a cue than a source of pressure – although you do still release the rein after the stop is achieved, and that is what reinforces the stop. I don’t know if this is negative reinforcement or what. But this is how I teach birds how they can and cannot use their beaks on people. I turn any nippy episodes into 10 minute sessions of presenting my hand for the bird to nip. The bird’s allowed to beak and chew which I reward with kisses and cuddles. When it’s too hard I do the hand wobble with a verbal “no”. The degree of wobbling decreases or escalates in relation to how hard the bird’s biting. Seriously hard biting gets the going from hand to hand with a more stern “NO”, then we go back to allowing beaking and chewing. No, that is positive punishment, not negative reinforcement. Reinforcement always means doing something to encourage a behavior. Punishment always means doing something to discourage a behavior. You can never teach a new behavior with punishment and you can never teach a creature NOT to do something with reinforcement. (But you may be able to teach it to do something else instead.) Positive just means you add something to the picture to achieve the result, Negative that you take something away. With a horse analogy, since that’s where I have more expertise:Negative reinforcement – You do something until the horse does something, then you stop. An example is applying pressure to the lead until the horse takes a step forward, then releasing the pressure to reward the forward step. Eventually very little pressure is needed.Positive punishment – You do something to make a behavior less likely to happen again. Your horse kicks out at another horse and you give him a smack with the crop while he is doing it.Negative punishment – (rarely used with horses) – you take something away to make a behavior less likely to happen again. Time-outs are a common example, you take away interaction. This is only effective if the animal being punished WANTS the interaction.Positive reinforcement – giving a reward to encourage a behavior to happen again. People often use pats on the neck and a “good boy” with horses, but it is the rare horse for which this is really effective. Clicker training is used for trick training and some “normal” training and is a variant of positive reinforcement using a “bridge” or intermediate “the reward is coming” signal. I’ve used it to teach a horse to tolerate having his mane pulled. It’s tricky with horses because the timing has to be very good, and you have to take precautions in the conditioning phase that the horse doesn’t try to mug you for treats (you initially click and reward the horse turning its head away from you and the treats – he doesn’t get the treat until he looks away from it.)Extinction – ignoring something and waiting for it to go away. Actually, this is very commonly used with bucking. You just keep the head up, keep going, and ignore it. In essence when I retrained Cappy not to jump up and down with the stick, I used extinction – I ignored his antics and kept using the aid to which he was objecting. It was combined with negative reinforcement because I did not stop using the aid until he gave me increased impulsion.