03 Mar Inspiration Abounds: Animal Training and Behavior Workshop Recap 2022
What do you get when you cross parrot lovers from California, bird of prey educators from Wyoming, thirty birds, a few hooftstock and chickens, and a hailstorm all in one workshop? A whole lot of mind-expanding fun! The Animal Training and Behavior Workshop at our ranch of February 2022 was an incredible amount of fun, from watching our guests delight in donkey training, feel the exhilaration of problem solving with a variety of species, and end each day with a unique interaction with the birds.
Like other workshops, the format of the February session combines classroom sessions with hours of hands on training each day. What our goals with this framework is to give our guests the academic and scientific background to reflect on their own experiences and behavior challenges that may not lend themselves well to recreating ex situ. The hands on training components not only allow for some special opportunities with unique species, but also provide the guests with real-time feedback and the chance to grow their skills, timing, mechanics and personal insights. The third component of the workshop is trainer demonstration, where Avian Behavior International trainers present specific training sessions that reflect the presentation topics or guest desires.
Our training sessions were as varied as the students themselves. One of the most fascinating aspects was for us to see how each guest inspired one another. One of our early demonstrations with our donkey, Pepper, was to shape a voluntary chin rest on a mark. We made some excellent progress and ended after about ten minutes of Pepper offering the behavior. One guest took this idea and began shaping a beak hold behavior with our hyacinth macaw, Leo. This involved having to re-shape the cue of targeting to a stick that was simply a beak boop to actually clamping down and then transferring the clamp on to the aviary mesh. It was fascinating! The behaviors we could take as a jumping off point! Another guest wanted to shape a chin rest with our Turkey Vulture. Even in just one session, we made some intriguing progress.
Our practical skills and training sessions were incredibly expansive and enriching to be a part of. From force free veterinary procedures to trouble shooting some complicated bird of prey hood training, crating, and returning to cages and mews, our practical bird training sessions ran the spectrum. The hybrid nature of the workshop means that we also can explore deeper academic and conceptual topics related to training, animals in human care, and professionalism.
Much of our conversation focused on providing tools for trainers to accomplish their desired goals and progress within the constraints of their work structure. These constraints could be due to team or management dynamics, budget needs, or experience levels. What this looked like for our guests was building relationships with birds of all shapes and sizes, from kestrels to greenwing macaws, that showed a variety of avoidance or undesirable behaviors in response to their less preferred people.
While every last aspect of these workshops are personally and professionally fulfilling for me, I can honestly say that helping animal caregivers with their people problems as well is a special interest. Helping people who love animals use those same scientific and behavioral insights that make them feel seen and understood with animals to transfer that empathy with their human teammates and household members is enriching in that you can see that cross-species AHA! light faces up and foster support and compassion.
Interested in future workshops? Check out our suite of featured workshops. There is a waiting list for the Advanced Workshop coming up in the Fall of 2022!