Archive for April, 2010


Book Review: Reaching the Animal Mind

April 10, 2010

I recently read the new Karen Pryor book “Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals” and would like to recommend it to anyone who has an interest in training and how learning takes place.

I’m a huge of Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog” — the book that brought clicker training to the masses (no, it’s actually not about dogs or dog training). Pryor is often credited for inspiring a revolution in animal behavior modification and making positive reinforcement the favored teaching method for most animal trainers; it also created the groundwork for other training books, including Clicker Training for Birds by Melinda Johnson. So I was definitely interested in what Pryor had to say about her experiences and observations about how animals learn.

Reaching the Animal Mind is probably not the best *intro* into clicker training as it’s not a how-to book; rather, Pryor shares a lot of really fun stories and anecdotes from her many decades of being a trainer (which includes stories of training and observing all types of animals from dolphins to wolves), which all support some points that she argues about what makes clicker training different from traditional training methods. She even makes a very strong case that clicker training is significantly different from 100% positive-reinforcement training that doesn’t use a clicker.

While she does talk a little bit about science (how data travels through the brain, etc), the whole thing is very accessible and fun… and hopefully it’ll inspire more people to use these principles in dealing with all animals (including fellow humans).

I particularly liked the chapters about how cues can act as reinforcers on their own and how to address the extinction curve so that the training subject doesn’t get frustrated. This was material that was new to me.

Also noteworthy is that every chapter includes a note about where on her website you can find videos of the examples/stories she talked about. I haven’t watched them yet, but you can find them on the official Reaching the Animal Mind website. (Navigate to more videos using the “chapter” links along the top).

The book is a lot more entertaining than one would think based on the subject matter, and I definitely encourage anyone interested in behavior and training to at least flip through for new insights and inspiration.

> Read more reviews of Karen Pryor’s Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals


Dixie Cup Foraging Toy

April 6, 2010

In my last post, I talked about making wooden DIY parrot toys. But I only made one for Mika and got tired of drilling holes into the wood scraps. I rationalized that Stewie doesn’t really like wooden toys nearly as much (he has some untouched ones in his cage as we speak). But then I felt guilty 🙂 So I made the foraging toy below… it took me all of 20 seconds. (Step 1: get a stack of unwaxed Dixie cups. Step 2: poke hole in Dixie cups. Step 3: thread piece of leather through the hole (tie a knot on the bottom). Step 4: Put treats inside each of the cups. Step 5: Hang the toy and get out of the way)

DIY Foraging Toys

He’s already turned it into confetti, but that’s okay… I have a huge box of those Dixie cups for just this contingency.

Updated: More foraging tips from a fellow Phoenix Landing member


Making Our Own Parrot Toys

April 4, 2010

We have a contractor friend who was kind enough to offer to cut up pieces of his leftover untreated pine two-by-fours when I mentioned that I could use pine scraps for parrot toys. I picked up a small bag of them yesterday and restrung a $15 toy Mika had shredded in a few days. (This was a toy hung on the outside of her cage, which means she had limited access to it. It would’ve lasted even less time if it had been on the inside of her cage.)

I was too lazy and impatient to dye the wood pieces before stringing them up. So here’s the end result:


This toy is held together by bird-safe leather “laces” (vegetable-dyed thin strips of leather) and has pine slats, wooden beads/small bits of plastic straws to separate the slats, and plastic whiffle balls.

Here’s Mika checking it out:

If it doesn’t hold her interest, I may need to dye the wooden slats — I do think bright color has a lot to do with why birds are interested in some toys.

This is our first foray into making a bird toy of this size (although I have replaced parts here and there) so I stuck pretty closely to a toy design that was already a big hit. As time allows, I’ll work on creating more toys from the wooden slats. We still have a lot of pieces left, but do need to drill holes into them and probably dye them.

If you’re on a budget and want to make your own wooden bird toys, run down to the hardware store and get some untreated lumber, find a way to cut them into thin pieces, dye them (optional), and then string them up with bird-safe materials.

Create more visual interest and variety with:

As with ANY toy parts, make sure that the components are safe. Be careful about choking or strangulation hazards, opportunities for birds to get themselves caught on or trapped in anything, metal poisoning, etc.

Also check out these posts about “foraging” toys:

Do you make your own bird toys? What kinds of toys are your parrots’ favorites? Share your tips for awesome DIY parrot toys in the comments.