Hi, Max!

I am working on a new behavior with my parrot.  Recently he’s started saying “hi” a lot, and I’ve decided that I want to capture that behavior on cue.  (Yes, this post is related to writing – bear with me.)

For those of you who are not animal trainers, capturing a behavior on cue simply means getting the bird to say the word when I ask for it.

The process is relatively simple, and Max and I have done it before with his “meow” sound.  First, anytime he says the word and I hear it, I enthusiastically reply with the cue.  In this case, it’s “Hi, Max!”  He figures out pretty quickly which sounds get a response from me; as a response is his goal, he’ll start offering those sounds more often.  (Consider this a warning to any other parrot owners out there – if there is a loud or irritating sound that your bird makes, don’t react in any way or you will hear it more and more often!  Yes, I have made this mistake, too.)  I’ve been saying “Hi Max!” a lot lately.

The big trick is to switch it, so the sound comes in response to the cue instead of the other way around.  Today I got Max to say “Hi” in response to “Hi, Max” twice, which is a step in the right direction.  Both times I made a much bigger deal about it than it was, so Max would know that I was pleased and he did the right thing.  Now it’s just a matter of practice to get it consistent.

Okay, so I know you are all thinking “What does training your parrot have to do with writing?”

Simple.  Training techniques work on humans, too.

One of the things that many people ask me about and other writers complain about is getting your brain to be creative when you want it to be.  The advice that many authors will give is to write at the same time every day, and this is an excellent idea which I try to embrace.  There is also a way to use positive reinforcement training (similar to my parrot’s training) to get yourself to write.

Set up small goals for yourself.  I’ve done this: post a blog every day, write a few chapters every week, and so on.  Then create a reward system.  I depend on others for my reinforcement, but you don’t have to if you have a better reward.  My reward system is two-fold: continuing readership and comments are my reward for my blog posts, and the reaction of my First Readers is my reinforcement for writing chapters.  Even with those big rewards, I use small ones, too.  If I have a day where writing is the last thing I want to do, I’ll set up a reward.  For example: complete one of the unfinished chapters (or whatever the goal is for the day) and then you can read (or whatever it is I’d really rather be doing).  While it is less useful on my diet, I will also use food rewards (which I recommend for animal training as well).  Write and then you can have candy/ice cream/lunch, etc.

I always say that a good animal trainer has the skills necessary to be a good people trainer.  That applies to yourself as well as other humans.  🙂

Want to learn more about positive reinforcement training for animals and people?  I recommend Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Leigh Townsend
    Jun 11, 2011 @ 14:56:26

    I tried to include a super-cute picture of Max, but WordPress kept eating it. I will try again later. 🙂


  2. Trackback: Linky Friday « creative barbwire (or the many lives of a creator)

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