Tonawanda News — Several weeks ago, I mentioned how we should not use labels. I said that labels are circular, meaning that if we use them we just will end up where we started. An example of a label is saying that “all scarlet macaws are vindictive” or “all pit bulls are aggressive.”
Multiple problems exist because of the use of labels. The first is that a label is not a straightforward unit. I may think of “aggressive” as one thing, while another trainer looks at the behavior and sees something else. Being vindictive or aggressive is not a behavior, it is something we are trying to call the animal. The bird is mean. The dog is hostile. It is as if we are guessing what is going on in the pet’s brain. Thinking things like, “the animal is doing it to mess with me” will not get you far in fixing the problem behavior.
A better approach is to follow the ABCs of training, which I have mentioned before. A is for antecedent, B is for behavior and C is consequences. The behavior for the bird is: The bird hangs on the door and slinks up the cage instead of going inside as asked. What was the antecedent?
The bird was being fed treats and was playing with their caregiver. The consequence of slinking out of the door to the top of the cage is that the caregiver gives the bird a little more attention and maybe some treats to get the bird to step back up on the hand.
If we labeled the bird as spiteful, we probably wouldn’t have gotten to the baseline of why the behavior occurred. The behavior of being put away in the cage for the night is most likely due to the fun antecedents that proceeded the behavior and the lack of interaction and treats if the bird would have gone into the cage initially.