This Spring, I’ve been able to work with our Animal Programs staff and an amazing hyacinth macaw, Margaret, on some great voluntary behaviors.
Margaret has a strong history of working closely with her caretakers on what we call “husbandry” behaviors such as nail trims, stepping on and off items, showing the underside of her wings, and allowing us to listen to her heartbeat with a stethoscope. These husbandry behaviors make routine visits from our Vet staff easier, stress-free experiences for both the animal and our team.
Training a complex voluntary behavior, like laying down for a blood draw, is done by breaking the final behavior down into smaller steps, in a process known as shaping.
We started with a behavior Margaret already knew how to do, referred to by our team as the “lay back,” where she lays her back down on a towel. Over the course of a few months, we worked with her hold her wing down flat and still and to let us touch around her vein, as well as put pressure on her wing over the vein and remain still for up to five minutes. Wing veins can bleed easily and we wanted to make sure she’d let us hold it off so a hematoma didn’t form.
She did well with the sessions and within a few months we were ready for her first blood draw. It went perfectly. A few short weeks later, we put it all together for her annual exam – a physical exam, listening to her heart, and getting a blood sample.
The video below gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what this shaping process with Margaret looked like:
I’m happy to report that our hard work paid off and Margaret passed her annual exam with flying colors!