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Behavior Science: DOES it apply to all species?



A phrase that Jolene and I use with our clients frequently is that behavior science applies to all species. What does this mean? It means that all sentient beings have cognitive processes that affect how they interact with the world around them as well as other individuals. They have the ability to learn new behaviors and change their emotional associations with different stimuli. The way behavior professionals go about this is very similar no matter what species we are working with. The differences are not so much how the behavior modification is implemented; they are the adjustments that need to be made in terms of reading species-specific body language accurately in order to set the learner up for success.


For example, training prey animals like birds or horses is a bit different than training a dog or a cat simply because the natural instincts of prey animals are very different. Prey animals are more likely to startle and trainers need to be aware of their species-specific needs in order to keep them under their stress thresholds so that their fight/flight response is not activated. When that happens, that individual is no longer in a place mentally where true, impactful learning can occur.


When training any species, the research on the most impactful training methodology is crucial to keep in mind. Reward-based training is going to create long-term behavior change versus training that uses aversives, no matter the species. This is a hot button topic and has been for decades. I could go into much more detail on this, but that would be an entirely different blog post! The main point here is that scientifically proven methods of behavior modification work on all sentient beings.


When I learned that behavior science applied to everyone, it opened up a whole new world for me and made the idea of training what I considered to be novel species far less intimidating. Three years ago, I began offering behavior services for birds. This is something I never thought that I would do because it was new and scary. I have had a wonderful experience so far! Jolene and I are lucky to have a community of colleagues and mentors that are supportive and that we can use as sounding boards if we ever need anything.


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