As Super Bowl 50 approaches, we all have the big game in mind. For some of us, like myself — who is football challenged — game time means the “Training Game.”The game is a great way to reconnect with old friends and bond with new ones and no sideline cheerleaders necessary.
What is the Training Game? Let Karen Pryor, its inventor, explain:
“The Training Game is a great way to sharpen your shaping skills and have fun at the same time. It allows you to see and experience other trainers’ decision points, and to be aware of what you might have done instead. It also allows trainers to make mistakes, and learn from them, without confusing some poor animal or unsuspecting person! Maybe most valuable of all, it allows you to see the training process from the viewpoint of the trainee, which is often a highly illuminating experience. The training game also helps us get rid of the superstitious behavior of putting the blame for problems on the person or animal we are working with, instead of on the training contingencies, where it belongs.
When it comes to bird training, there is always room for more practice. The Training Game polishes your skill set and is a great icebreaker for meeting new people. The added bonus is if you mess up during the game, you confuse your friends and not the pet birds in your life. You can learn from your mistakes and be an even better animal trainer with your birds. This game allows you to get the unique perspective of both the trainer and the bird.
The Training Game has been played by many people from psychology students to professional animal trainers. A Cornell graduate, Pryor started off as a marine mammal trainer. Around 1974, she ended her dolphin career and transferred to the world of cats and dogs. She took what she learned in the marine mammal world and applied it to pet. She has authored several books including “Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training,which is often referred to as the Bible of animal training. It offers great insight on positive training methods in addition to tips on using a bridge.
How To Play The Game
The Training Game can be played with two people, but the more people you have the more fun. You will need at least one “trainer” and one “animals.” The goal of the game is to get the trainer to teach a behavior to the “animal”without using English or large body signals. The trainer should use a bridge and reinforcers.
To start the game, everyone should know that when the bridge is presented the animal did a correct behavior. The bridge can be the word good or the noise of a clicker. Every time the “animal”hears the bridge they must go back to the trainer and get the reinforcer.
The reinforcers could be human cookies shaped like tiny dog bones,M&Ms,pennies, shots of a drink or trail mix. Keeping them small allows the “animals”to do multiple behaviors without getting full. This is like a complex game of hot and cold. If the trainer is giving away pennies or shots, you can bet that the animal will really want to learn the behavior quickly.
The behaviors that are to be trained need to be large physical behaviors that everyone can see. Turning in a circle, pouring or drinking water, turning on a light switch, picking up something, sitting in a chair, opening or closing a door or window, or marking on a blackboard or sketch pad are all great ideas. Try to avoid complex, multiple step behaviors.
There shouldn’t be any talking during the training game by the trainer or the “animals.’ The point of the game is to learn how to communicate with your birds through a non-verbal process, using only a bridge and treats. The people watching the process are encouraged to make a lot of noise, like cheering, groans, laughter, and applause. The trainer and the spectators will most likely burst into applause once the behavior is finished.
To start the game, one “animal”is chosen and they step outside of the room or out of hearing range as the group decides on what behavior the trainer will attempt to train. Once everyone has been both the trainer and “animal” the game is completed. You could also have races with two trainers trying to train their own “animals” the same behavior with whatever “animal”completing first the winner.
Let’s say the behavior you want to train your human animal is to sit in a chair. The “animal”enters the room to start the game. You can bridge and give a treat (maybe 1 to 2 M&Ms)every time they step closer to the chair. Once they are real close to the chair or touching the chair you might want to give them multiple M&Ms.To get them to sit you may want to give them an M&M for every time they back up or when they get low to the ground. You can see the benefits of small reinforcers. If you were to give them a slice of cake for every step this game could take hours.
Happy training and train/play responsibly!