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Can animals train man?

  1. Nov 12, 2008 #1
    Many people think of animals as stupid and capable of learning only through conditioning without the ability to make creative leaps. My question is are there any instances where an animal has tried to train a human successfully? Most human would be to blithe to even entertain the notion that their pet was actually trying to teach them something.

    Here is my personal example of how I think my pet Cockatiel (small parrot like bird) may be trying to teach me. His name is Crikey and he really likes having his face and head scratched. I taught him that when I move my finger in a certain way that its time for him to excpect a head scratching. The finger motion is an upside-down 'come here' motion. Picture your hand, palmside down, with your index finger curling, uncurling, curling, uncurling, etc., that is the motion. Once Crikey sees this conditioning he bends his head downwards to present the top of his head.

    Then I find I am doing work on my kitchen table and he will walk over to me near my hand and he will bend his head downwards, in expectation that I will then scratch his head. One could easily dismiss this as an example of conditioning (and maybe it is) but to my mind the key is that the bird thinks of the idea first then actually uses what he knows of my behaviours to condition me into scratching him.

    Think of Pavlov's dog walking up to Pavlov and salivating. Pavlov never rang the bell or cooked a mouth watering meal, the dog preempts the conditioning and consciously decides he is hungry and his owner knows his mouth waters when he is hungry, so his owner should know to feed him now based on a history of memories.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 12, 2008 #2


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    Think of your moving crooked finger as a beak (visual cue) and go from there. Parrots are very social animals, and they groom one another. Their feathers emerge from their skin encased in dry cylindrical sheaths, and they need one another's help to remove those. They also rely on one another to groom places that they cannot reach with their beaks (especially their heads and the backs of their necks) and remove mites and other parasites. You are not training your bird, nor is your bird training you. You are figuring out some bird/bird behaviors that your bird knows instinctively. They can do some rough grooming in hard-to-reach places by rubbing on branches, scratching with their feet, etc, but there is no substitute for a willing friend to get the job done right.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2008
  4. Nov 12, 2008 #3
    You are not thinking hard enough about what I've said, instead you have gone the way of the parrot by repeating what is commonly known about birds and rehashing it. Perhaps you can point to a study that shows how parrots or cockatiels instinctually bown down their heads when a human hand is near. Or maybe you can show me one that assumes as you do that a human finger is an analog for a bird's beak. Or maybe you can tell me why my bird never bowed its head down for a scratch until I trained him by associating my scratching his head with my curling finger. But most likely you will parrot another simple answer without thought and write this off as conditioning or instinct without throughly reading my post and thinking about it. That said, I don't write off intinct as the answer, but how you've presented it is less than convincing and your arguement not well layed out.

    Please don't respond, it will be wasting both our times.
  5. Nov 12, 2008 #4


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    You asked a question, told an anecdote, and speculated. What is there to think hard about?
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