Using Automated Enrichment to Improve the Human Animal Bond
Stress has been shown to have a negative effect on every stage of an animal’s life cycle, from birth rates to weaning (Clincy, Sheriff & Zanette, 2013). Early socialization through habituation has been shown to decrease an animal’s stress to certain stimuli (Ramirez, 1999). For prey animals like the birds we house in the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center at Texas A&M University, a new person coming and interacting with them could be a stressor alone. Because these birds are in captivity, they will come into contact with people that are performing health checks on them. In order to attempt to habituate the birds to a new person, a tablet was used to associate a video of the visitor to a primary reinforcer of an alternate commercial diet. This experiment used the concepts of behaviorism and positive reinforcement to train the birds to change their response of fear to the unknown person to a more comfortable state. The time it took to approach the visitor before and after the study was analyzed by counting stress-related behaviors and time the visitor had to hold the treat for a health check for each bird. A total of twelve birds participated in this experiment for three weeks. All the birds were housed in their regular housing in the aviary in compatible male-female pairs. The tablet could not be destroyed by the birds, did not interfere with the bird’s normal feeding schedule and would give treat crumbs when the video of the familiarized person appeared on the screen at programmed scheduled times. The birds overall showed less stress and were more social to both volunteers. The magnitude of change in stress was greater for the familiarized person than it was for the unfamiliar person. The colony as a whole also was faster and more willing to complete the health check. After providing automated enrichment, the birds, not only displayed the benefits of decreased stress, but the visitor himself also showed clear satisfaction with the improvement of the human-animal bond.
Varkey, Jane Joy (2017). Using Automated Enrichment to Improve the Human Animal Bond. Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from