Antecedent Change by Bev Penny

Antecedent Change, My New Best Friend

Reprinted with permission from
Good Bird Magazine,
Volume 3-2, Summer 2007; Page 53

What does a vinyl tablecloth, a piece of duct tape, a piece of acrylic and a picture frame have in common? They are all antecedent changes. Huh? What is an antecedent change? Don’t let those big fancy psychology words scare you. The experts use words like positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment (yes, there is such a thing) operant conditioning, and antecedent change just to name a few. They also use a lot of symbols too. I still haven’t figured them out but I will. Right now, I want to tell you about my new best friend, (drum roll here) antecedent change. The best way to explain my new best friend is to show you. Once you understand antecedent change, I am sure it will become your new best friend too. Figure 1 is a picture of a table cloth over my chest freezer. That table cloth is an antecedent change. It was placed there to prevent my birds from chewing holes in the very expensive gasket that fits around the freezer door to keep the cold in and the warm out. The table cloth is the only thing between my very expensive gasket and my bird’s very destructive beaks. Figure 2 is why the table cloth is there and that was within a week of getting the freezer.

Figure 3 is my favorite antecedent change. For a couple of years, the solution to this one eluded me. My African grey, Sally (brilliant as they all are) would shut off the power to my entire entertainment system by turning off the switch. This included my stereo, TV, and the DVD player. Now you know that meant I had to reset the clocks on every one of those machines which is no fun even at the best of times. The solution was a simple piece of duct tape placed over the switch in the on position. End of problem. In other words, a simple antecedent change was the solution to what had become a very complex problem for me. Now Sally wasn’t turning that switch off to annoy me, although the fact that I came running out of the bedroom at 60 miles per hour might have been a bit of a reinforcer for her. (You think?) The entertainment unit might be considered another antecedent change because as long as all remotes are in there, they are safe from destructive beaks.

Another antecedent change is a piece of acrylic placed over the top of the freezer to protect what else but the gasket.

Then there is the damage done to one of my picture frames. Gypsy thinks she is a sculptor. She mainly works in wood. Antecedent change was moving the picture across the room so the little grey gymnast cannot reach it. Now why do you think she chewed that frame? Was she mad at me, was she jealous because I was on the phone? These are all constructs or labels that we use that prevent us from trying to find a solution based on the science of behavior. That’s a whole other story. The reason Gypsy chewed the picture was because it was within chewing reach. Once I moved the picture to a wall across from her, she could no longer reach it. That is an antecedent change in its simplest form. I love that, I really do although I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the missing chunks from that frame. Any ideas?

These are simple solutions to hundreds of complaints I have heard from bird owners. My bird did this because he was mad at me. No, he didn’t, he did it because it was there. My bird did this because he was jealous. No, he didn’t, he did it because it was there. Are you getting the picture here? Using antecedent change, you too can keep your valued items, beak-mark free for the life of that item or until you forget and place that item within reach of that beak again. Then you only have yourself to blame. Your bird does not care if it is a $10 toy or a $3000 piece of furniture, it all makes good chewing. If you have a problem with your bird destroying your things, please make sure you give your bird lots of things to destroy. Now I’m not saying that will prevent further destruction of your stuff because if it is there, they will chew it but if you sit down and think about some antecedent changes in your home, you and your bird/s will reap the rewards of those changes. It’s that simple. And how about checking your home to see if you can come up with some antecedent changes that you didn’t even know you had.

I would also like to say that if you ever get the chance to go to the workshop “Step Up and Beyond” with Dr. Susan Friedman and Barb Heidenreich, please go. It is absolutely fantastic and I mean that 150%. I would also like to thank Pat and Lorne Phillips for having the courage to bring this workshop to Toronto. This was the second great year! Great job, Pat and Lorne!!!


Permission given to repost by Bev Penny March 23, 2011

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