As for people and animals, the entire circle of life is for pigeons a continued learning process. But learning is a relative concept. People and animals do that in different ways. A human thinks and is able to have thoughts in the past, the present and the future. And animals on the other hand mostly act and respond on a certain moment. Of course, you are able to “teach” animals different things, although in that case we have to speak about “conditioning”.
The pigeon is a flight animal. When they suspect only the smallest amount of danger, they fly away. Those are reflexes, automatic actions and not well considered actions. A human or an animal which has learned something, really learned something when his new behaviour pattern has become a second nature and when the things they’ve learned are followed with an automatic impulse reaction.
Someone who learns to drive a car needs al his attention to serve the separated pedals in the right order. A chauffeur who has routine on the other hand, can lead his vehicle through the busiest traffic and in the meantime still have heated discussions. He still can pay attention to his arguments and the discussion. Conducting the car is executed via a vast impulse reaction and has become an automatic behaviour.
During the learning process new nervconnections are being made which will eventually make the long way to the brains unnecessary. You probably wonder why we need to know all this, especially when it comes to pigeons. A lot actually, or at least it could mean a lot.
Learning of conditioning?
When the pigeons are acting stubborn, it can only mean three things. They don’t know, they can’t or they don’t want to.
They don’t know because they haven’t been taught yet.
They can’t because they aren’t ready in a mental or physical way
They don’t want to because for instance a pigeon of the other sex practises a larger power of attraction.
It’s the job of the pigeon enthusiast to differentiate it and to act in an appropriate way. The pigeons don’t only have to understand but they only have to know how to convert. It’s our job to teach this to a young pigeon.
With animals it’s the deal that at a certain moment needs to be associated with their final action. The timing in this case is really important. The reward after the signal better come at the same time or during the time they show the right behaviour. And not before or even not two minutes after. When the pigeon is rewarded at the same time he’s “entering” (behaviour we hope for) it will associate the reward to the right behaviour. But for instance when you wait for only a minute and the pigeons are drinking, they will associate the reward with the drinking and not with the entering.
What does it mean?
First of all, a signal is only been given once!
Signal ® stimulate ® rewarding
I often witness that arduous enthusiasts call for more than twenty times to get their pigeons to come in. After the twentieth or thirtieth time they eventually come. In this way, an (un)educated youngster will never learn how sufficient a subtle signal is because they have learned that at least twenty other signals will follow, and so they have plenty of time left to respond. We will approach this in another way.
We practise first with the youngsters on the shed. We make sure that everything goes in a light-hearted way. So we can build up so the pigeons will learn it’s light-hearted to learn the signals. During the feeding we use the whistle signal or any other signal you prefer to use.
This is the signal. We encourage the young to go to the feed box or the shelf. If necessary, we let them “float” in that direction. This is called stimulation. That’s where they receive the food and the reward.
Only after a few times, the pigeon learns that after the signal, a reward will follow. In stead of repeating the signal, when there are initially a few pigeons who wont come to practise, we practise more pressure, if necessary, to conduct the pigeons to the eating jug or feeding shelf. Afterwards we abandon this pressure once they’re arrived and than the reward in form of the feeding will follow.
We repeat this exercise if necessary on daily basis inside the shed with the nutrition, with candy seeds or peanuts, just until all pigeons react in an instant to the signal. Hereby, we may never forget at all times, we can only give one single signal! When we know for certain (and not a moment sooner) the pigeons recognise the signal, the choice to react on it is completely theirs as well as the consequences that go with the signal.
Signal is rewarding. The reward doesn’t come before the signal or after the signal. But we have to be and stay consequent in this matter. They will learn pretty fast. It isn’t so much the pigeons who have to learn, but more the milker. A pigeon responds previously on it’s instinct because the reward consists out of food. One of the animal drives is the drive to eat. We have to make the link between the signal and the following reward. It’s a pretty good remedy.
After a while the signal becomes the impulse and the immediate coming in will find place automatically. When we have been consequent the pigeons can and will only respond like an experienced driver who has the right reflex in a dangerous situation. Only when the situation has passed you think about what has happened and how you reacted in that situation.
When someone breaks an arm and it has to be in gypsum for a couple of weeks to make sure it’s protected from colliding. When the gypsum is removed too soon, there’s a great chance that all the time that has passed is lost because the arm will break again when it will regain a burden. Even worse, it will heal even worse than the first time.
It’s the same way in this learning process. When the nerves are only grown together half and we trust too soon to have a good result, everything will fall apart and all the troubles have been for nothing. On the other hand, when the nerves are grown back together, they will last together for ever and under all circumstances.
There is something else we have to know to understand all of this in a better way: in nature nothing works according to linear processes. Everything will go in a sort of vast cycles. Summer, winter, day, night … When we, wrapped in concrete and neon light, do the same thing day after day, turn the day into night, turn summer into winter and of course make sure we don’t live up to the rules, it’s our own decision. Pigeons on the other hand, despite of any system, live far more closer to nature and live in far more close organic rhythms.
Learning is of course a growing process and we have to accede to this. The learning goes therefore in waves. Today they will succeed in something that the next morning they will have never seen or experienced before. Dull animals?
Not, it’s like a valley in the learning process where every next valley is a little bit less deeper than the one before. That’s the characterization of every true learning process. In that way we can always verify if the learning process is going well. If you want to be certain that something goes well, it has to go well in these lows.
The hardest part is, as an enthusiast, to be consequent during the whole learning process. Giving fodder once to one of them which is later or didn’t want to react in a way you wanted, is enough of a signal to become a “fracture” in the growing together of the nerves.
We started with the shed and when this works well, we prepare ourselves to expand the “working area”. After all, we know at least they have already learned what is desired from them, namely to respond with the first and only signal. We’ll “help” them a little bit by using their instincts and the natural urge to eat, by keeping them a bit “sharp”. Experience has taught me that it takes two or three weeks to make them conditionate in such a way it’s baked in it or in other words, that the mend nerves are definitely grown together and that they’re strong enough.
It’s possible that resting in this matter will make sure we respect the order of rank: signal ® reaction ® reward. So no fodder or candies without signal or no signal without fodder or candy. By the time we come to the chapter of “teaching”, we will expand the subject material.
They know and react the signal in the shed, outside the shed and they will, when it went well, do this when they come home from a race. To respect the learning waves and to make sure the link signal (impulse) reaction is practised and gotten solid during the following ten days when the pigeons are kept shorter and they fly for about ten kilometres a day. When they come home there’s the signal and the reward follows.
Once the young pigeon makes a good connection between signal ® reaction, it will last for ever. It’s the enthusiasts’ case that during this learning process, but also after the learning process, he stays resolute and that’s the hardest part in this whole process. Actually, the enthusiast has to learn more than the pigeons have to. Almost every one of us has developed a habit over the years to yell and keep yelling at the pigeons to make them come in, and that’s where it goes wrong. It asks quit some discipline from the enthusiast to change and adjust those bad habits.
I have experienced that once a pigeon is a year old, this link will be harder to accomplish. It takes a lot more attempts from the enthusiast and that’s the reason why we have to give a little more extra attention and energy during the education of youngsters. It saves us a lot of work, concern and sorrow afterwards.
Actually it would be much better and easier to install a certain electronic signal somewhere because the intonation of our voice depends of a moment. During the week it can be more calm, easy, maybe even more happy or not that during the weekends. Especially when the pigeons come home from a flight the voice can be more nervous. They absolutely notice the difference. Also the “catching” of the pigeons during the week or during the weekend for people who don’t make the electronic statement makes a big difference and makes it easy to blow the whole case. For example, pull, during the removal of a gummy, by accident only one feather out.
It is very important to stay calm under all kinds of circumstances and to have a reliable relationship to make sure the (trust)relationship between the enthusiast and the pigeon (read, predator) will last.
The predator and the prey
Visits in stock lofts all around have taught me that the relationship between the pigeon enthusiast and the pigeon is mostly a catastrophe. Only the way how those enthusiasts “catch” (in the most literal meaning of the word) the pigeons, you can see those animals don’t have any confidence in their commander. I can’t imagine to work in such a way, on a daily base, with these living animals, which as soon as they see you make sure they stay as far away from you as possible.
Nevertheless, there are some rules you can follow to improve the relationship. To apply these rules, we must understand some definite facts.
In contrary to humans, pigeons belong to the category of “predators”. Our racing pigeons are domesticated but their flight behaviour is natural, and since generations signed up. There are some elementary differences between predators and preys.
have their eyes in front
they watch a prey sharply
they go for the prey in a straight line
they don’t discharge a bite
have their eyes at the side.
Because of that they have a much larger visual field, which comes out handy if they want to escape real quiet when they see any kind of danger.
They prefer living in group, in the company of congeners because it creates a bigger safety feeling and it offers larger opportunities for surviving.
Because of these elementary differences we can notice that the fraternization between predator (human) and prey (pigeon) isn’t as easy as it seems. We will have to convince our “prey” that we don’t have any bad tendencies. How good we may succeed in this, the genetically fixed flight behaviour will come first when the pigeons have to deal with unknown circumstances.
When we bear this information and elements in mind, it will be easy to “teach” or “condition” our pigeons. One peanut and the right timing can stimulate them in doing unbelievable things. Just try and find out…