Trust and the Bank Account:
Steve Martin and Susan Friedman Offer Gems About Trust

Let’s hear it from experts in the science of behavior modification and animal training . . .

We pet rat lovers probably all have a sense of what it means for our rats to trust us. I could write a few sentences myself, but I want to bring some important names to this conversation. Why? There are some unfortunate and problematic trainers in the world, who promote unscientific and frankly abusive methods. (Read about one.) I want the concept of trust to be filled with the light and love of good training philosophy. I want to promote methods for training that put our rats' best interests front and center. The more we can hear from stellar animal trainers, the better.

Steve Martin, CPBT-KA* and owner of Natural Encounters, Inc., and Susan Friedman, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Utah State University, and brilliant animal behaviorist – check out her website, Behavior+ Works, Improving the Quality of Life for All Learners – have written a wonderful article on trust. The fully-available article, “The Power of Trust”, is available in both Susan Friedman's and Steve Martin's extensive lists of publications.

(If you wonder about all those letters behind Steve Martin's name, check out the stringent Certification Examination Handbook for those who are licensed as CPBT-KA – Certified Professional Bird Trainers-Knowledge Assessed!)

So what does trust look like?

What does it mean to build up or deplete the trust bank account?

  • “Trusting animals use their behavior to confidently approach, rather than escape, opportunities to interact with people. They not only accept invitations to interact with their trainers, trusting animals create interaction opportunities for their trainers as well.”
  • “Like most things having to do with relationships, trust is not a simple dichotomy. It’s more complex than ‘either ya have it or you don’t.’”
  • “Between being a millionaire and being bankrupt, there are many levels of trust, and that makes the bank account metaphor really useful. The goal with all our relationships is to build a big enough trust account to withstand the withdrawals that inevitably occur with our animals and each other.”
  • “The international currency of the relationship bank is positive interactions. We make deposits into the trust account one positive interaction at a time. Positive interactions are not just about animals gaining valued rewards, it’s also about having opportunities to make choices. We make withdrawals from the trust account with negative interactions such as force, threats and punishment.”
  • “If a withdrawal is so big that it exceeds a positive balance, we risk putting the relationship in the red; but even small or inadvertent withdrawals can add up over time, resulting in a bankrupt relationship.”
  • One example of what erodes trust: “It was not so long ago that trainers taught parrots to ride bicycles by tapping them on the tail with a stick. To escape this aversive stimulation, birds performed the behavior.... Clearly, animals can learn new behaviors with negative reinforcement (i.e., doing something more to escape an aversive stimulus). However, negative reinforcement results in unnecessary withdrawals from the trust account and can reduce the behavioral repertoire of the animals. You won’t see birds trained with negative reinforcement performing free-flight behaviors in programs – escape may motivate flight but it won’t motivate coming back.”
  • The best method for promoting trust? “Positive reinforcement strategies are the key to building trust accounts with the birds in our shows. To maximize the trust building effects of positive reinforcement, make sure that reinforcers are consistent, immediate, and strong.” (Read how to use positive reinforcement with rats on JoinRats, in Using Positive Reinforcement to Help Rats Trust.)
  • “When problem situations do occur, it’s best to focus on replacing the problem behavior with more desirable alternative behaviors and to teach new skills.”
  • Make a Balloon Payment: Give Them Power. Control is a major factor in the relationships we form with the animals in our lives. To give control to a bird means providing opportunities for the bird to have choices, to make decisions, take actions and experience consequences of its actions. We give control to birds in countless ways, such as when we open the door to let a bird fly free in our show and when we cue a bird to fly to our hand. The bird has the opportunity to act according to the cue or stay where it is.” (View a video where I let my rats decide, in, Let Rats Decide When.)
  • “Animal trainers are succeeding in unprecedented ways to change what they do to build trust accounts with their animals and the result is effective, humane training. We have videos of teaching cooperative tooth brushing behavior with animal species as different as gorillas and African wild dogs. In these videos the bottom line is a big trust account born of high rates of positive reinforcement.”
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