The standard reward for an animal who successfully follows a command is generally a treat because, as the they say in the training biz, animals are “food oriented.” The problem with giving crows a treat is that they decide it must be cached, thereby losing all interest not only in training but in having the trainer around at all: it’s hard to cache effectively when someone is looking. Ruckus is big on caching and has essentially zero interest in doing anything outside of what she wants when she wants it. Not a recipe for training success.

Because giving an animal food is always a technique that yields diminishing returns (the animal gets full and the extra calories can lead to weight issues), training experts advise identifying a “secondary enforcer,” namely something the animal likes that doesn’t involve food. This is often not easy because it’s hard to find something that an animal wants as much as a treat.

Enter Ruckus who has now decided that she must have the back of her head scratched at all times. The second I walk into her enclosure, she is burbling on my arm and nudging me to give her pats. As a result, she is willing to come when she is called (up until now a complete impossibility) and practice stacking her boxes in exchange for head scratches.

Ruckus with boxes

I don’t know how long this mood will last, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying the behavior progress and cuddle time.