Local dog trainer publishes book
December 21, 2009
Beaky first appeared in Laura Tyler's yard in June.
The young robin fell from his nest high in a tree, leaving his parents and one sibling behind.
Tyler's maternal instincts welled up inside her as she looked at the helpless bird, unable to fly or feed himself.
"As soon as he opened his mouth, I was like, 'Oh, OK. You got me,'" Tyler said. "How often do you have the opportunity to affect the outcome of something like this poor little bird?"
Tyler, a dog trainer and longtime Craig resident, spent six days with Beaky, sharing feeding duties with the mother and father robin and keeping him safe in her greenhouse until he learned to fly.
She documented the adventure in her journal and digital camera before realizing it wasn't something that she could keep to herself.
"I wanted to share it," she said. "It was a really neat adventure, and I was encouraged not to keep it to myself."
She turned the story into a children's book, "The Story of Little Beaky Robin," which documents the bird's road to freedom and is illustrated with her photographs
On Saturday at Downtown Books & Beads, the new author signed books for friends, family and customers of the store.
"I never thought I'd be an author," she said. "But here I am being an author. And I love it. Everything I've done in my life has a different sort of ring to it, and this has a very good ring to it."
She said whatever she does, whether it's creating stained glass windows, training a dog or coaching people at rifle shooting, she stays in the moment.
When Beaky was under her care, he was her primary focus. She made sure his needs were met and even took the time to teach him a few tricks while he was bored in the greenhouse.
She used the same techniques she uses to train dogs, which is called operant conditioning.
Instead of punishing an animal for bad behavior, she waits until the animal does something correctly and then rewards them for it.
"You can train just about anything," she said. "You can train a big gorilla to move somewhere if you wanted to. Kids are the same way. Sometimes, there are children in my classes, and they're in their shy phase. I can wait until they make eye contact with me, then I'll give them a piece of candy. Like saying, 'Thank you, thanks for giving me your attention.' Positive reinforcement works on any species, from animal to human."
She said she hopes children will read her book on their own or with their families and learn a little something about training animals.
"Hopefully, kids can take away from it that you don't have to be mean to animals to teach them things," she said.
After a few days in her greenhouse, Beaky was taking practice flights on his own.
Tyler knew it soon would be time to let her project and friend go.
After Beaky's first flight, she saw him one last time.
He flew over to her, cocked his head and gave her one last look before he disappeared for good.
"It was sad, but it was happy because I knew it was going to be OK," she said. "A lot of times, we anthropomorphize animal actions and give them human feelings. Was he stopping by to see if there was food? Or did he stop by to say, 'Hey, look at me. I'm going to be alright?'"
She is skeptical that a bird could be capable of emotions like gratitude, but that doesn't stop her from dreaming about seeing Beaky again next summer. Along with her book, she offered customers the opportunity to sign up to be alerted if Beaky appears in her yard again.
"If I were to wish, I'd hope that someday I'm sitting on my porch and Beaky comes and lands on the porch railing," she said. "Then, his girlfriend comes and flies up next to him. Just that he acknowledges my presence. And maybe there will be a sequel."