Marian Breland Bailey - Work With Keller Breland

Work With Keller Breland

Keller Breland

Pioneer in humane animal training
Born (1915-03-26)March 26, 1915
Poplarville, Mississippi
Died June 17, 1965(1965-06-17) (aged 50)
Hot Springs, Arkansas

After Marian earned her bachelor's degree, she married psychologist Keller Breland on August 1, 1941. Together, they had three children: Bradley (1946), Frances (1948), and Elizabeth (1952).

Marian became the second graduate student to work under the renowned Skinner. Her husband soon came to work with Skinner as well. While graduate students, they collaborated with Skinner on military research during World War II. Their work involved training pigeons for use by the U.S. Navy, teaching the birds to guide bombs. This was never actually used. Although many sources incorrectly refer to the work as Project Pigeon or the Pigeon Project, Marian assured colleagues that its name had actually been "Pigeon in a Pelican", with pelican referring to the missile each pigeon was to guide.

The Brelands saw the commercial possibilities of operant training. So they left the University of Minnesota without completing their doctorates, and founded Animal Behavior Enterprises (ABE) on a farm in Minnesota. Skinner tried to dissuade the Brelands from abandoning their graduate education for an untested commercial endeavor. Classmate Paul Meehl bet $10 they would fail. (His 1961 check for $10 later hung framed on Marian's office wall.)

ABE's first project was training farm animals to appear in feed advertisements for General Mills. The Brelands went on to train "more animals and different species of animals than any other animal trainers" of their time, including animals of the land (cats, cattle, chickens, dogs, goats, pigs, rabbits, raccoons, rats, and sheep), the air (ducks, parrots, and ravens), and the sea (dolphins and whales). At their busiest, they trained "more than 1,000 animals at a given time". In training animals for recreational facilities such as Marineland of Florida, Parrot Jungle, Sea World, and Six Flags, they created the very first dolphin and bird shows, a form of program now considered traditional entertainment fare. Most major theme parks' animal programs can be traced back to the Brelands' pioneering work. The Brelands also established the first coin-operated animal shows. The Buck Bunny commercial featured their trained rabbits for a Coast Federal Savings television ad that ran for twenty years and which still holds the record for longest running TV commercial advertisement. They trained animals for many other venues including circuses, motion pictures, museums, stores, and zoos.

Earlier animal trainers had historically relied primarily on punishment when teaching animals. The Brelands instead followed Skinner's emphasis on the use of positive reinforcement to train animals, using rewards for desired behavior. Although other students of Skinner's later entered commercial animal training as well, the Brelands' techniques dominated the field because they found ways to simplify the training of complex behaviors. The Brelands did not just train the animals. They also trained other animal trainers, establishing in 1947 "the first school and instruction manual for teaching animal trainers the applied technology of behavior analysis." Marlin Perkins of Wild Kingdom and Walt Disney were among those who learned from them.

Marian led ABE's government research, some of which remains classified to this day. Known projects included the development of an avian ambush detection system. In 1950, the Brelands relocated ABE to a farm near Hot Springs, Arkansas. In 1955, they opened the "I.Q. Zoo" in Hot Springs as both a training facility and a showcase of trained animals. "Popular acts included chickens that walked tightropes, dispensed souvenirs and fortune cards, danced to music from jukeboxes, played baseball and ran the bases; rabbits that kissed their (plastic) girlfriends, rode fire trucks and sounded sirens, and rolled wheels of fortune; ducks that played pianos and drums; and raccoons that played basketball."

The Brelands were also "the first to introduce the public to the applied technology of behavior analysis via numerous personal appearances at fairs, exhibitions, and theme parks across the country". They appeared on well known television shows such as The Today Show, The Tonight Show, Wild Kingdom, and You Asked For It. Publications including Colliers, Life, Popular Mechanics, Reader's Digest, Saturday Evening Post, Time, and even The Wall Street Journal featured them and their work. Although Keller was often the public face of ABE with some ads referring to "Keller Breland's I.Q. Zoo," the Brelands collaborated equally in ABE's endeavors.

The Brelands stirred controversy among behaviorists with their 1961 article, "The misbehavior of organisms" — the title of which involved a play on words referring to Skinner's classic 1938 work The Behavior of Organisms. Marian and Keller outlined training difficulties in which instinct or instinctive drift might occur as tendencies biologically inherent in a species intrude into the behaviors a trainer was attempting to teach an animal. The article is recognized as a milestone in the history of psychology.

In 1963, Marian designed and implemented a program to improve techniques for working with profoundly mentally retarded individuals at a human development center in Alexandria, Louisiana. She emphasized the value of positive reinforcement, and taught ward attendants humane practices that became the standard for institutions of this kind. The 1965 training manual Teaching the Mentally Retarded, which she and others prepared, remained in use for decades.

On June 16, 1965, Keller died of a heart attack. In their 1966 textbook, Marian described him as the “dreamer” and herself as the “engineer”. She continued writing, researching, and training animals.

Read more about this topic:  Marian Breland Bailey

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