How to Select the best Reinforcer for your parrot

Maslow's Hierachy of Needs

As we now know how important it is to allow our parrots to have choice in how they operate within their environment to allow them to build confident and trusting relationships with us, it only makes sense to allow them to choose what they find reinforcing. We also know that each bird is an individual and will have different likes and dislikes regardless of species!

Again as we know that everything taught at is based on science, it only makes sense to use science to help choose the reinforcers that we use.

You may well have a bird that responds very well to head scratches but I would strongly suggest that you use a food treat when you are just starting out in your training career. The science that I base this statement on is Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s theory tells us that physiological needs must first be met before we can move up to the next level.

So with this in mind how do we go about choosing which food to use as our reinforcer or treat reward? Well the answer is we don’t!! We let our parrots tell us!

The way I do this is by using my observation skills. I present all the foods that my birds get on a plate and over a couple of days I watch what they CHOOSE to eat first. This tells me that what they select first is their favourite food item and then I no longer give that item freely in their food bowl but instead save it to use for training purposes only.

The important thing to remember is like you, your bird may get sick of some particular food item. For example you may say I will do anything for a piece of chocolate but after you have eaten a couple of bars in a row it will start becoming less desirable and may meet the point of satiation where you say the next person who even mentions chocolate is going to get……… you get my point!

The great thing with using positive reinforcement like this is that you bird will soon start to associate you with the treat/reward and so you yourself will become a reinforcer for your bird.

It should be your goal to build up a variety of reinforcers for your bird because as they say, variety is the spice of life!

By having a variety of reinforcers it will help make training exciting and interesting for your parrot and they will learn to look forward to interacting with you.


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