Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive Reinforcement

I am sure that most of you have heard the term “Positive Reinforcement Training” before, another name for it is reward training or operant conditioning.  The scientific definition of ‘operant’ is to allow the learner to have choice over the way it operates within their environment. What this means from a training point of view is that we as trainers use positive reinforcers or treats to reward desired behaviour. An example of this is when you offer your hand and the bird chooses to step up then it receives a nut as a reward.

By doing this we are offering what is known as contingencies for behaviour as in the example above if the bird chooses to step up (the behaviour) then they receive the nut (consequence).

Should the bird decide not to step up, then they forgo the consequence of receiving the nut. If this happens it means that at this particular point in time the nut is not sufficiently rewarding for the bird to step up.

The reason for this could be that the bird had just eaten a meal and just wanted to rest or it does not quite understand what is being asked of it.

So bearing in mind that we at all times want to use the “Most positive, least intrusive” way of getting the behaviour as taught by world renowned trainer Steve Martin of NEI, we must evaluate our next course of action.

It may well be to let the bird rest for an hour or two then try asking for the behaviour again, as the main question we should be asking as trainers is “why should the bird do as we ask?” what is in it for them? We do not want to ever try and force a bird to do anything they do not want to do!

It may be that we are asking the bird for too much at this point in time. The bird may well be weary of you so we have to ask for smaller increments towards our end goal eg making small steps toward your hand gets a reward. It is extremely important to remember to let the bird set the pace of progress and that no two birds are alike regardless of species! Each bird is a study of one!

What is rewarding for one bird eg head scratches may be terrifying to another. We have to let the individual bird decide what is reinforcing for them.

Giving your bird the power of choice is a critical part of forming a great relationship based on trust. Each time you allow your bird to choose to step up their confidence will grow as will the bond between you.

The important points to remember is that NEVER force your bird to do anything it does not want to and let the bird decide what is reinforcing for them!


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