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Reinforcer Options

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Training Tidbit – More Reinforcers

Quentin knows when I’m making coffee in the mornings: he will gladly say “Time for COFFEE!” when he hears the kettle boiling. He keeps a close eye on my coffee mug and will fly over to sneak a sip if I’m not careful. No coffee for birds! What else can I use as a reinforcer?

The definition of positive reinforcement training is: we ADD something the bird wants, and will work to get, to make behaviour more likely to happen. Something they value. Something they love! QUENTIN LOVES COFFEE!

Because Quentin would fly across the house just for the CHANCE at a sip of coffee, I’d say that coffee is VERY valuable for Quentin. He sure is willing to work for it! How can I use this to train? He can’t have coffee! What can he have? Warm water? Caffeine-free tea? Warm juice? So long as it is in a mug, and it’s a warm liquid, it works for Quentin. It works REALLY well! Warm water in a mug is a high value reinforcer for Quentin!

Testing Reinforcers

Often you will hear training treat suggestions like millet, safflower seeds or pieces of nut. These are great suggestions and are valued by many different species of birds. Not sure what your bird might like? Put out a sample plate. Try 6 different food items and put them all in a dish. Let your bird choose which food they will eat first, then second, and so on. You might be surprised by what he chooses!

Reinforcer testing – A square plate with six small piles of food on it: cashew pieces, safflower, sunflower pieces, millet, pellets, and walnut pieces

What happens if your bird doesn’t like those things? What if your bird doesn’t pick anything from the bowl? Don’t despair, you have several options. First, reserve any “treats” from your birds’ main diet. The main food bowl should be only their main diet (ie pellets). Then you can take all the addtional, veggies, fruits, seeds, nutriberries, nuts, etc, and use them for reinforcing the behaviours you want to see. Make sure your bird will get their full daily allotment of these foods, just working for each piece instead of getting them for “free” in a bowl. Because this is fun, not torture!

More Reinforcers

Even BAD foods like chips, pasta, popcorn, cheese, juice, coffee, can all be considered for the role of “reinforcer”. WAIT – DO NOT FEED YOUR BIRD BAD FOODS. Instead, make a mental note of how driven your bird seems for the food. Ask your veterinarian for healthy bird safe food alternatives, because we want to keep our birds as healthy as possible. In small quantities, these substitutions might work well. Here are some ideas: Chips=dehydrated banana slices; pasta=bite of one plain noodle; popcorn=air popped popcorn pieces; cheese=lick of natural nut butter; juice=natural baby food; coffee=warm caffeine-free tea; etc.

Anything your bird values, he will be willing to work for. Think about using the opportunities for good. Even ‘bad’ foods can be transformed into a bird-acceptable food and used as high value reinforcers. If he wants it, make sure you use it!  Your bird will do something you like, be ready with a reinforcer they value! And you will be ready with something they love!

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– Robin Horemans KPA CTP


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