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Selecting a Reinforcer

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A reinforcer is something your bird likes. It is technically “something added to the situation to increase the probability of that behaviour happening again”. A reinforcer is something your bird wants and is willing to put in some effort to obtain. Birds have likes and dislikes.

Make a list of the top 10 foods your bird likes. Think about the things he will try to steal from you. Things he would jump over the moon to get.

Quentin the African Grey eats a bowl full of foods, some are stuck to his beak.

Here’s a list of Quentin the African Grey’s top ten foods (in order):

  • Cashews
  • Pistachios
  • Spaghetti
  • Sweet Potato
  • Seeds
  • Corn chips
  • Peanutbutter
  • Mashed Potato
  • Warm tea (birdsafe)
  • Almonds

These are things that Quentin will happily take from me. Or steal from me! I keep these items in reserve, that means they aren’t offered for “free” in his bowl usually. He earns them as reinforcement for doing things that are good, like staying on his tree or making cute noises.

Quentin the African Grey eating a small piece of cashew.

Now that you have your list of top 10 foods, can you think of 5 more things that ARENT food? Toys? Places? People? Activities? Here’s Quin’s:

  • Being in the bathroom
  • Getting a shower
  • looking out the bay window
  • sitting on your knee while you’re on the computer
  • Headrubs at bedtime
Quentin sitting by a mirror chewing on a shoe toy.

Each one of these items can be used to reinforce behaviour. It doesn’t always have to be food! Let me know what your birds favourite reinforcers are!

Not too sure? Do a test! Take a dish and put 6 different options for your bird to choose from. Which one does he ear first? Second? Last? This type of testing will help you learn the value of each reinforcer for you bird.

Six treat options on a small plate: safflower seeds, walnut pieces, cashew pieces, sunflower pieces, millet, and pellets.

Be sure to use all types of reinforcers and give them to your bird often when he’s doing good things. Reinforce what you want to see! It’s like giving your bird treats, with added bonus of reinforcing good behaviour.

Need more help? Take our Bird Basics course for more information on selecting a reinforcer:

Happy Training And Bonding!

  • Robin Horemans CPBC-KA, KPA CTP, IAABC-ADT

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