After purchasing your bird, you will need to invest time and energy into training your feathered friend. No doubt you want a well-behaved, polite, good-mannered bird to grace your life and home.
Determined to have the best-trained parrot on the block, you head down to your local library and check out every book on the shelf related to bird training. Suddenly you’re confused. There is so much information out there. Everyone has a different technique, each claiming to be the best and most effective.
This type of confusion is normal. When deciding what type of advice is worthwhile and what type is simply bunk, use your common sense.
The most effective training methods are based on a technique called positive reinforcement.
What is positive reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement is a training technique designed to ensure that a desirable behavior is repeated on an ongoing basis. This simply means that when your bird performs appropriately, you provide him with some type of reward.
When training parrots, it is important that you never smack or hit your bird. Birds do not understand physical punishment. If you cause them pain or terrify them in any way, they will become scared and may never regain their trust for humans. Some birds, such as the African Grays, have such powerful memories that many professionals claim they will never forget mistreatment. This will make it harder if not impossible for the bird to regain his trust in humans.
Punishment is counterproductive. It can create a host of other problems including aggression, apathy, fear and an intense desire to escape. Birds are sensitive creatures. They must be treated gently, kindly and with respect. And that’s why positive reinforcement is the best and most effective way to train your bird.
Rules of Rewards
When using positive reinforcement, the goal is to reward your bird only when he performs the desired behavior. Avoid rewarding negative behaviors. If you give your bird attention every time he screams, you are rewarding him for this behavior. When your bird behaves poorly, ignore him. When he quiets down, reward him with your attention. That is positive reinforcement.
You can use positive reinforcement to teach your bird a variety of different behaviors including:
- Basic Obedience
- Trick Training
- Potty Training
Before you begin training you will need to iron out a few details, including:
What type of rewards to use
There are two types of positive enforcers: food & social affirmation (a hug, kiss, scratch or pat).
While food is a powerful motivator, social affirmation is the easiest and most effective in the long run. Birds love attention and will do almost anything to get it.
If you do decide to use food as your primary motivator, be sure to give bird small portions that can be swallowed in a single gulp. This will keep their mind focused on you instead of on trying to eat a huge nut or other piece of food.
Where you will train
You should train your parrot in a quiet, distraction-free place. This can be just outside his birdcage, on a table or playstand.
If you house your bird, in a large outdoor aviary you could even perform basic training inside the cage. Just make sure you have plenty of room for any tools, props or other training material you may need.
Which cues you will use
A cue refers to your verbal or gestured command. For example, if you want your parrot to shake hands, you may decide to use the phrase “shake hands.” If you want your bird to step on you hand you may decide to use the cue, “Step Up.”
It is important that you use the same cues all the time otherwise your bird will become extremely confused. Write down each cue so you can remember it and use it consistently.
Why Positive Reinforcement Works
Positive reinforcement is effective for a number of reasons. Here’s just a few of the benefits:
It motivates your bird
When your bird is rewarded for good behavior, he becomes excited and eager to continue behaving in the way you specify. Scolding or hitting your bird does not work. Instead it will cause fear, anger and hatred. Your bird will learn to resent and fear you. Positive reinforcement on the other hand, makes your bird feel happy about himself and eager to gain your approval and affection.
It creates a deep bond between you and your pet
Positive reinforcement fosters a sense of trust between you and your bird. After all, that’s the whole point you wanted a bird in the first place right? You wanted a loving, loyal companion.
It teaches your bird how to behave
Birds are wild creatures. They do not naturally know how to behave in a domestic setting. As a result, they need to be taught. One mistake people make is assuming their bird already knows the rules and standards of their home. But this is not the case.
Think about it. Imagine that you are visiting a foreign country. You walk into a wealthy home, owned by one of the ruling class. Would you automatically know how to act and behave? You’re in a different country. Different culture. Different language. If someone doesn’t tell you how to act, you will probably feel pretty confused. Well, that’s how your bird feels without receiving any training. Positive reinforcement lets your bird know how he should behave.