Macaws on bicycles, cockatoos raising flags, conures snatching dollar notes from audience members. These are images that often come to mind when the word traininqtts mentioned inconjunction with parrots. While it is true that training is responsible for those resulting entertaining tricks, this short list of behaviors is a gross understatement of the endless potential training with positive reinforcement affords avian species in our care.
Training is simply teaching. When we train an animal with positive reinforcement we give it information on what it can do to earn desired outcomes. What behaviors we choose to teach are limitless. In addition to training birds for entertainment, we can use this form of communication to address behavior problems, to manage birds on exhibit, to teach birds to cooperate in their own medical care and/or to allow us to facilitate captive breeding practices.
Training is Science Based
Although training birds in general is not a new concept to avian enthusiasts, understanding the science behind training is just recently gaining momentum. The science behind training is called applied behavior analysis. This science focuses on how organisms learn. And truly we are all students of this science on a daily basis whether we are conscious of our application of its principles or not. Current trends in animal training choose to focus on using elements of this science that focus on kind and gentle strategies to create desired behavior and reduce undesired behavior. This includes avoiding the use of aversive punishment and negative reinforcement. In its place, trainers learn the art and skill of applying positive reinforcement to gain cooperation.
One of the benefits of viewing behavior and learning from a scientific approach is that we can avoid the pitfalls of relying on anecdotal information and/ or anthropomorphic interpretations of behavior. In addition as a recognized science, the information belongs to everyone. No single individual has ownership of the methods or principles. They are available for each and everyone one of us to learn and apply. By understanding the science we are able to remove misconceptions and erroneous interpretations of behavior. The science also teaches us that even innate behaviors are modifiable. And most importantly we learn to create and modify behavior with kinder and gentler methods. This allows reduction in stress, trust building bonds with caretakers, the avoidance of learned aggressive behaviors and the many other drawbacks often associated when aversive strategies are used to influence behavior.
Positive Reinforcement: The presentation of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of
the behavior Another name for positive reinforcement is reward training. Positive reinforcers tend to be valued or pleasant stimuli. To get positive reinforcers, learners often enthusiastically exceed the minimum effort necessary to gain them. Recommended!
Negative Reinforcement: The removal of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior Another name for negative reinforcement is escape/avoidance training. Negative reinforcers tend to be aversive
or unpleasant stimuli. To avoid negative reinforcers, learners often only work to the level necessary to avoid them.
Punishment: The presentation of an aversive stimulus, or removal of a positive reinforcer, that serves to decrease or suppress the frequency of the behavior The use of punishment tends to produce detrimental side effects such as counter aggression, escape behavior, apathy and fear Also, punishment doesn't teach the learner what to do to earn positive reinforcement.