Control is a primary reinforcer, something that animals are naturally willing to work for and find reinforcing, like food or safety. Lack of access to these are also associated with bad feelings and stress. That makes a lot of sense, as lack of control can be the difference between life and death if you are living in the wild, just like food or shelter.
The fact that control is reinforcing has probably been noted by anyone with a toddler, seeing how they light up (pun intended) when they discover the delights of the awesomeness that is a light switch. They do something and something happens. Wow. They have power over light and darkness. And some kids can flip that switch endlessly, for the feeling of control alone.
Morris, the African grey parrot is the star of Project Parrot Positive, a partnership between Rebecca K. O'Connor, Caitec, and PEAC San Diego. In these three videos, Rebecca is training Morris to retrieve. Once this behavior is generalized to retrieve new and different objects in other training sessions, it will be much easier to encourage Morris to explore and interact with new objects in his environment.
Photo Credit: Pat Phillips
Positive Reinforcement vs Force Free -
Is There a Difference ?
By Stephanie Edlund
" It gives all the control to the bird. They get to choose what they want to do. We don't force anything. We don't insist on anything. It is all up to the bird. It is totally his choice whether or not he does a behavior. He discovers he controls you, the very dependable click and treat machine. The realization that he is in control of all good things that flow gives a bird confidence. Shy birds get bolder and try new ways to make the click and treat happen. It becomes a game the bird really enjoys and you are his partner in training. I never tame a bird, I just teach him Stupid Parlor Tricks and very shortly he is tame." ~ Wendy Jeffries
Barbara Heidenreich is one of the leading experts on parrot behavior and training. She has presented workshops around the world demonstrating how to make a breakthrough with thousands of parrots using force free training methodologies. This experience has been invaluable in providing caregivers the tools they need to address behavior problems, manage day to day behavior, create a connection, improve animal welfare and enjoy a harmonious life with parrots. You can find a variety of training and behavior resources on the Parrot Training page of Barbara's Force Free Animal Training website.
Rebecca is right. I have found that using the principles of training with positive reinforcement is more than something I learn - it is something I become. I am more observant and aware. I take an interest in what other people want and need. Relationships with friends and family members improve. The Perfectly Trained Parrot is a book I highly recommend.
For a force free trainer, the well-being of animals comes first. For us, increasing welfare is the whole reason we do this training thing to begin with. We use knowledge about how learning happens to train animals using a "most effective, least intrusive" approach, no matter if it is a "silly trick" or working on a behavior problem. We also take on a more holistic approach to the relationships we have with our animals; recognizing that ALL interactions are training opportunities.
Target training is extremely useful, and it is a great first behavior to teach your bird as it is easy for them to learn. It is also great if you are new as a trainer as it is very easy to teach.
The Perfectly Trained Parrot by Rebecca K. O'Connor
In this book's Introduction, Rebecca O'Connor writes, "This book could change your life. I don't just mean that it could make living with your parrot more fun and enjoyable, although I certainly hope it does that. What I mean by changing your life is that understanding how to communicate with and train wild animals can shift the way you see the world. It can also help you change the world - or at least your area of it. This may seem like a bold statement for beginning a little training parrot book, but I do believe the years I have spent trying to understand and interact with the animals in my life have taught me how to shape my surroundings into a positive, happy place."
Training offers a great deal of mental and physical stimulation for your bird. And it helps you and your bird communicate. Wendy Jeffries, in a post on the Yahoo chat group, Bird Click, pinpointed why clicker training is so effective.
Beginners Guide to Target Training Parrots
By Stephanie Edlund
Giving Control Back To Parrots -
For Better Relationships and Welfare
By Stephanie Edlund
Stephanie shares additional steps for success in training this behavior in her blog post.
Training is often overlooked when we consider forms of enrichment for parrots. As parrot owners we get it that parrots need toys and foraging opportunities but training, not so much. Maybe because many of us associate the word training with a discipline like having to train to run a marathon. I know I did. When Pamela Clark first suggested I try clicker training, I balked at the idea. Then I ordered a clicker training kit and tried it. WOW! What a difference clicker training made. Immediately I saw how excited my own birds were to follow the target stick - they absolutely loved the experience.
Visit Stephanie's website Understanding Parrots for more articles on parrot training, behavior and enrichment.