51 Do you use food to train your parrot?

51 Do you use food to train your parrot?


Having been in the companion parrot community for over thirty years now, I have seen a lot of different methods and mindsets when it comes to building a strong relationship and resilient bond with our parrot buddies. As I have mentioned previously, when positive reinforcement based interactions really began to take hold in the parrot world, there were a lot of behavior professionals that felt operant conditioning reduced our relationship to a very business-like, formal, even robotic coexistence.

We can explore the contexts in which using food as a reinforcer can help us build much needed skills with our parrots without coming to the conclusion that food is the only or even the main reinforcer we have to use. Food can have a time and a place in our long term training and relationship building strategy as a contrived reinforcer that provides a through line to natural reinforcers. Contrived reinforcers are those that provided by someone for the purposes of modifying behavior. Natural reinforcers are those that happen spontaneously because the behavior was performed.*

These are important concepts to explore as we tend to focus on our intrinsic value to our birds perhaps a bit too much or rather, too soon. When we push the fact that our bond with our parrots can or should be the tie that binds, we could very easily cause some long term issues. This is not to say that being with us is not inherently reinforcing in many of our companion parrots, but when that is the main drive, this can cause a lot of other fallout issues as well.

Let us know what you think!

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*Paul Chance, Learning and Behavior, 7th Edition, 2013

The true effects of extrinsic reinforcement on “intrinsic” motivation