How to encourage/discourage different behaviors in birds
B.F. Skinner once said; “Give me a child and I’ll shape him into anything”. A rather bold statement to make, but not exactly crazy.
Our pets are like our children, we love them, care for them, and want them to learn the right kinds of skills and abilities to make their lives easier as well as our own. B.F. Skinner is famous for his work on classical and operant conditioning, a methodology by which behavior can be taught and learned using reinforcement.
If we expect our birds to behave in a certain way, asking nicely simply won’t cut it, instead, we need to make it worth their while. Want me to sit quietly? Best you have a snack ready.
There are two methods for reinforcing behavior, positive and negative reinforcement. The former uses rewards, that can be anything pleasurable or positive. The latter uses punishments, that being anything unpleasant or undesirable. Psychology has a rich history of data detailing why negative reinforcement simply does not work, any of you who received a hiding when you were younger know that the only lesson you learned was how not to get caught.
What does work, however, is positive reinforcement, and it’s easier to implement than you may think. Simply put, behaviors that get rewarded will occur more often. If a bird is doing something that you like, reward them. The more often they are rewarded for the behavior, the more often they will engage in that behavior.
If you are trying to phase out a behavior, you must ensure that the behavior is not rewarded in any way. If you have a screaming bird, simply ignore them. No eye contact, no speaking, and no interaction. When they quiet down again, reward them. If they know they get what they want when they behave in the ways you want them to, they will behave that way more and more often until it becomes a habitual part of their personality.
In short, reward the things you like, ignore the things you don’t and remember punishments never work in the end.
-Caitlind & Tristan