When choosing treats to use as positive reinforcement for our birds, we need to take into consideration two things: the type and the size.
There are a whole multitude of training treats to offer our birds, but we need to make sure that what we give is actually desirable to them. Otherwise, if they don’t like the treat we offer, we won’t be reinforcing the behaviour.
In order to find out what your parrot’s favourite treat is, you can do what’s known as a treat hierarchy test. This is a fancy term for offering your bird a selection of treats and seeing what they choose first, second and third. It’s good to repeat this test a few times to make sure your bird is making similar selections. Once you know what your bird’s favourite treats are, reserve them only for training and foraging – if they get these treats for free in their main diet, they’ll be less likely to work for them!
Some training treat ideas include millet, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, fresh fruit, pine nuts, safflower seeds, almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts.
When you have worked out what your bird’s favourite treat is, it’s important to portion these training treats into appropriate sizes. Training treats should be very quick to eat – no more than two seconds. If your bird is taking longer to eat a larger piece of treat, they may have forgotten what they were being reinforced for in the first place, and their motivation for training will be lower as they will fill up on treats faster!
There is an exception to this rule which is when you offer a jackpot reward. This is an intentionally larger piece of treat to pinpoint an exceptional behavioural response to your cue, or when your bird makes fast and significant training progress. Trainers will often end a training session on a jackpot which is very effective in reinforcing an excellent behavioural response. It’s always important to send training sessions on a positive note and before your bird gets bored or frustrated.
Some examples of appropriate sizes treats are:
- A bite of a single bud of millet: many people offer the whole sprig of millet when training but this can be scary for some birds, or it can create a false impression to others as they can become frustrated that they can keep eating from the sprig as you take it away for the next behaviour.
- Half a sunflower seed: these are easy to break up when they are out of the shell.
- A single hemp seed.
- An almond cut into 8 pieces.
- A Brazil nut cut into 10 pieces.
Let us know what species of bird you have and what their favourite training treats are!