Training Tidbit – What’s an Aversive?

When I’m training, I focus on making things as awesome as possible for the bird. This makes sure the bird has a positive association with training, and a positive association with me. It’s also a mutual understanding between us that if the bird does ‘work’ he gets ‘paid’.Positive reinforcement training works well because of the choice we give our parrots. They can participate if they want to (and get something awesome!), OR they can wander off and that’s OK too.

So what’s an “Aversive” and why are we walking about them? An aversive is something the bird doesn’t like. It can vary from mild (like a strange new toy) to strong (like being poked in the tummy) to extreme (like some birds’ reactions to water bottles). Anything the bird doesn’t like (and will actively move away from) is called an aversive.

It’s our job as guardians to make sure we minimize aversives in our parrots’ lives. If your bird doesn’t like being poked in the tummy, don’t poke him! You don’t need that kind of ‘withdrawal’ from your trust bank account. Don’t poke him in the tummy if that’s aversive to him. Try to think of another way to encourage and reward him for the RIGHT answer.

There is a hierarchy of training strategies. We need to be ethical with our training choices, and the wonderful people at IAABC have written up a handy chart to help us make decisions about which strategy to try first, then second, and so on. That is to say: try option 1 first. If that isn’t working, move on to option 2.

We always start with Wellness: is your bird healthy? Does he have everything he needs to be healthy? Next, try arranging things so it’s easy for him to succeed. If we are teaching a bird to Step Up, make your step up hand stable, at the edge of the cage and at the right height so it’s easy to step up. Next is positive reinforcement: if he comes close to your finger, give him something awesome! If he puts one foot on your hand, give him something awesome! Continue to reinforce any small approximation so your bird learns that your hand is an AWESOME place to be. If he steps up, there’s a payout! Yay! And if he doesn’t, that’s ok too. No aversives needed!