Taming and Training
Note: this article was written specifically for cockatiels. The basic principles will apply to other species, but the treats that appeal to cockatiels may or may not appeal to other species. Choose a food treat that is appropriate to your bird.
Food bribery is an excellent way to
speed up the bonding process or get an untame/unfriendly bird to develop
a better attitude toward you. It’s somewhat similar to positive
reinforcement but it's less complicated. With food bribery you are basically using the treat to lure the bird
instead of using it to reward an action that the bird initiated on its
Step one is to find a treat that the bird really likes. Millet spray and sunflower seeds are popular favorites. These seeds are also nutritious and healthy, although sunflower is high in fat as well as other nutrients so you shouldn't go too crazy with it. Your bird might have a unique favorite of its own. Don't keep this treat in the cage all the time for the bird to eat, because you want it to be something special that comes only from you. There are several stages listed below; start at the one your bird is currently ready for and gradually work up to the others.
1. Drop a small treat (like a small clump of millet spray or one or two sunflower seeds) in the bird’s food cup every time you approach the cage and make sure the bird sees you do it.
2. Hold the treat up to the cage bars for the bird to take from your fingers.
3. Hold the treat in your fingers for the bird to eat without cage bars between you.
4. Hold the treat in a position where the bird has to step on your hand to reach it.
This technique can easily be adapted to accomplish other goals. For example, if you want the bird to learn to come out of the cage you can put the treat right next to the open cage door and gradually move it further and further outside the cage. If you want the bird to learn to play in a new area, put some treats in that area.
Cockatiels think that millet spray is about a thousand times more delicious than the loose millet that's in regular seed mixes. If you want to use millet spray as a bribe you should still keep your bird’s ordinary seed mix in the cage. There’s probably a lot of millet in the seed mix, but it won’t interfere with your food bribery plan because it isn’t the special millet that cockatiels crave the most. But if you're using sunflower seeds you can remove any sunflower seed that's in the seed mix. Millet seed is a more important part of your bird's diet than the fairly high-calorie sunflower is, and needs to be available more often.
With standard positive reinforcement training the reward would be one or two quick bites from a piece of millet that you are holding. With food bribery you let the bird eat longer to get used to the idea of eating from your hand. It can be helpful to take the millet away before he's finished and then offer it again right away; the idea is to make him feel disappointed when the hand goes away and happy when it comes back. This helps develop a positive attitude toward the hand.
Copyright 2014 Carolyn Tielfan all rights reserved