What is the Difference Between Positive & Negative Reinforcement & Punishment

parrots trying to open cage and escape

Throughout decades, domesticated animals have been trained to perform tricks but also lions or seals for the circus. Since birds cannot meaningfully converse in the human language, we need to use other forms of communications for training. This can include using objects, gestures or tones of voice to communicate commands. The use of objects to encourage a specific bird behavior is classed as either positive and negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is when you apply a stimulus that encourages an action to occur. This method is commonly used for training dogs, whales and dolphins in captivity due to its effectiveness. Examples of stimuli can include offering your bird food, treats, praise, rewards or clicker sounds.

Conversely, negative reinforcement is when you remove a stimulus from the birds environment aiming to encourage a certain behavior. Examples of negative reinforcement include slowly introducing and retracting a bird flight harness close to its wings until it is comfortable.

Negative reinforcement is often associated and confused with punishment. However punishment is when you remove a stimulus in order to suppress or stop a behavior. An example of punishment includes time out because you are no longer providing your bird attention.

sad labrador dog sleeping on bed next to female owner on laptop negative reinforcement or punishment

Image used from: https://unsplash.com/photos/golden-retriever-lying-on-bed-azsk_6IMT3I

Birds are highly sociable and charismatic animals therefore the best method of training your bird is to use positive reinforcement. Upon receival of a treat or praise, your bird will feel valued. As a result there will be a strengthened the relationship between you and your bird.

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A word of caution, please keep a limit on how many positive reinforcers your apply during training sessions. Overstimulation may cause your bird to respond adversely or not respond at all to the stimulus.

Punishment and negative reinforcement are not recommended for training as they can adversely impact your bird. Poor outcomes of these methods can include aggression, nipping, biting, escape behavior, fear or isolation.

The most important and final point to remember – be patient and have fun with your bird!