For the Birds: Training to Trust

Rachael Prewitt sits at her kitchen table with a tiny stack of plastic rings. On the other side, her cockatiel, Bumble B., bobs his head in anticipation. Rachael points with a wooden dowel to the only ring left on the table and clicks her tongue. Bumble B. picks up the ring and drops it on the stack. The puzzle is complete. His reward is a bite of millet spray, a dry seed and his favorite snack. This demonstration is a result of “clicker training”, a form of animal training grounded in positive reinforcement. Instead of an animal being punished for unwanted behavior, a desired action is encouraged, and rewarded with treats. If the animal does not follow through with the desired action, there is no reward. With Bumble B., training him to complete the trick was a step-by-step process. It began by leading him to the target, the plastic ring, and rewarding him for that action. Then Rachael raised her expectations. Reaching the target was not enough to get a reward. Bumble B. had to touch the ring. After achieving that, he had to pick it up to be rewarded. Then he had to complete each of these tasks and […]