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Old 11-23-2018, 06:27 PM
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Need some advice on Kermitís training

Kermit’s training over the past few weeks has been generally been going pretty well. I have trained him to let me put my hand over his back, touch his wings, “grab” him around the body and neck, and lift him up. I would eventually like to be able to flip him onto his back, teach him to roll over and possibly harness train him. I have also been practicing his previously known tricks, which include wave, spin, wings, flip, fetch, and recall. Overall I have made a lot of progress, given that before I started this positive reinforcement training he wouldn’t let me touch him at all (although we still had some level of bonding; he would step up, fly to me, and sit on me but he was afraid of hands). I do need some advice in a few areas:

1) Sometimes, he won’t be motivated at a certain time and he’ll keep wandering off when I try to train him. Should I just put him back in the cage and try again later or encourage him to keep training? This does happen quite often, and I try to show him the treat to get his attention but this doesn’t work very well. I’ll ask him to step up, put him back to where I want him and give him the treat, but if he’s not motivated he’ll just keep flying off. I never force him to participate if he doesn’t want to.

2) He only trusts me to handle him when he’s in an actual training session. Otherwise, he’ll back off and he still prefers not to be touched. Is there any way to correct this? When I do have treats and he’s motivated, he never complains and he seems to trust me quite a bit. If he even shows the slightest bit of discomfort during training, for example taking a step away or turning his head to look at my hand, I immediately pull my hand away and don’t give him the treat. I never force anything on him, and remember he’s flighted so he can always leave if he wants to. However, I’m unsure if he actually trusts me fully or if he’s just letting me do whatever so he can get the treat. Is there anything I’m missing?

3) He does tolerate scritches now to some extent. What confuses me is, one second he’ll be closing his eyes and fluffing his head feathers but suddenly he’ll turn around and give me a warning nip. I’ll stop scritching him for a moment, but then when I resume he seems to enjoy it again. And I can feel when I hit a pin feather; a lot of times he’ll nip me even if I didn’t. This is very confusing to me because he doesn’t give me any warning signs, he’ll be clearly enjoying the scritches one moment and nipping me the next. If he were pulling away or showing any sign of fear or discomfort, I would stop scratching him immediately. Is the “shunning” method the way to go here?
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Last edited by FlyBirdiesFly; 11-23-2018 at 06:43 PM.
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Old 11-23-2018, 06:50 PM
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Re: Need some advice on Kermitís training

Hey there! Quick and easy answers:

1. Yep yep yep. Sometimes you don’t want to do anything other than laze around on the couch. If he’s not in the training headspace, try again later. We all know birds have moods too. If he’s not attentive to the session, call it.

2. This is just practice practice practice. Two thoughts: the more you handle him in training, the more likely you’ll eventually break through to handling outside of training. It’s inevitable, and shouldn’t require anything special to be done on your part. It’s just natural progression. Second: every interaction is training. Keep a clicker with you, and treats within reach.

3. What’s confusing? He just wants short scritch sessions. Not every bird wants constant pets. Many don’t want to be touched at all.
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Old 12-08-2018, 08:08 AM
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Re: Need some advice on Kermitís training

Some suggestions:

Have a set time every day for training, and sessions no longer then 15 20 min

Train everyday religiously

Wait til he has one trick down cold before moving on

Use both verbal AND hand signals for each trick

Allow him to blow off training once in awhile ( every couplemonths) - same for you !

Harness training - I found the hardest part is getting the bird to accept the head loop with out freaking out or constantly hewing on it. I open it up at the edge of a table, putone threat on th table in frony og the loop, and another treat 'tweeen my other fingers just inside the loop. when the bird goes to get the second treat, slip the loop over his head, and tret again immediately & lots of praise. Let him getuse to wearing just the loop and the weight of he harness for a few weeks. then you can upon up the wing loops and slip them underthe wings. Some birds take to harnesses like they been doing it their whole life, and some ,like Salty, it took almost a year of training every night
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Old 12-08-2018, 08:17 AM
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Re: Need some advice on Kermitís training

Right now, when training, you are not the reinfocer (food or whatever you are rewarding with during training likely is)---in other words, you and your training are a means to an end for the bird lol . I say this because birds and people only do things if the reward of doing them outweighs the value of NOT doing them. I do not mean that your bird doesn't like you . I do mean that your bird wouldn't choose to train unless he knew the benefits would outweigh the risks.
Your training is working, which means that whatever his reward for training, it is more powerful than its absence. It takes a long time with birds. Do not feel discouraged. Over time, in ABA, reinforcement schedules are changed and thinned so that the person or bird doesn't expect a reward every single time (almost like a slot machine). The goal is, in time, for the association between you and positive things to become the reward itself, but that takes a long time.


Can you tell me when (how often) and what you are giving your bird during training and what he has to do to get it? I might be able to tell you what schedule of reinforcement you are using and provide suggestions for future thinning. Right now, I would just keep doing it as you are though.


If you are using edible reinforcers, it is very common for people and birds to satiate (fill up). A full bird is not a motivated bird if food is the motivator/reinforcer. For this reason, you may want to consider planning training sessions around times when you know he will be hungry. If you know more than one food that your bird likes, you may also want to change it up because novelty can wear off as well. If you find that after 1-2 food rewards, your bird is less motivated, then consider making the pieces smaller. Regardless, training sessions should generally be short and sweet.

Last edited by noodles123; 12-08-2018 at 08:30 AM.
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Old 12-08-2018, 08:39 AM
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Re: Need some advice on Kermitís training

Quote: Originally Posted by noodles123 View Post
Right now, when training, you are not the reinfocer (food or whatever you are rewarding with during training likely is). I say this because birds and people only do things if the reward of doing them outweighs the value of NOT doing them. Your training is working, which means that whatever his reward for training, it is more powerful than its absence. It takes a long time with birds. Do not feel discouraged. Over time, in ABA, reinforcement schedules are changed and thinned so that the person or bird doesn't expect a reward every single time (almost like a slot machine). The goal is, in time, for the association between you and positive things to become the reward itself, but that takes a long time.


Can you tell me when and what you are giving your bird during training and what he has to do to get it? I might be able to tell you what schedule of reinforcement you are using and provide suggestions for future thinning. Right now, I would just keep doing it as you are though.


If you are using edible reinforcers, it is very common for people and birds to satiate (fill up). A full bird is not a motivated bird if food is the motivator. For this reason, you may want to consider planning training sessions around times when you know he will be hungry. If you know more than one food that your bird likes, you may also want to change it up because novelty can wear off as well. If you find that after 1-2 food rewards, your bird is less motivated, then consider making the pieces smaller. Regardless, training sessions should generally be short and sweet.
Thanks a lot. I am giving him safflower seeds as his training treats, and he does not get them in his regular diet. I give him one sunflower seed every time I put my hand on him, or grab him and pick him up, or touch his wings, or flip him over. Also whenever he does one of his tricks on cue. I’d agree that simply being with me isn’t the reinforcer yet, and he needs the food treats. His training has been going well lately, he’s allowed me to flip him over on his back while clinging to my thumb. The way I do this is I hold my hand in a C shape and he steps onto my thumb, my fingers cup his back, and I lightly tip my hand backwards. He’s still not at the point where he’s comfortable with me rolling him over, as in starting to teach the roll over trick.
I’ve been practicing his other tricks as well, and he was quick to learn how to fly with the ball in order to fetch it to me. Before he would only run across the floor to fetch. So that’s really cool, and he is very eager to bring the ball to me. He also knows wave, wings, spin, somersault over perch, and recall.
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Old 12-08-2018, 11:23 AM
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Re: Need some advice on Kermitís training

Once he is doing the trick you want every time for 5-7 days or so (not a science, just my experience--depends on the bird and the skill), you can change (thin) the reinforcement schedule, from your current schedule (1:1 or continuous reinforcement) to a variable ratio or fixed ratio schedule of reinforcement. Thinning can help reduce burn-out (in addition to other benefits), but it isn't something that you do until a skill has been mastered.

A variable ratio (VR) schedule of reinforcement tends to produce the most enduring behaviors because the bird doesn't know when to expect the reward, so it keeps trying (like a slot machine). To prove its effectiveness, this same type of reinforcement is often inadvertently responsible for increasing/maintaining undesirable behaviors (like screaming for attention)---To illustrate my point with regard to attention screaming and variable reinforcement: An attention seeking screamer may scream, scream scream...people ignore, ignore, ignore and then give in during a moment of weakness. If this happens enough (or if one family member is more lax than the rest), the bird realizes that it just has to do the behavior enough times and it will eventually get a reaction (attention is the reinforcement in my example/theoretical bird who screams for attention).

With that in mind, the same type of variable reinforcement can be used to reinforce desirable behaviors and they tend to have greater sticking power long-term. The bird will be more likely to continue trying without giving up if it isn't sure when the reward will happen (but knows that it will happen eventually).

To start out thinning, after mastery of the skill, I would move from 1:1 reinforcement schedule (current) to a fixed ratio of reinforcement FR:2 (Meaning, for every 2 tricks, the bird gets one sunflower seed). After doing that for a period of time, you could thin further. If I were you, my goal would be to eventually achieve success using a variable ratio (VR) schedule. This is where, on AVERAGE, for ever X tricks, the bird gets a treat. For example, on a VR:3 schedule, this might mean it only takes 3 tricks one time (before treat is provided), and the 6 tricks another, and then 2 tricks the next time). It is meant to be inconsistent to keep the bird guessing, BUT you should only do this once you are certain that a skill has been mastered. After trying a VR:3, you would keep thinning until you are providing fewer and fewer unnatural "reinforcers".

You can step back if you try thinning and it seems to not be working, but again, stick with 1:1 (continuous) reinforcement until you are positive the bird gets it and is able to do the trick consistently. Also, if you do progress to thinning and you try a new schedule of reinforcement, don't step back to a more dense schedule unless you are certain that the new one isn't working. The bird may get frustrated or take a bit to catch on, so don't immediately assume that it has failed and regress.... Does that kind of make sense?

Here is a good link (it's about kids, but it's the exact same thing): Schedules of Reinforcement - Educate Autism


Also- you said he he is sometimes not motivated by food. If this is the case, consider trying different foods, or see if you can figure out a new reward. In ABA the idea is that all behaviors serve a function and in order to reinforce a behavior, reinforcement must match the function of a behavior. In this case, you want a behavior to increase, so if food works, use it, but if food stops working, then you need to find something that is more reinforcing.


The 4 main categories of reinforcement and behavioral functions in ABA are:

Attention- the presence of a special person, a vocal response from a specific person, eye contact, shared activity, proximity etc.

Sensory (THIS DOESN'T REALLY APPLY HERE....it relates more to things like scratching an itch or sleeping when tired)

Escape (getting out of something undesirable- task, person, location)

Tangibles (food, toys, a sound, a special location etc)---> you are using this one currently, and since the desired behavior has increased, you have proof that food is reinforcing for him at least some of the time. If it stops working, then you will need to come up with something else, or thin it out so that he isn't getting satiated and burnt-out on the food reward.

Last edited by noodles123; 12-08-2018 at 12:05 PM.
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