Game 1: House Tour – This game works well for hand-tamed birds and birds with a capacity for learning vocabulary. It promotes proper social interactions, and mimics the interaction between parents and fledglings as they investigate their environment. Birds learn how to react to objects in their environment by observing the way parents or other flock members react. This game can also help desensitize fearful/phobic birds, and is useful in teaching birds about dangerous objects.
Example 1 – If you react with fear to a pot of boiling water or hot stove, your bird may develop a negative association with these things, and learn to avoid them. Conversely, you can react very positively toward a new play stand or toy that your bird is hesitant to use, which will promote their confidence and encourage their explorations of the safe area or object.
Example 2 – Show your bird the clock and say “clock”. Show the bird the television and say “TV” and so on. Eventually, some birds may associate the object with the word you consistently use to describe it, and may even react to it in a manner similar to what you demonstrated. After a while, you can try going around the house and giving pop “quizzes”. If your bird tries to say the correct label or reacts in an appropriate manner to something, reward your pet with praise or a small, healthy treat. Remember that the value is in the social time that you are spending with your bird.
Game 2: Flash Cards – This is another variation of the ‘house tour’. You can make flashcards with colors, objects, or pictures on them. As with the ‘house tour’, show the cards to your bird, name things appropriately, and react as you would like your pet to react.
Game 3: Trick Training – If you see a behavior or action you would like your bird to do on command, reward the bird every time he/she does it. Rewards may include excited praise, healthy treats, or simply additional attention. While your bird is displaying the desired behavior, simultaneously use a consistent hand signal, gesture, or word. Over time, positive reinforcement will increase the frequency of desired behaviors, and the bird will associate the cue, gesture, or word with the action. Success requires time, patience and consistency, but can be very rewarding.
Game 4: Warm Potato – Developed by behaviorist Sally Blanchard, this game involves all members of your household, and helps promote a “flock mentality”. Family members stand in a circle, and the bird is gently passed between them. As the bird is handed off, reward with positive praise and/or a healthy treat. Over time, the bird becomes familiar with all members, improving your pet’s social adjustment skills and reducing the chances of a pair bond relationship developing with a single family member. If your bird dislikes spending time with a particular family member, try reserving a preferred treat or special activity to benefit their social interactions. For instance, if your bird’s favorite treat is almonds, the family member who is not preferred should be the one designated to give that treat, providing a positive association.
**Bird behavior, training, and social development are complex topics. Successful techniques vary with species, personality, and particular household. To promote the healthiest and most satisfying relationship with your pet, refer to sources in our ‘Recommended Reading for Bird Owners’ handout.