The Bird and the Bank Account by Bev Penny

This is one of my favorite articles regarding ABA, it is the foundation for building trust with your parrot.


The Bird and the Bank Account

(Gypsy’s Story) by Bev Penny

Beverley Penny, Owner DebRan Bird Toys

Originally published in Good Bird Magazine

Volume 2-2, Summer 2006, Page 63

A few years ago I was given the pleasure of taking an on-line class called Living and Learning with Parrots. Dr. Susan Friedman ran this class and it changed everything I knew about how to live with my birds. I, who had at one time, needed to control all living things now had the tools necessary to try a new way of dealing with people and pets and I must say to that end, LLP rocks.

Lucky for Gypsy, my re-homed TAG (thank you Alex Z for believing I was the perfect home for her) that I had taken this course because she was my first “guinea bird”. Sorry, couldn’t resist. At the time Gypsy came to live with me she was approximately 2 years old and indeed was carrying some serious baggage in that she had learned how to bite but more important here was that being I live by myself who do you think was on the receiving end of those bites. Rather than confuse you with the correct psychology terminology, (forgive me Susan) I’m going to use terms that everyone will understand. I decided that I was going to open a bank account for Gypsy. This was to be a Savings Account and we all know what that is. The whole idea behind this Savings Account is to deposit as much “positive reinforcement” as possible and to not withdraw anything “negative reinforcement”. At your disposal to deposit into your bird’s account are primary (food) and secondary reinforcers, i.e. Praise, some tickles, time with you, etc, in other words something your bird wants and it is up to you to find out what that is, if you do not already know. So began my LLP journey with Gypsy.

Luckily for me, Gypsy is very food motivated and that has been a tremendous help but it is not the only tool used in ABA. You just need to figure out what it is that your bird wants. There is no point in trying to use a favorite food if that food is being given throughout the day. Favorite treats need to be saved for those times when you need a primary reinforcer. I am not sure what her diet was like in her first home but I swear she can tell junk food from 40 paces. (Can birds see around corners? LOL) Gypsy was 247 grams when I got her on December 4, 2004 and now weighs 295 grams. She is a little grey piglet that has helped considerably in making the transition into my flock as smooth as it has been. I’m not saying there haven’t been rough patches because there have been but with what I learned in the LLP course those rough patches are dealt with in the most positive way possible. Over the course of the last year, I have consistently deposited into Gypsy’s account. Before I do anything with Gypsy, I always ask myself, is this a deposit into her account or a withdrawal, because withdrawals are not going to help me build the relationship that I want with her. After a while of doing this, it becomes second nature and our relationship has grown exponentially in a little over one year. Only one time did I have to make a withdrawal from her account and that was when she had broken a flight feather and I had to towel her to cut it off. The fear that she would catch it in something when I was not home was too great. I believe because of the many, many interactions with Gypsy using positive reinforcement that the ‘trauma” of being toweled was not as much of a setback as I had expected. I frequently tell her how beautiful she is (secondary reinforcer, if Gypsy dropped her head to solicit a scratch, I obliged. If she showed any signs of being uncomfortable, I backed off. All the time, my goal was to deposit as many positive experiences as I could into Gypsy’s account. I played games with her, at first from a distance and over time getting closer and closer until recently I was able to bring her to the couch to play games.

One of the things I have learned about Gypsy is that she does not like me touching anything in her cage so I deal with this by doing things when she is not in her cage. This shows respect for Gypsy’s feelings in this matter and to avoid having to get a blood transfusion. I much prefer the former way. Some people would consider this a real problem but the truth of the matter is I don’t like people touching my stuff either so why should her right to have her cage off-limits not be given the same courtesy.

In just over one year, I have seen so many positive things from Gypsy using positive reinforcement that it just amazes me how I could have possibly believed that I needed to be in control. I mean how arrogant is that? Gypsy frequently solicits attention from me. She no longer tries to bite me every chance she gets and dare I say, the girl has a sense of humor. OK, I had to throw one construct in there. A construct for those of you who don’t know is something that cannot be scientifically measured. Now if I were to say that occasionally when I walk past her, she gently grabs my arm with her beak and then laughs out loud, well to me, that tells me she is brilliant and really does have a sense of humor (again, sorry Susan LOL).

So if you want a better relationship with your bird, open a bank account. Put as many positive reinforcers (deposits) in there as you possibly can and because a Savings Account should remain withdrawal free (negative reinforcers), you will ultimately end up having the relationship with your bird that you have always dreamed of. It’s that simple.



Permission given to repost by Bev Penny March 23, 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s