A common problem that companion parrot owners face is the parrot being unwilling to go back into the cage after being out. I kind of end up taking it for granted that parrots just go back into their cages because the system I set up makes it so mine always go back in without protest. It isn't so much about the technique of how to put them in as the complete approach to parrot ownership and scheduling. First I'll go into my system that ensures that parrots always go back into their cage willingly and then I'll show how I go even further and vary the exact methods I use for putting them away to maintain maximum tameness. Note, this article is about how to get an already tame parrot that knows how to go into the cage (but doesn't want to) to be more willing to go inside rather than the initial taming/training. If you have a new parrot or one that never learned to step into the cage, refer to the taming article instead.
Many people complain that their otherwise nice parrot will start screaming, biting, flying away, or causing any other sort of trouble when the time comes to put it away in the cage. Let me tell you, it doesn't have to be this way. In fact it should never be this way because it causes undo stress on the parrot (and the owner). Having a little planning and self-discipline can take care of all of this. Here is the strategy laid out:
1) No meals outside the cage. I have absolutely no idea why people feed their parrots outside the cage. They don't need it and it makes it pointless for the parrot to go into the cage. If a parrot has everything it could possibly want outside the cage, then why in the world would it want to go inside of it? Treats for training or foraging are fine, but meals must be in the cage only.
2) Save the best toys for the cage. Unless you're at the stage where you are having difficulty getting the parrot to come out, you don't need to give the parrot the best stuff to stay out. Usually they are thrilled at the diversity of things to see and do outside the cage anyway. You should provide them with toys to keep them busy (and distracted from your stuff) but there's no reason the out of cage toys should be better than the in-cage ones. If your parrot likes toys, sometimes hanging a brand new toy in the cage right before putting it away provides a good enough reason to go inside and check it out.
3) Don't make it suck to be in the cage. As much as you should avoid making out of cage time be too good (so the parrot wants to stay out), you must avoid making the cage be a bad place. Never use the cage as punishment. Make sure that the cage is a safe/comfortable place for your parrot. Provide a desirable variety of perches, toys, and things to do. This also means making sure the parrots never feel unsafe in the cage. Never allow people to taunt or scare the parrots when they are in their cage. While many people recommend having cages in high traffic areas, I prefer the exact opposite. I find that (with at least my Poicephalus parrots) they need a substantial amount of quiet alone time during the day for things like relaxing, vocalizing, preening, playing, and napping.
4) Let the parrot get tired when it is out of cage. Basically let it fly when it is out of the cage (don't clip its wings). In fact make it fly so much (through flight training) that it is happy to take a break in the cage. Since my parrots associate the cage with peace/relaxation, they are very willing to go inside when they are tired.
5) Don't let the parrot spend too much time out of cage. Some people keep their parrot out of the cage all day and then complain that it won't go into the cage when they need it to. If the parrot is used to being out all the time, then it just tries to continue what it is most accustomed to. I prefer to have a balance. Rather than letting my parrots out for a lot some days and less others, I try to keep it more uniform based on what I can normally provide. So even if I'm home all day on the weekend, I don't spoil them with out of cage time all day. I may take them outside or on a trip, but at home they spend a typical amount of time in the cage every day.
6) Put the parrot away when it is time for sleep. Maintain a predictable sleep schedule for the parrot. If the parrot expects to go to sleep and is accustomed to sleeping in its cage, it will be willing to go in if not entirely on its own. I keep the lights in the parrot area on a timer to go off at the same time every night and then I cover the cages. This way they are used to the routine and want to go into their cages in the evening. For this reason the last time of the day when they are out is right before their bed time.
7) Provide in cage meals when the parrot is put away. First have the parrot without food or out of its cage long enough for it to get hungry. Don't provide food while it is out (except small treats). Then put it away to a meal waiting in the cage. The parrot will notice the meal and go in the cage for it. Instead of thinking how it doesn't want to be in the cage, it will instead strive to go in for the meal.
What it comes down to is that if the parrot wants to be in the cage, it will not create resistance to being put away! To sum up my routine: I let Kili & Truman out briefly in the morning to poop and then put them away to their morning meal as I am leaving. Some days I put them outside in the aviary in the daytime. By the time I need to put them back in the cage, they are happy to be reunited with their cage after being out for so long. I may take them out to the park in the evening. When we return they are very willing to go back into their cage because they are tired from all the excitement and flying they do outside. Finally in the evening I take them out for out of cage time and training. After this they are usually tired and just dying to go back into the cage for meal and sleep. By keeping their cage as a place of food, familiarity, and rest I can ensure their willingness to go in any time. They never protest going in because they are so accustomed that going back into the cage is a good thing even if that one time there isn't a specific reward for going back in.
On the flip side, I don't take any protest from my parrots either. Even if they were to bite, fly away, or give me any kind of trouble for putting them back in, I would not let it change my determination to put them away one bit. This is an important point because many people end up teaching their parrot to bite by giving in. If the parrot is rewarded just a few times for biting by being left out longer, it learns to bite whenever it doesn't want to be put away. There may be some occasional times when my parrots don't want to be put away and they may make it known through body language. However, it never gets to biting or anything else because they would never get away with it. Still, the main solution is making it so they want to go into the cage and not force. Because even if you can ignore biting, the parrot can still outfly you. You certainly don't want to get into a situation where you have to forcefully capture and cage the parrot because it will leave terrible associations both with you and the cage.
I used to let my parrots watch me pour food into their bowls outside the cage, come up to them with the bowl in one hand and have them step onto the other. I would fix their attention on the bowl and put them into the cage along with the bowl. Now, I just put the food in and they already know its there. Basically I would recommend the first method to people who have trouble putting the parrot away so the reward is on its mind and distracting from biting. However, if it's not the case then it doesn't matter much either way. I do not leave food in the cage though while they are out. I don't want them sneaking in, pigging out, and then coming back out. Then the lesson is entirely lost. Meals are only fed when out of cage time is entirely over. By the time the parrots are done with their meal, I'm sure they've forgotten exactly how they ended up in the cage to begin with.
I absolutely do not recommend letting the parrot climb into its cage itself. This is bad training. This teaches the parrot too much freedom that makes it difficult for you to circumvent in the case you truly must put the parrot away yourself. By allowing it to go back in when it wants to, inadvertently makes it not want to go in when you want/need it to. This is why every single time my parrots are to go back into the cage, it is through some form of interaction with me. Usually they really want to go into the cage so I get credit as the awesome savior that delivered them to their cage/meal. Other times there is no good reason for them to go in but they are so accustomed to going in whenever I put them in that they just go for it.
I never give treats for going back in the cage (although it's not a bad idea in some people's cases). Since mine have their food managed (at least to the extent that they receive exactly two meals a day), so to them a complete meal is already a super huge reward as it is. They clearly value it higher because they are willing to display more sophisticated behavior to receive it than for other treats. This is why it is so hugely successful for making them go in willingly. In fact is is so successful that I can recall the two parrots simultaneously and have them race across the room to land on my hand first! I always put whoever got to me first in the cage first as an additional incentive. False starts do not count though! This exercise teaches both patience (waiting for the cue) and cooperation! If one of the parrots does not fly, the other doesn't get the treat. With time they've each learned to come because that is the way to get the meal.
Since my parrots really want to go in the cage, I take this a step further and to my training advantage. I vary up the exact method that I get them into the cage in order to maintain maximum tameness. Sometimes I flight recall the parrots individually. Other times I recall them together. Yet other times I walk up to them, wherever they are, and have them step up onto my hand to be put away. Finally, I grab them from on top of their cage (or wherever they are) and just stick them in. Because this is rewarded with the meal inside (or the other reasons I previously mentioned), they always let me handle them this way and put them in. Sometimes I even combine methods where I will have them recall to be grabbed and put away. Whatever method I use, it is something that I want to maintain. Thus not only going into the cage is reinforced but also handling methods that I may use with them in or out of the cage!
By setting up this system of food management, environmental management, and scheduling I ensure that my parrots are willing to go back into the cage on a daily basis and at any random time that I need them to. I use going into the cage as a reward for other taming behaviors or flight recalls. This makes it easy for me to keep my parrots as pets and it makes their life less stressful because they get what they want. They still get to eat, spend time out of cage, etc but it is done in a way that I get credit for it instead of a pissed off parrot. This allows me to maintain control and the parrot to be well behaved around humans. It's a win/win for everyone. It doesn't even require a lot of training, just a rational approach to managing time and resources.
Excellent advice , I have only had my cockatoo a few days , bonding really well but the previous owner basically let him do as he pleased , so has a few bad habits , I have done some of the training tips no food out of cage , but the biting when he doesn't want to in , I hadn't experienced before and as I had said I think the bird olly was left to his own devices and top dog so to speak , this information is great on all levels thankyou .
Ok I'm going to be the jerk and tell you that what you are doing is not the best way to get that or any other behavior. As a matter of fact, i've watched a few of your youtube videos and as far as i can see, you either click too much, don't reward enough, click too late and otherwise really inhibit the subject's ability to learn quickly. For this behavior specifically, (going back into the cage) there are much faster and more efficient ways of getting the bird to respond without your "determination". I can usually get it don't in a few minutes, if not just a few reps. Proper operant conditioning should get the subject to WANT to do the proper behavior, without 500 different reasons why it may or may not want to go in. (PS when going back in if the bird bites it has nothing to do with your training it to bite per se, it has to do with what you are doing and not doing with and to the bird. I'll leave it to you to figure that out).
There are a lot more things I saw on this one that aren't either the best way of doing things or just outright wrong. For example, climbing on the cage is bad?!? Really?!? Seriously?!? If your bird isn't trained well enough to come down when cued, that's not on the bird, that's on you. There are no such things as bad trainees, just bad trainers. You don't get to blame the subject for your lack of training skill. Sorry you don't.
If you would like more clarity on what i've said and/or some help fixing up your mistakes, PM me. My feeling is that if you are calling yourself an expert on training behavior, you really ought to know the right ways of doing things. I'm sure you're not going to like this post and more than likely kick me off the forum and you're more than welcome to, but that doesn't suddenly change things and make you right. You will still be wrong.
No, we don't 'kick anybody out' of the forum for having a different opinion (I am famous for debating a bit 'too hard' sometimes). If you have a better method of training I personally think that, instead of coming here trying to put anybody down, you should get your own website, book, tours, etc. like Michael has.
I do not train my birds at all (no sessions, no clicker, no rewards, no nothing but praise and love) but they all obey a number of commands, one of them being "Go Home" which means they should go to their cages. But, even though I do not follow Michael's teachings, I still would not dream of arguing with him about his methods because, as I am sure that your mother must have taught you, being rude to your host in his own house is not acceptable behavior... so let's just leave it at that.
We wish you and your birds the best of luck!