This is written for people who are wondering how to punish their parrot for biting or why punishment is not recommended for training parrots. First allow me to define what punishment is in relation to training. Punishment is a consequence that reduces a specific behavior. There are two types of punishment: positive punishment and negative punishment. Positive punishment involves doing or increasing something which results in a reduction of behavior. On the other hand negative punishment involves not doing something or taking something already existent away which results in a reduction of behavior.
As a psychology definition pertaining to operant conditioning, punishment can only be defined in terms of its effect on behavior (which is the reduction of it). The trainer's attitude and perception of what is punishment is not relevant if it does not reduce behavior. Furthermore punishment is not necessarily a bad thing. It is merely the process of reducing undesired behavior in the parrot.
Let me continue and explain what punishment is not. Yelling, squirting, and saying "no" are not necessarily forms of punishment. They could be, but only if they reduce behavior. Considering that some parrots like getting wet, yelling, and attention, these things could actually turn out to be positive reinforcers that encourage behavior (and in that case would not be punishment). Retaliation, dominance, sadism, and abuse are not punishment either. Although these are terrible things and quite likely harmful to the parrot, they are not forms of punishment. These will most likely ruin any trust relationship between owner and parrot but they almost certainly will not solve any behavioral problems that lead the owner to using these methods.
It seems to me that there is a very common misunderstanding of the concept of punishment of parrots in training. The problem likely stems from the owners own self gratification of establishing a sense of justice rather than a methodical training methodology. An example can be where the parrot poops on the floor so the owner yells at the parrot. In this scenario, the parrot pooped on the floor merely because it is a parrot and parrots have the whole forest to poop over in the wild. On the other hand, the owner is aggravated that he or she will have to clean the floor and yells at the parrot. The problem is that the parrot does not understand this and is no less likely to poop on the floor yet again. Besides the fact that the parrot might even enjoy a screaming contest with the owner, the parrot also probably does not realize that this has absolutely anything to do with pooping. These leads us to reason #1 why punishment is often ineffective with parrots:
The perceived punishment is not properly coupled with the behavior and therefore does not help eliminate it.
Positive reinforcement training proves more effective because the behavior can be practiced multiple times and the connection between the behavior and the reward be more sufficiently established (for example clicker bridge). A more effective way to make the parrot stop pooping on the floor might be to put it down on a regular basis so that it could do its business on a perch over a newspaper. Further, the parrot can be positively reinforced for pooping on its designated potty perch by picking it up and giving it attention once it has pooped there instead of the floor. This way the parrot will seek to poop on the perch rather than floor whenever possible. See potty training guide for more information about the use of positive reinforcement to train parrot to poop in a designated place.
Another reason why punishment often fails is because of unintended consequences. While the trainer thinks he is punishing one behavior, in reality the parrot learns to avoid doing something else. Let's say for example the owner decides to use a timeout as negative punishment whenever the parrot starts chewing on the windowsill. The owner grabs runs over and grabs the parrot when it starts chewing the sill and then locks it in the cage for a while. The owner is content thinking that the parrot will stop chewing the sill. However, the parrot obviously finds it reinforcing to chew the sill so the parrot has lost no desire in doing it again. Instead, the parrot learns that "getting caught" is what gets it punished. Now the parrot will either chew the sill when the owner isn't watching or the parrot will just fly avoid getting picked up by the owner when the owner comes to punish the parrot. Perhaps in the beginning, the owner was able to grab or ask the parrot to step up so that the owner could put the parrot away in the cage. Now the parrot realizes that when it is on the windowsill, if the owner comes over, it will surely be punished. If the parrot is flighted it will most likely fly away from the owner and avoid the owner. If the parrot is clipped it will bite the hand in order to avoid getting picked up to be punished. This brings us to reason #2 why punishment should not be used:
Punishment can lead to unintended consequences where there is a difference of opinion between pet and owner of what is being punished.
It is easy for a punishment to get out of hand and go too far. This can happen where it goes to the point of classically conditioning a phobic response. A classically conditioned phobia can be much stronger and more difficult to eliminate than some operant learned behavior. This can happen if a punishment is traumatic. Let's say the owner decided to punish a parrot for biting by blowing an air horn (or making some other terrifying noise) the moment the parrot bites. This could arouse a phobia of the owner in the parrot. The parrot learns to associate the owner with the feeling of terrible and evasive fright. The parrot has no idea that this one time the owner happened to be holding an air horn and that it was because it bit. The parrot just develops a strong feeling of anxiety at the site of the owner. These phobias become self reinforcing as time goes on. The owner walks over to take the parrot out of the cage, the parrot is terrified of the owner and starts trying to fly in the cage. Since the space in the cage is restricted, the parrot keeps crashing into the bars and gets hurt. Now it has yet another reason to be fearful of the owner because in the sight of the owner it received more pain. This can become an endless cycle. Therefore it is very important never to create a situation (purposefully or accidentally) where the parrot can become phobic. Are you phobic of anything? Is there something makes your heart race and makes you feel sick at the mere sight of it? Imagine your parrot feeling this way at the sight of you.
Excessively traumatizing punishment can develop a classically conditioned phobia which makes the parrot feel fright at the sight of the trainer.
Punishment makes it much more likely that the parrot will avoid the owner all together rather than the unwanted behavior. Think about it. The parrot gets food, water, and toys in its cage as it is. It already has what it needs to survive. Spending time with the owner, getting attention, petting, etc are just bonuses. However, if the parrot views the owner as someone that does more harm than good to it, it will try to avoid the person all together. It amazes me that owners often expect the parrot to come to them to accept its punishment. It simply doesn't work that way. Parrots are prey animals and in the wild must avoid creatures trying to consume them. If the parrot is not getting good things from the human but only bad, why should it possibly tolerate the human's presence? Why shouldn't it bite? Why shouldn't it fly away?
Unlike dogs which are pack animals with strong requirements for social hierarchy and acceptance, parrots do not hold such bonds. Flocks are bound by common interest in protection by numbers rather than loyalty. The prospect of getting hurt (or perhaps in their mind eaten) by the owner far outweighs a couple nice things like treats and scratches. Since the rewards we use are just nice but punishment potentially life threatening, the punishment far outweighs the reward. The parrot is simply better off avoiding the human than risking further punishment.
The threat of further punishment can easily outweigh the benefit of treats and other positive reinforces commonly used in training which will make the parrot avoid human contact all together.
The only ways a parrot can avoid further punishment from the owner is flying away or biting. A clipped parrot realizes that it cannot fly away and will predominantly resort to biting. I doubt the risk of increasing aggression toward the owner is worth it in order to try to get the parrot to be quiet, not poop on the floor, or something else like that. Trying to reduce most kinds of biting through punishment will prove ineffective and just create more biting. The parrot is biting to avoid being drawn into a situation which will result in punishment again. This is why it is important to create strictly positive encounters in order to develop trust with the companion parrot rather than continuing to drive the fear which causes much of the biting in the first place. If the parrot has no benefit of being with the owner (or worse yet punishment to fear receiving from them), then surely the parrot will attempt to defend itself.
It is easy to believe that an action such as saying "no," distracting it with a toy, or locking it away in the cage punished the behavior because in the short term indeed this stopped the behavior. However, this would not necessarily be punishment but merely a temporary distraction from the bite. It can only be considered to be effective punishment if it reduces or eliminates the behavior in the long run. If you find yourself needing to punish the parrot more and more frequently (rather than progressively less), then you did not punish the parrot. In fact you may have even positively reinforced it which brings the behavior back even more frequently than it naturally occurred. As parrot trainers, our goal is the long term elimination of unwanted behavior rather than temporary cessation or vengeful reparations.
Improperly executed punishment can end up strengthening the unwanted behavior and only making it worse. Here's an example. The parrot is sitting on the owner's shoulder while the owner is watching tv. The owner is not paying attention to the parrot while focusing on the tv program. The parrot is bored and nips the owners ear for attention. The owner turns and looks at the parrot and says "No, don't bite." The owner is thrilled because the parrot let go of the ear and stopped for a few seconds while the owner believed to be punishing the parrot. However, this is not at all punishment as there is no primary punishment coupled to the secondary which is merely the words. In fact, this turns out to be positive reinforcement because the parrot learns that tugging on the owner's ear will get the owner to stop what he is doing just to vocalize with the bird together. This will only lead the parrot to tugging on ears more and more and will never make the behavior go away. Grabbing the bird and putting it away in the cage will not work either because by the time it is grabbed, carried, and put away, the parrot will forget for what it is being punished. Although shaking the shoulder to unbalance the bird might serve as an effective punishment, it can also cause the bird to become more aggressive. For all of these reasons, punishment proves to be quite ineffective and very risky. Punishment can easily ruin the parrots trust and the damage is quite difficult to undo.
It is also important to realize that not all punishment is necessarily intentional, yet the ramifications are no less than if they were intended. Reflexively dropping your parrot after biting, tripping over something and make a loud noise in front of your parrot, or putting the parrot away in the cage because you have to leave could all be unintended forms of punishment that could lead to the same fears or aggression as mentioned in earlier examples. If a parrot trusts its owner and steps up willingly, putting it away in the cage immediately after stepping up could result in punishing step up behavior and cause the parrot to resist stepping up. Even though this is not intended as punishment, it could still have the same effect. For this reason it is important to keep stepping up a positive experience the majority of the time so that it would be worthwhile for the parrot to cooperate rather than exclusively using step up when you want to return the parrot to the cage. Furthermore, you can use returning to the cage as a positive experience by providing food or a new toy. While this may be the most common situation where owners inadvertently punish their parrot, there are many other times this could happen. So try to think if what you are doing is going to make the parrot avoid doing the right thing in the future.
I am not saying that punishment is absolutely ineffective or can never be used. But I am definitely suggesting that it is very easily misunderstood and misused. It is virtually impossible to misuse positive reinforcement to the point that the parrot is scared of you, but this can very easily happen with punishment.
Since punishment can hurt the owner-parrot relationship, my best suggestion for dealing with undesired behavior is to do absolutely nothing in response to it. Do not say "no," do not yell, do not try to reason it out, do not give your parrot a dirty look, do not make a loud distracting noise, do not give the parrot a toy to chew, do not drop your hand, do not hold your parrots beak, do not strike back, do not lock it away in the cage, do not even walk away. Anything you do can (and probably will) work against you. Some of these milder forms of "punishment" are not even punishment at all. They do not hurt or displease the parrot enough to make it stop doing what it already wants to do. Others of these things are so drastic that they will make the parrot scared or aggressive toward the owner. Even still, some of these will only encourage the behavior even more (if a parrot is biting to make you go away, and you give up and go away, the parrot learns to bite even more in the future). The simple fact is that finding an effective punishment that balances being aversive enough to discourage behavior and yet not go so far as to ruin the parrot-trainer relationship, is very difficult. Extinction on the other hand is your best resort. If you do not react in any way to the unwanted behavior, you are guaranteed not to be rewarding it with attention and eventually the parrot will get bored of doing it. Along with extinction, focus a lot on prevention: do not leave important documents out, take off jewelry you do not want chewed, provide alternative toys/perches for parrot to enjoy, do not touch your parrot where it doesn't want to be touched, do not try to force a reluctant parrot to step up, etc.
I do not agree with the trainers or so called "experts" that are absolutely against punishment. Some people try to make it into an ethics debate or to anthropomorphize the parrot. Others misunderstand the training concept of punishment and just think its bad because they mistake it with retaliation or sadism. The simple fact is, punishment will happen. Whether purposefully or unintentionally, the parrot will learn not to do certain things and it's fine. The important thing is for us to realize that we cannot think in the same way that parrots would. They respond to punishment far more drastically than we or other pets do. Since we do not yet have a full grasp on the effectiveness of punishment, we as trainers need to be aware of the adverse affects of it. Someone has to be the pioneer of research and experiment with these methods surely, however, they should not be used by most parrot owners. Particularly, punishment should not be recommended to beginners because they neither have a solid relationship to build on and nor do they understand the full ramifications of using these methods. Punishment is far more likely to damage a new parrot relationship rather than one with a very positive history. Positive reinforcement based training should be the primary way to go (while ignoring unwanted behavior) and perhaps effective punishment can be applied just to clean up the remaining bits of undesirable behavior when all other methods fail.
I think that was a very good article.
I'll just point out that some of the issues you raise can also cause problems with other forms of training -- confusion about what behavior is being rewarded can be just as problematic. I taught my horse to bob his head up and down unintentionally while trying to bridge condition head lowering for a grooming procedure... timing is everything!
I guess I'll take the bait and suggest that if your main goal is to eradicate a behavior and there is some urgency to the situation, unless it is obvious how to substitute a desired behavior that can be rewarded, punishment by the textbook definition is what you really want. Preferably in a form that is non-harmful and non-personal so that the behavior appears to automatically trigger an undesirable consequence for the parrot. But mild deterrents DID work for me for teaching Scooter boundaries of how hard to preen/explore. Paired with effusive reward for "doing it right" my impression is that the undesired behavior went away faster than if I just used praise.
Biting, I think, is a particularly tricky case. If the bird is a pirhana, I think you have no choice put to use positive reinforcement from a distance to at least introduce some positive behaviors. I think you can't eradicate the only behavior you've got to work with! You sort of have to establish some sort of relationship first, and you aren't going to do that with punishment -- by definition you can only get rid of behaviors that way, not build them. OTOH, If the bird is your best buddy but is being overly enthusiastic or nipping for attention, I think a combination of methods may be more effective. A no that has come to have some meeting, a wobble, a put-away, a gentle burst of breath, may discourage this bird without damaging the relationship.
This is absolutely true. However, it is much more likely that you are prepared to train or even capture desired behavior. Undesired behavior just happens. Secondly, it's not the end of the world if you capture or reward the wrong behavior with positive reinforcement. So the trick won't be learned or you'll try again. However, with punishment, the risk of punishing the wrong behavior can have more dire consequences. If putting the parrot away into the cage is meant to punish biting but instead punishes step up, you have a much more serious problem. Not only will the parrot continue the biting unpunished, but also will not want to step up!
I do not think anyone can safely/effectively apply punishment without first understanding all the potential problems that can result from using it. I think the best way to train any parrot is to seek positive reinforcement methods for doing things, establishing a good relationship, ignore bad behavior, and then over time if there still remains any highly undesirable behavior, consider a punishment strategy to reduce the behavior. Punishment is not something anyone should be using on a parrot they just bought, received, or had neglected.
Thanks for the good feedback though
So, I'm reading one of Heidenreichs books right now and she says to never punish or use negative reinforcement. I'm not sure because I haven't read everything you've written, so forgive me if you already do this but this is her suggestion which I found very interesting. She suggest putting the negative behavior on cue and then never again ask for the behavior. That's how she eradicates negative behaviors such as biting etc. What are your thoughts on that?
Have your parrots ever offered learned behaviors without the preceding cue? My parrots will do their tricks just for the heck of it or to get attention.
She's one of the so called experts I mention in my article and explain that I disagree with the absolute position that punishment should not be used. First of all it happens whether we intend it or not. Second of all, there are circumstances in which it could[/i:1irta467] be used effectively. It's just that it's really hard to use it properly and very easy to use it incorrectly and ruin your relationship. She either doesn't know what she is doing or is withholding information because she thinks her readers are too stupid to handle the truth, not sure which. The purpose of my article is to explain all the reasons why punishment can be problematic and not that it should never under any circumstances be used. Some "experts" will go so far as to suggest that punishment is immoral. They have never reduced a single one of their parrot's behaviors?
Perhaps some day I will write an article about some of the uses and merits of punishment. But I must present all of my warnings first so that it is not misunderstood. I don't think punishment is the solution to most problems and it is important to realize this and the potential consequences before even considering it.
She is very well respected and an excellent trainer but I don't know if I could cue a bad behavior and then eradicate it. I'm still working on very basic positive cued behaviors. She did say in the book that she condones the use of time outs which is negative reinforcement right? Anyway, just wondered if you'd ever tried to cue a bad behavior.
A time out could be negative reinforcement or negative punishment. It all depends on if it reduces or increases behavior. I could imagine it going both ways. Let's say a parrot really enjoys being out and bites for an unknown reason. This parrot is put in the cage for a timeout. Next time it doesn't bite to avoid getting put away. This would be an example of negative punishment. If you read my article, you'll see why it's not so simple and why it wouldn't work but just to demonstrate my point.
On the other hand, if the owner is playing with the bird but the parrot is tired and wants to go back to the cage so it starts biting the owner and the owner puts the parrot away in cage as timeout... this can be seen as negative reinforcement. Where the removal of the attention which was bothering the parrot actually encourages the parrot to bite again in the future when it does want to be put away in the cage.
You see this is why behavior can be complicated and two sided. This is why most parrot owners should just stick to the positive reinforcement cause then there's less ways to go wrong. Trying to juggle in your mind what could be seen as reinforcing vs punishing, etc is quite advanced. It's much easier to just say "only use treats/praise as positive reinforcement." Barabara Heindrich is either a sell out, liar, or demeaning to her readers (or perhaps any combination of these). Any trainer that completely denounces punishment and negative reinforcement is discarding valid training methods. I think there is a new fad going on to say "use positive reinforcement only" because it helps sell their new books, videos, and junk as it contradicts the previous trend based on flooding and force.
While for the very vast most part I agree with positive reinforcement, I do not believe punishment is bad or should be overlooked. My article is mainly meant to show how complicated punishment is and how easily it can be misused. Nonetheless I do not believe there is something wrong with using punishment (under the definition of reducing behavior). I have used punishment successfully in a few cases although I have also had some major failures through using it as well. After all my experiments with the use of punishment as a training technique, I can honestly tell you that 99% similar results can be achieved on using positive/negative reinforcement and extinction alone in parrots. The punishment only helps (in some cases) to eliminate the last bits of unwanted behavior. More often than not, punishment has failed in my training and therefore I have great difficulty in recommending it be used. If there is greater interest in the use of punishment, I may consider writing about things I've tried and which ones worked.
I'm not sure how to do nothing when it comes to being bit. Depending on how hard/often the biting is it's reflex to move the hand away from the bird. So in fact conditioning him that I'm afraid of his bite and he can have his way.
I've already been told what might work best with cage aggression, not keeping his door open and only allowing him out when he cooperates and steps up without biting.
But what if he's on me?
Let me point out what usually happens: Windy is sitting on my chest, I'm scratching his neck,face. Suddenly he decides he's had enough and instead of simply moving away he bites. I try to get him to step up to put him back in his cage and he's still biting,this is not a graceful situation, he moves towards my face with his beak in high gear. I use a piece of clothing and shuffle him back to his cage and ponder my stupidity in buying a bird in the first place. He sits in his cage and screams if I leave his sight.
I said yesterday I would prefer to not use negative punishment, I have been using a gloved until calm hold only because well it worked. But I do realize it only works for a short time and we have to do it again. What I'm wondering is this: If this has worked and does work for short periods of time and Windy shows no fear with me, he really doesn't at least not yet, is he not learning to associate the gloved handling which he hates, to his biting which I hate?
Well, what I've seen of Heidenreich I've liked and I find her suggestion intriguing, but I think it might be REALLY hard to accomplish unless you are a very talented trainer. I could see it working for screaming, but biting seems really challenging in that respect, for example. It would also rely on rewarding the cued behavior frequently while not rewarding the behavior when not cued. It does put a different spin on things. But I don't think it would be the first thing I'd try.
In "Good Bird" in the chapter on Biting she uniformly says "Don't try to force your bird to do anything it doesn't want to do" and "Use positive reinforcement to make your bird WANT to ____ (step up, come down, be with an unfavored pesron)", But for the situation where the bird gets too rough while grooming or playing with you, she does say, "End the interaction, give your bird a "time out"'. I don't have the impression from this that she's a whack job, or that she doesn't use multiple forms of behavior modification. However, like many people when addressing a lay population, she tends to use the word "punishment" in the vernacular, not in the technically correct sense. I think there are other cases in that book where she uses punishment without calling it that.
I do agree that it is difficult, and in some cases not desirable to not react at all to biting. If Scooter is nipping at me because he wants me to pay attention to him and not the computer, I can ignore that just fine. But when he was all revved up and angry, I needed to do something to get my flesh out of reach of his beak even if that meant reinforcing the behavior. And all he could really do is nibble me to death, or scar my hands... a BIG bird could be doing real damage to body parts, as in permanent defacing or crippling damage, and I think it may bear stating the obvious that if your bird is really injuring you, you should find a way to make it STOP even if it does net damage to your training attempts or your relationship. If it doesn't actually injure the bird seriously, it's fair game if your ear is being torn off... But once you've extracted yourself from danger and are back in a training model you should try to avoid putting yourself back in that situation while attempting the training. Does that make sense?
I updated the article with a video of Kili biting my brother. He demonstrates how he ignores the bite and then tries again with target training. When stepping up is thus positively reinforced, Kili is not tempted to bite the person. Here's a [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBMry4kQtus:2qsxn5iu]direct link to the video[/url:2qsxn5iu].
ok so really ignore and let them bite even though it obviously hurts. Actually I think this is probably the best solution, he bites me because he KNOWS I'll do some action whatever that might be varies but he obviously expects some action.
*goes out to buy more bandaids and antibiotic ointment*
Well we can give that a try, not sure if I can do it but we can try it and see if he stops using that tool so much. Thanks MIchael, you might wanna get some bandaids and antibiotic ointment as well
I exercised my bird today with wing flapping (he's clipped) and climbing stairs. Wore him out. Made him much mellower and less nippy.
I have to exercise my dogs hard at least every other day otherwise they'll get too much starch in their shorts as well.
I bet more exercise would help, after all they fly for miles everyday in the wild.
They need mental exercise no less than physical. This is why trick training and flight recalls are so wonderful. [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-cdanh5Xzw:2yw8bkx7]See how trick and flight training can be enjoyable and exercise the bird very well.[/url:2yw8bkx7]
[quote="meowingaround":2yw8bkx7]*goes out to buy more bandaids and antibiotic ointment*[/quote:2yw8bkx7]
I'm not saying to put your hand out there and let the bird bite, bite, bite until it is too tired or bored to bite you anymore. I suppose that would be flooding of the human, but that's not what we are trying to achieve. Yes, when the bird does bite, you must not react. However, the real key is prevention and positive reinforcement training.
Prevention might be wearing a glove, not forcing your bird to step up when you know it doesn't want to, or keeping the interaction short enough that the bite does not have time to occur. The positive reinforcement training is not only meant to convert the attitude of the parrot toward you, but also to teach it how the behaviors (like step up) are meant to go (step up with your beak in the air and not down biting).
Today he did a little bite, meaning it hurt a bit but did not puncture the skin. Usually I react expecting him to bite harder, this time I totally ignored it, and he did not escalate.
I think much of this has to do with me, I was badly bitten on my face by him before, not actually him being mean it was when he had his horrible feather trauma and I had to pull one that was bleeding excessively. Anyway he got my eye and I had to got the hospital and it was a whole ordeal.
So I do overreact to his bites, guess I've never really put it all together before.
Don't get me wrong he's always been more nippy than most, but I may have inadvertently taught him to bite harder.
Don't get me wrong he's always been more nippy than most, but I may have inadvertently taught him to bite harder.[/quote:l03r8okt]
It is awfully easy to accidentally reinforce a behavior you want to get rid of. Even a lapse in attention can do it. This morning, Scotty gave Bill a nip when I walked up and Bill handed him over before either of us fully realized what we were doing. Three steps forward, two steps back...
My cockatiel Aaron, is a rescued adult bird. He's flighted, & I've had him about 3 months now. Aaron is my first bird, & the first animal I've ever attempted to seriously train. He's becoming more & more comfortable w/me & his surroundings. My current issue w/Aaron is that when I'm eating dinner, he's started flying to my plate & landing on it/my food. He doesn't always take a bite of whatever is there, but I think it's obvious that if it interests him, he intends to do so. My reaction has been to put him in his cage until I finish my meal. I'm realizing that this is laziness on my part, & having read this article, I'm realizing that I'm conditioning Aaron to behave in some manner that won't solve the problem.
I always make sure to feed Aaron before I feed myself - my thought process being that he can eat his own food while I'm eating & participate in meal time w/me in that way. But as that is no longer working, it obviously reflects my inexperience. I have not yelled at Aaron when he lands on my plate, but I'm probably saying "no" or something totally worthless in a different tone than he's used to. I immediately ask him to step up, which he does, & then I've been putting him in his cage. Now I realize that I shouldn't be doing this. I understand that I need to engage him in some activity that I can positively reinforce to deter him from flying to my plate, but I don't know what the activity would be that would reduce the unwanted plate behaviour. Can you give me some suggestions?
Actually, it might deter him from landing on your plate. If he's doing it less often, then you may be effectively reducing the behavior.
However, I have heard over and over that sharing mealtime is a flock behavior. Some people make a point of feeding their parrots at their own mealtimes and even sharing some of the same food. The trick there would be to give him his own place to be during the meal and to positively reinforce him for being there. Alternatively, just put him in his cage before mealtime.
[quote="Jenny":1ry09nce]My cockatiel Aaron, is a rescued adult bird. He's flighted, & I've had him about 3 months now. Aaron is my first bird, & the first animal I've ever attempted to seriously train. He's becoming more & more comfortable w/me & his surroundings. My current issue w/Aaron is that when I'm eating dinner, he's started flying to my plate & landing on it/my food. He doesn't always take a bite of whatever is there, but I think it's obvious that if it interests him, he intends to do so. My reaction has been to put him in his cage until I finish my meal. I'm realizing that this is laziness on my part, & having read this article, I'm realizing that I'm conditioning Aaron to behave in some manner that won't solve the problem.
I always make sure to feed Aaron before I feed myself - my thought process being that he can eat his own food while I'm eating & participate in meal time w/me in that way. But as that is no longer working, it obviously reflects my inexperience. I have not yelled at Aaron when he lands on my plate, but I'm probably saying "no" or something totally worthless in a different tone than he's used to. I immediately ask him to step up, which he does, & then I've been putting him in his cage. Now I realize that I shouldn't be doing this. I understand that I need to engage him in some activity that I can positively reinforce to deter him from flying to my plate, but I don't know what the activity would be that would reduce the unwanted plate behaviour. Can you give me some suggestions?[/quote:1ry09nce]
This is a great question and one I've had to deal with myself. For the vast most part my way of dealing it is caging parrots during my meal time and only letting them out afterward. However, I will eat with them out from time to time. There are several things that can be done.
First of all try to give them good things for staying on their perch. Definitely provide a comfortable perch with a good view of you while you eat. Cause otherwise the parrot will seek a better one. You can give him toys, food, and things to keep him busy on his perch. Now I, being a real parrot owner (not one of those wishy washy theorists who write books), I understand that this doesn't work all of the time. It is super tempting to punish your parrot when this fails. Don't. It won't work.
Here's a few more solutions. Fact is, the parrot will eventually fly to you. You can either use a carrier/small cage to keep the bird in while you're eating but in sight. This is the method to use if it bothers you/others too much to have the parrot in your vicinity. What I do though, is I use this as an opportunity to positively reinforce flight recall with my parrot. The parrots are highly motivated to fly over and check things out so I recall one of them and reward by letting it sit on my shoulder and watch me eat. Sometimes I'll put a parrot on the chairback next to me to watch. It's look but don't touch. Food may be hot so that is not an option. I'll keep the parrots out of my food with my hands. So I don't really have many problems. And I only do this occasionally so it's a special treat to get to watch.
CAUTION: DO NOT reward your parrot with food from the table or it will keep bothering you and not stay off. Reward it with attention and a chance to watch, such as from your shoulder or a chair. If I really do want to reward with food (like I have something tasty that I just havta get rid of), I'll walk away from the table, recall the parrot, reward it, and then send it back to the perch. The parrots never get to eat anything at the table or that will only encourage them to pester me more.
[quote="Michael":qrn29x33]I'll keep the parrots out of my food with my hands.[/quote:qrn29x33]
do you mean that you just cover the plate w/your hands so the parrot can't get to the food?
& I gotcha on not feeding treats from the dinner table. I understand how that could reinforce visits to my plate.
I mean the parrot is not in or near the plate the majority of the time. If I were to see the parrot flying toward my plate, I would cover it with my hands to deny the opportunity to land there. Usually if I put my hand out like a recall, the parrots prefer to land there anyway.
It's important to prevent the parrot from getting to the plate because it is self-reinforcing for going there. Don't even let it get to the plate or it will always want more. There is no need to punish but it's very important to prevent it from happening before it is reinforced.
It's important to prevent the parrot from getting to the vet because it is self-reinforcing for going there. [/quote:21ny37xg]
<Scratches head> I think there is a typo there!
Seriously, I wouldn't advocate yelling at the bird or anything, but putting it away when it's flown to the plate doesn't seem like a bad thing particularly... what's your opinion on that?
Dunno what that was about. Putting the parrot away specifically as punishment for landing on the plate is anywhere from ineffective to bad. However, putting it away cause you don't want it getting burned taking a bath in your soup is common sense. The best thing in that case is prevention which would mean keeping your parrot away during cooking/meals in the first place.
Now that I think about it, the only meal I ever really have parrots out is the occasional at home lunch. No dangerous cooking goes into making a sandwich or something like that so I'm not worried about them being out. If I'm making a real meal, they are already put away during cooking and there's no point in letting them out just while I eat (especially cause pots/pans/stove may still be hot).
However, anyone with a flighted parrot will realize that any excessive use of punishment (the amount considered excessive is arbitrary and depends on the situation, since it is hard to tell how much is, it is too risky to try) will result in the parrot distrusting and flying away from the owner. The risk of making the parrot flee from you outweighs the benefit of solving these kinds of problems. Thus it is important to find methods of prevention and alternative positive reinforcement.
You can cue a flight recall or trick from your parrot as you sit down to eat and provide a reward that takes a long time to consume. For instance I can give Kili an entire grape or almond and it will take 5-10 minutes to enjoy it. This can buy you peaceful time to eat while the parrot also benefits from staying on its perch.
But if you aren't acting in anger, aren't yelling, aren't being mean about it, why would the parrot be any more upset about being put away while you are eating than being put away any other time? If it connects the dots (as Scooter did with pooping on me) and realizes, hmm, when I go over there I get put away and I'd rather stay out, then the act of putting the bird away has technically acted as a punishment in the sense of reducing the behavior, but I don't see it as having been anything trust eroding. What am I missing?
Depends how the parrot is put away. If the parrot is put away to treats, toys, and meal... then it helps reinforce going back into the cage which results in a parrot less resistant to being put away. If you put it away more maliciously with the intent of it serving as punishment (nothing good in the cage, taking away being out), then it is most likely to punish the preceding behavior. What was the last thing that happened? Stepping up to be carried over and put away.
Believe me, I have a whole thing right now with Truman constantly landing on the TV. Whether I try to swat him off or not seems to have no effect. Ignoring it didn't work cause he likes it up there and trying to punish the behavior hasn't lessened him going there. It's easy to teach parrots what to do but very very hard to teach them what not to.
Ah, there are always plenty of toys and dry food in the cages here. It never occurred to me that those would be taken away. Sure, the bird might prefer to be out, but actually stripping the cage to make it solitary confinement is a whole scenario I never considered.
It wouldn't necessarily be stripped but at the minimum food taken away. Normally I ADD food to the cage when returning the parrots to reward going back. The food is not in the cage at other times.
This whole going back to the cage business can be seen as either positive reinforcement or negative punishment. This is why it is tricky and I say never use it as a punishment because that will hurt the good side of going back.
This morning I called my parrot's names one at a time and they each responded by flying to me in order to get rewarded by being put away to a nice meal. I keep going back in the cage very rewarding and do not want to hurt that by every using it as punishment. Like hell my parrots would fly to me in order to accept their punishment, right? That's why I always treat going back as a good thing.
first, i would like to thank you for the educational blog but i have few questions that need ur support and answering them since u are the expert.
1. How to react to a macaw bite and please don't tell me to ignore him cuz it hurts!
2. how to act with hormonal birds? at what age it starts, when it will end and ill have a piecful life with the parrot?
3. how long does the mating season aggression lasts?
thanks in advance.
As Michael's video shows, birds can be taught not to bite BUT, in my personal opinion, training is just one side of it, the most important and effective way is good husbandry. Let me explain. Parrots are not naturally aggressive - they have no gene for it because they did not evolve to live in a hierarchical society (meaning, fighting another bird to be the boss is not part of their life) and they are not predators (so they do not need aggression to get food). What parrots do is defend/protect themselves, their mates, nest, eggs, babies, etc. Now, this is the way it should be but it is not necessarily the way it is in captivity. Why? Because the conditions they are kept under are so unnatural that they end up skewing everything - add to this caregivers that have no experience/knowledge/understanding of a parrot's psyche and you end up with a bird that bites because it has found that the ONLY way to get his point across is to give pain (please, do not take this as a criticism of you, it's a general comment which, unfortunately, ends up being true more often than not because we simply are not mentally prepared to deal with anything but hierarchical mammal species like dogs, cats, horses, etc because that is what we are and what we know).
The majority of the times (and as you have already figured out), the aggression is caused by sexual hormones but, in reality, although sexual hormones do cause it, it is the amount of hormones and the length of time the bird has been producing them that creates the degree of aggression that is difficult to handle. Again, let me explain. Birds are photoperiodic. This means that they regulate their endocrine system (the one that decides when to start producing hormones and when to stop) by light (photo meaning light and period as in the seasons). Birds have an 'internal clock' that tells their glands when to start and when to stop and this internal clock is turned on by the light of dawn and turned off by the light of dusk so, when you do not keep a parrot at a strict solar schedule with full exposure to dawn and dusk (meaning, two hours of twilight) but at a human light schedule (meaning lights on before the sun is up and streaming into the room in the morning and/or after the sun reaches halfway down to the horizon in the evening with complete darkness after that and until the next morning dawn), you end up with a bird that produces sexual hormones all year round, year after year - something that NEVER happens in nature. Now, this does not only created a terrible sexual frustration for the bird, a frustration that is never relieved, but also chronic pain because birds sexual organs activity is seasonal, they are tiny and dormant during the 'resting season' (which we call winter) and become active and enlarged during the breeding season (spring or fall, depending on whether the species is a long day or a short day breeder -macaws are long day) but, with a human light schedule, this breeding season never ends, so the organs keep on growing and growing until the poor animal is in acute discomfort and even constant pain (I've known birds that have peed blood because of their internal organs being pushed out of the way by the super large gonads).
Diet has a strong effect, too, because birds evolved to breed when the environmental conditions are the most propitious for it (meaning, there is good weather, plenty of food and days long enough so they can feed the babies enough times during them for them to grow well). In captivity, the weather is always perfect for breeding, the food is always rich and plentiful and we already covered the length of the days under a human light schedule. Now, there is nothing we can do about the 'good weather' indoors and we can keep them at a strict solar schedule (which is hard for everybody and I know because I've been doing it for years and years and years) so the only other issue is the diet - and this one is where we all -more or less- fail because we all tend to feed too much protein so special care should be given to this issue. The solution is not to free-feed protein -meaning, filling up a bowl with seeds, nuts, pellets, or whatever protein food we use and leaving it there all day long- and never, ever feed animal protein (eggs, cheese, meat, etc). Macaws need an inordinate amount of wet plant material (fruits, greens, veggies) and should get cooked whole grains for during the day but the protein food should be reserved for dinner and the portion needs to be just large enough for it to fill its crop and a teeny tiny more. I feed gloop and raw produce for breakfast at dawn and all day picking and a measured portion of a mixture of seeds/nuts for dinner with a multivitamin/mineral twice a week.
If the bird is kept at a strict solar schedule, fed the right diet and handled correctly (treated with respect, entertained, allow flight to dissipate the hormones in their bloodstream, not touched improperly, etc), the bird will not be aggressive UNLESS we are talking about a male that is bonded to a female which is nesting - but even in cases like this, they can be handled without getting bit (and I know because I have a nesting pair of Yellow Nape Amazons right now and neither is people-friendly). And here is the reply to your question if you will ever be able to live in peace with the bird: Yes, if the bird is kept to a solar schedule, fed correctly and handled the right way, you can have a wonderful companion that will not bite you.
But the right husbandry is not going to help you right now because we are smack in the middle of the breeding season so although you should start the strict solar schedule, the right diet, etc. because you need to get his endocrine system working in tune with the seasons as soon as possible, things are not going to get better until the fall when the days start getting shorter and the bird stops producing sexual hormones (and there is the reply to your question of how long is this going to last).
What to do when the bird bites you? Well, I tell you, I've never believed for one second that the solution is not to show pain. That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard and only repeated by people who did not take the time to learn about parrots. Parrots are highly social animals... animals that need affection as much as they need food, forgiving, empathetic, compassionate and VERY intelligent. They do not find pleasure in giving pain and are masters of the body language and the human tone of voice so the theory that if you show pain, you are creating a 'drama' that they bird will enjoy and will try to reproduce by biting you often is horsepucky, plain and simple. Parrots don't want to give you pain, they want you to love them, and they are too smart not to realize the difference between an exclamation of pain and one of joy! They only bite because they have no other way of getting their point across, because they are in pain, afraid or completely distrustful of people. Once we eliminate the physical discomfort/pain, learn to read them and show them they can trust us, they do not bite.
So I will tell you what I do when I get bit and you decide if it works for you. First of all, I try as much as possible NOT to get bit so I observe them very carefully and learn to read their body language (displays) and, if I see or hear (you can tell by the vocalization if the bird is upset, mad or afraid) that the bird seems tense, upset or does not want to do something, I do not insist. I always wait for them to take the first step and never ask a bird to do anything UNLESS it's absolutely necessary. I never put my hand in their cages when they are there - I open the cage door in the morning (saying "Good morning - good morning" in a cheery tone of voice) and allow them to come out whenever they want. I wait until they are out to clean the cage and put fresh food and water in it and, if it's a 'new' bird (all my birds came to me as adults) and it still hasn't bonded to me, is still hormonal, has an 'aggression history' or whatever, I use a stick to move it from point A to point B -- but I only do this if it's necessary because 99% of the time, I just let them do their thing -meaning, I do not ask them for anything (I don't consider my parrots 'pets', they are my companions, my friends, my room-mates and I respect their wishes the same as I would another human). But, of course, with birds that have learned aggression, there are always bites at the beginning and what I do is make a big deal and 'talk' their language to let them know how I feel: I 'vocalize' loud (OWWWWWW!) and making my right hand into a beak (flat hand out with my palm facing down, I 'tuck' my thumb under my middle finger and kind of cup the other three, joining all four tips) and putting it above the bird's head, make a sharp up and down motion as if the 'beak' was going to 'peck' the bird's head while I say in a very loud voice my CAW CAW CAW CAW because I am a larger, stronger bird that is telling the offending bird that there will be retaliation to his aggression. I NEVER EVER touch them but I make my feelings clear to them - and they understand very well... After that, I walk away telling it he is a BAD BIRD! and ignore it for a little while. Because, to a parrot that loves you, there is nothing worse than your taking away your love BUT you cannot do this for long, five minutes tops unless the bird is excited in which case I wait until it calms down to approach it again by talking in a calm, neutral tone of voice. Not making a peep when they hurt you is not something they would understand because, in the wild, no animal just sits there not doing or saying anything when another one attacks it and only the weak ones run away - so, what are we teaching them when we do nothing? That their bite doesn't hurt? That we are complete pushovers? It makes no sense!
This has worked for me over the years and I've had real bad ones (I ran my own bird rescue for 6 years when I lived in Pa). As a matter of fact, of the birds I have now, most of them were given up because of aggression and none of them bites me... the nesting bonded pair of Amazons I mentioned before is an example. Precie, the female, is a 40 year old wild-caught that was neglected for years and Zeus, the male, was severely abused by his previous owner (the man admitted to me that he would 'take his fist' to the bird each time it bit him) and he was a real piece of work when he first came to me! I am talking a bird that would fly out to attack you every time you walked into the birdroom - he hated all humanity and wanted nothing to do with anybody, the poor thing! He is fine now, I can put food and water in front of him, he flies over to his feeding station when I call him or goes into their cage when told to "Go home" when my husband needs to do repairs in the birdroom (with Precie, which talks up a storm, saying: "Oooooh, too bad, too bad, too bad" which cracks up my husband every time ) and he even takes treats from my hand without biting but he has bit my hands and arms and even made holes in my head that sent me to the emergency room in the past so I well know what you mean when you say 'it hurts' - yes, it does! But you can turn the situation around.
So, don't give up hope and don't stress out over this. Your bird is at a bad age because between 4 and 5 years of age is when they go out looking for a mate in the wild and they have all the pep and angst of a human teenager but, if you keep him at a strict solar schedule, allow him flight (this is important for many reasons), feed him right (do NOT free-feed protein food or feed any animal protein and give him lots and lots of produce) and handle him the right way (respect his wishes, do not ask for anything, avoid all instances when the bird might bite, etc), he will start turning around about two weeks after the solstice (June/22 - so look for signs of 'calming down' around mid July). I promise you.