Kili and Truman are getting back together! It's been a long time that they've been apart. First it was a two week trial quarantine, then it turned into 2 months, and now it's been going on past a year. However, since Santina's rehoming to Lori, we have been working on reuniting the birds. We started by introducing Kili to Rachel because their health was showing greatest improvement and also because Kili did not have any bad history with Rachel.
A few months later, Truman got moved back to the bird room to rejoin the other birds. Out of the cage, we introduced him to Rachel first. Again, no bad history so this was a pretty straight forward introduction. It was mostly just a matter of feeding them lots of treats and food outside the cage at progressively smaller distances from each other. The goal isn't necessarily to make them friends but just to make sure that they can stay out of trouble and not hurt each other while out together.
Now the time has finally come to get Kili and Truman out together. We literally had to take them out of the cage individually for a while before this staged reintroduction. It didn't take any time since Truman moved back to the bird room that it was apparent that Kili wanted to get him. Just walking by her cage with Truman in hand, she would pin her eyes, growl, and lunge at the bars to try to get him.
Although Kili and Truman have become pretty tolerant of each other in the past, right now it was like starting over. Kili's aggressive Senegal Parrot traits were showing and her original animosity toward Truman was reignited. Any time Kili would see a picture (on phone or paper) of Truman, she would try to attack it. We discovered this when Marianna used some mis-printed papers from work of Truman's Tabletop Perch to line Kili's cage bottom. What started as a silly joke turned serious pretty quick. Kili was going apeshit on the bottom of her cage trying to attack through the grate! We had to remove the papers immediately.
Another scene was when we had company over and we were telling the story about the cage paper episode. Just to illustrate, Marianna took one of those sheets and approached Kili with it. Kili attacked the picture of Truman so quickly that Marianna didn't have time to react and ended up getting a bloody bite just from holding the sheet! This is when we realized that Kili would try to kill Truman the first chance she'd get. It's a Senegal thing.
I should point out that when I say they get into fights, it is always Kili doing the attacking. However, Truman is no angel either. Even after all these years he still hasn't learned to avoid provoking Kili. Truman lives in his own world and does not make any consideration for those around him whether that's pooping a cascade down my blinds or trying to take Kili's food. So while Truman does not actually attack or fight Kili, he certainly does know how to get her going. This is a problem. Although Kili will sometimes intentionally fly over to attack him, most cases of fighting are where Truman thoughtlessly comes toward Kili and she does a defensive offense.
It was really important to try to create a peaceful introduction and rebuild some of the tolerance I had previously developed between them using training. So I used a combination of two training techniques that I like for introducing parrots. What I did not do was the "grab controlled introduction" like I did between Truman and Santina. That method worked well between two birds that had no aggression to each other and I just wanted to make them more used to each other. This time, I have some problem birds that are going to get more agitated from being held or forced near each other. So instead, my goal is to make them avoid/ignore each other entirely. By getting them to focus on training instead of each other, it is my best chance to teach this very concept.
Both training methods for introducing birds (and this can be used on friendly just as well as birds that aren't friendly with each other) require the birds to be target trained and some Training Perches for the birds to stand on. The Training Perches are actually more important than you might think. Not only are they a convenient place to have the birds, they invoke a training mindset and get the birds focused on their tasks. The training perches are psychological in addition to physical in a way that classroom encourages learning. Ideally the birds should be trick trained so that you can cue them to do tricks. However, just being well target trained is sufficient for the introduction process.
The first training method is when you have two birds and two people. You can have more birds and more people that aren't involved, but for the sake of this method it's two on two. The first person takes the first bird to one end of a large room and begins training. The second person then brings the second bird to the other end of the room and begins training that one. Each bird is set on a training perch and kept busy with targeting and performing tricks. Each person stands facing their bird with their body blocking the view of the other bird. This keeps each bird focused on training and possibly even unaware of the presence of the second bird. Little by little, more and more of the other bird is revealed by allowing a glimpse from moving over. Also, if the birds are deemed indifferent to each other and focused on training, the perches can slowly be brought closer together. It may take a series of sessions to achieve results. The good news is that by having two people, there is always one person immediately next to each bird to keep it focused and protected from the other.
Since it appeared that Kili would jump Truman the first chance she'd get, we decided to use the above method for the first out of cage time together. Marianna trained Truman in one corner of the bird room while I worked with Kili in the other. This kept Kili's gaze on me and busy with the training. She was so consumed by the treats and training that she hardly noticed Truman. It also rewarded her handsomely for being around him. Furthermore, it ensured that if Kili slipped away from my reach, Marianna could be there to protect Truman.
It was really important that at least the first week of their interactions was provocation free. This way they learn the new order of things and their place in it (and that is without fighting or getting in the way). Then if something happens here or there later on, it will be an isolated incident and not setting the tone for how things will continue. The first session was a huge success.
For the second session, I went to the one person, two birds method. This is similar to the way I introduced Kili and Truman in the first place. I set Kili and Truman on two training perches and did target and trick training exercises with each. I use big treats so that the birds are kept busy eating for as long as possible while I work with the other bird. I don't want any bird to sit idle because it is less predictable what it might do if it isn't eating. But if they have food, I know they will focus on eating it until it is done. I started with the training perches on opposite sides of me, putting myself between the birds. This allows me to train each bird while providing separation and protection from each other.
As they improved, I moved the perches closer together and even began standing away from the birds so that they would have the opportunity to fight but would have a good incentive not to because of the training. In the beginning, it is all about preventing any fights/attacks in the first place. But to make further progress, eventually you have to give them the opportunity (but not necessarily the motive) to do that but a stronger incentive (treats, training, attention) not to do that. Then they truly learn the value of tolerance and even cooperation.
I would have Kili do the turn around trick and then look over and realize Truman was doing it as well. This was a great chance to reward them together for both paying attention and cooperating. It didn't take long that the two could sit on training perches in close proximity to each other. I will wait a few weeks before thinking of putting them on the same perch though.
Here's a video of Kili and Truman's reintroduction:
I have been writing this book for the last half year but more importantly it is the culmination of five very intense years of parrot education, training, consulting, and performing. I've taken everything that I have learned, applied it, and then wrote down for you the essentials that you can apply to your bird. This book isn't there to teach you how to teach a million tricks or become a performer. It's about how to achieve a well-behaved parrot and ultimately a mutual relationship!
It's not that I think I know better than others, but I just was never very pleased with the other books I've read about parrot keeping. Many of them are obsolete and don't recommend best practices. But even some of the books I agree with, I just found terribly boring. They are written by experts for experts and really leave the common parrot owner in the dust. Parrot owners don't need the nitty gritty technical stuff, they need something accessible that they can apply and that will work! I understand this because I'm a pet parrot owner and it wasn't long ago that I was desperately seeking help on the most basic things.
Instead of teaching you how to do absurdly complicated tricks with your parrot, my book is there to teach you all the essential stuff from merely approaching your parrot's cage without it freaking out to being able to grab it. A lot of emphasis is placed on taming, health, safety, and other things that are essential elements of keeping a pet parrot. Also the first chapter is entirely about how to choose a parrot in the first place for folks who do not yet have one and attempts to answer the classic question, "what kind of parrot should I get?"
In my book, I tell it how it is. I don't try to sugar coat things or make a parrot owner out of everybody. The purpose is to help those who want the help and to get them to achieve a good relationship with their parrot. The book takes a very balanced approach keeping both the parrot's well-being but also the parrot owner's sanity in mind. I realize that people are busy, have other commitments, may not have the means to buy fancy stuff. That is why my book is down to earth and really about finding a way that anyone can make it work rather than a professional approach to training performing parrots.
Unlike any other parrot book I've ever come across, mine presumes that parrots are flying creatures and takes an approach to keeping them as such. Despite the recommendation of keeping them flighted, the book presents countless ways to get more out of your parrot than if it were clipped! Flight safety, flight recall training, flight trick training, and managing flighted parrots are key themes throughout the book. Even if your parrot is clipped you will find this book extremely helpful and I think it will convince you that you can still have a relationship with your parrot by allowing it to fly. Better yet, you will have a better behaved, healthier, safer, and more fun parrot than it could ever be while clipped!
Problem solving receives an entire chapter in the book. Solving problems such as biting, screaming, plucking, and even flighted related issues are extensively covered. However, the main purpose of the book is to present an approach to follow from day 1 to ensure that those problems don't arise in the first place. This information is all based on problems I have solved in my own parrots or have helped others solve with theirs.
You'll find it interesting that I barely wrote any of this book at home. It has bits written all over the world on planes, trains, and automobiles. I've been writing it on the go during my travels. Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia are some of the places I was in while writing the books. During those trips I got to observe parrots in their natural habitats so it was especially encouraging to me to help owners find the best compromise between a parrot's nature and desirable household pet qualities.
This is a story of why rather than how to train your parrot.Of course there are many threats and enemies to our parrots' well being and happiness, however, one stands out in my mind as a major hindrance to this is an owner who makes excuses rather than do what is right. There is a psychological term for this called cognitive dissonance. This is when a person truly believes one thing but tries to rationalize it a different way. Sometimes this is to avoid responsibility, difficulty, or simply to try to save face in a losing battle. For example, parrot owners are pretty well informed that chocolate is a toxic food to parrots but if an owner slips some chocolate to a parrot thinking, "one time isn't going to kill him" is an example of cognitive dissonance. The owner knows that it's not safe to do but tries to come up with an excuse for doing it anyway. It is possible that one time kills the parrot but even if it doesn't, testing this out with full awareness of the possible consequences is irresponsible.
Certainly there is a distinction between cognitive dissonance and ignorance. Ignorance in itself could be dangerous (giving a parrot chocolate without knowing any better), however, an owner who frequently engages in cognitive dissonance is establishing a higher long term risk to the parrot's well being. Ignorance can be solved with learning or at least trial and error. If an owner who has been giving chocolate to a parrot unaware of the danger learns that it is dangerous and stops, at least the risk will not continue. However, an owner that tries to rationalize doing the wrong thing, will continue putting the parrot at risk for the rest of its life. The examples can range from trite to lethal but the problem of an excuse based attitude prevails throughout.
Since this blog is mainly focused on parrot training, I will look at more training based exampled of cognitive dissonance and try to take a behavior based approached to solving them. There are two different attitudes I often see regarding untame parrots. There are the people who identify the problem and come to me (likely through putting in the effort of searching the internet) asking for advice how to tame them. This is a logical way of doing things and will hopefully empower the owner to take the training steps necessary to tame the parrot and develop a better relationship. A better relationship is always better both for parrot and owner because the parrot is less likely to get lonely and develop health issues, the owner is more likely to enjoy spending time with the pet, and if there are no such problems, the owner is far less likely to rehome the parrot. A good parrot/owner relationship is always a winning situation. Now on the flip side I will come across (whether it's during online discussion, at a parrot store, or in people's videos) owners blaming the parrot for everything. I constantly hear things like "the parrot is mean," "the parrot wants to be dominant," "I want to let the bird be a bird," "I don't have time to train my parrot," "the parrot doesn't want to come out of its cage," etc. Not only are these excuses untrue, they are detrimental to progress because it gives the owner a reason not to try. If the owner doesn't try, then of course nothing will get solved. I'll take a moment to dispel these common myths in hope of convincing people that they can move past them or other excuses:
The parrot is mean - The parrot isn't necessarily being mean, it is biting in self defense. It is likely defending itself, mate, or cage territory. These things can be solved through proper training because it will teach the parrot that you are no threat and that biting doesn't solve things. Furthermore we can change their cage set up or take them to a different room to resolve territorial aggression for training purposes.
The parrot wants to be dominant - People think that parrots bite when they are higher than a person because they want to exhibit dominance. Mine don't. They will fly down to me from high places or I can reach and have them step up without ever biting. People use dominance as an excuse to blame the bird rather than to realize that the bird just enjoys being in that place more than being with the owner. A very common event where this kind of biting happens is when the parrot is on top of its cage. The owner tries to get it to step up but the bird bites a lot. The owner assumes the parrot is trying to be dominant when really it doesn't want to step up because the most likely thing to follow is getting put in the cage. Many owners let their parrots sit on top of their cage for a long time and only use step up for putting them away rather than doing something more enjoyable than sitting on top of the cage (which of course for many parrots is a big thrill). The parrot simply learns that biting the hand will make it go away and then it can go back to enjoying sitting on top of the cage.
I want to let the bird be a bird - There is no point in using this defense because the bird isn't in the wild, it's in a home. This is already unnatural. The purpose of training and bonding is to give the human and parrot the greatest enjoyment and best lifestyle possible in the unnatural home environment. There is no need to compete with nature, instead, if we can find the most successful and least intrusive ways of providing for our companion parrots' health and well being, we are successful. Of course we need to balance our own sanity and preserving our homes so there obviously needs to be compromise. The beauty of training is that it teaches/convinces the bird that the things you want from it (which may totally be unnatural like stepping on a human hand) are what it wants anyway.
I don't have time to train my parrot - If someone can't find 10-30 minutes a day to train their parrot, I doubt they have time to give it adequate care at all. Most owners will spend a few hours a day with their parrot so reorganizing that time to include a little bit of training is pretty easy. The important thing for basic training and taming is consistency rather than duration. The kind of taming/training required for a good relationship requires more days and routine of practice rather than length of individual sessions. 10 minutes every day will go a longer way than an hour once a week. The amount of time you save on dealing with parrot nuisance/problems will outweigh the time it takes to do a little training (cleaning poop from unwanted places, excessive destructiveness, biting, refusing to go into cage, etc). If you chose to have a parrot as a pet, it should be both in your interest and responsibility to find some time to spend with it every day.
The parrot doesn't want to come out of its cage - Well duh! If the parrot hasn't been out of its cage or hasn't had a good time when it was out, of course it won't want to come out. For many untame parrots their only human experience was people grabbing them at stores to shove them in boxes and moving them around. Unlike domesticated animals, parrots are pretty much wild animals. The only thing attaching them to humans is what they had learned. It may be hard to convince a parrot to come out the first time but if you use some in the cage training methods you can make it want to come out by following a target stick or you can force it out and then make the out of the cage experience so wonderful that it forgets being forced out and starts to like coming out. Until it comes out and has a good time, it won't have a reason to want to come out.
So as you can see, there are real solutions to real problems. Excuses don't get their parrots or owners anywhere. Taking a problem solving approach, doing some research, and patiently applying it is always the way to go. Excuses/rationalizations can come both for doing something or not doing it. Mainly training related excuses are for the purposes of not doing it. On the flip side, owners will make excuses for justifying things they do that they know to be wrong. The one excuse I absolutely hate the most is "I clip my parrot for its own good." This is an excuse plain and simple. When someone says that, what they really mean is "I clip my parrot for my own good." Most owners of clipped parrots fear that their parrot won't want to be with them if it can fly away, that they won't be able to train it if it's flighted, that it will poop everywhere, that they won't be able to put it away, that the bird will get hurt, that the bird will get lost, etc. However, I believe that with a little caring, sacrifice, patience, and training, almost any household can keep flighted parrots.
Now I realize there will be exception cases of injured parrots that maybe shouldn't fly or parrots at overcrowded rescues that can't afford to keep them flighted, however, these are exceptions and really shouldn't apply to most companion parrots. I believe the quality of life improvement for the parrot being flighted far outweighs the convenience of it being not. Some benefits include extensive exercise, lower stress (and healthier plumage as a result), better safety, lower or eliminated chance of feather plucking, greater mental stimulation, and most of all: freedom of choice. Birds naturally flee what they are scared of in the wild by flying away and they can explore the things they are afraid of at their own pace. Clipped parrots are constantly forced into interactions whether they want them or not and whether the owner is aware of them or not.
By giving out parrots greater amounts of choices (even if we teach them to make the choices that we want), many behavioral byproducts of eliminating choice are avoided. Like I previously mentioned about the case of a parrot that knows how to step up biting instead of stepping up to avoid being put away, the lack of choice is causing stress on the parrot (and possibly biting or displeasure with the owner). If on the other hand going into the cage could be a more positive experience, the parrot would choose to go in. If going in the cage is what it wants, it won't bite the owner who is trying to have it step up.
The biggest problem with parrot training is getting the parrot to want what we want from it (whether it's performing a trick or going into the cage). If the parrot already has everything it wants, then it is difficult to find something it wants even more to motivate it to do what you want. People who spoil their parrots (constant and extensive supplies of food, toys, and attention) are more likely to revert to punishment for undesired behavior rather than using positive reinforcement for desired behavior. This may appear effective in short sight but is terrible in the long run. For example using the cage as a means of punishing a parrot for unwanted behavior such as screaming is counter productive. First of all, if the parrot likes its cage, going back may not be much of a punishment. On the other hand, if the parrot dislikes its cage, then it will try to avoid ending up in the cage by biting. In an attempt to reduce screaming, punishment could lead to flying away from the owner or biting the owner to avoid being put away. Even if the parrot is small enough that the owner feels unaffected by the bites, the parrot is likely still going through the stress of being forced to do something against its will.
So ask yourself, would you prefer your parrot see you as a wonderful provider of good things or the bad person who takes good things away? Performing the role of punisher doesn't discipline or teach the parrot any kind of respect either. It just teaches it to try to avoid the person who punishes it all together. When I talk about being a tough owner, I do not mean forcing the parrot to do things against its will. Being tough is more about having the patience and self control to resist giving into what the parrot wants when its behavior is unacceptable. Being tough is wanting to take out a parrot to play with it but not taking it out because it is screaming. Being tough is ignoring a bite when it happens. But being tough is not putting a parrot in a cage for biting, this is just being vengeful (without regard to the actual long term effectiveness of the consequence).
Something that peeves me is when an owner expects a parrot to like him or do what the owner wants merely for the fact that the owner paid money to buy the bird. Or even for doing things like putting food in the bowl, water in the cup, and cleaning the cage. The simple fact is that the parrot has no correlation between these things and the owner. Food just shows up in its cage daily no matter what. The parrot doesn't learn to be on good behavior in order to get food. A more successful approach is to shift the presence of good things to coincide with the owner and good behavior. This is what training is all about.
Using some basic food management as well as managing other favorable resources isn't deprivation. It's just a shift in the timing so that they can be rewarding. So instead of letting a parrot eat 100% of its food in the cage, perhaps feed it 80-90% in the cage and then let it earn the rest from you for good behavior. The only thing is that motivation is highest at peak of hunger so it is more effective to train the parrot using the first 10% of its meal as the reward rather than the last 10. I'm not going to spend too much time getting into how to use effective food management and management of other favorable parrot resources but instead I will show some ways that a trained parrot makes a good pet.
My parrots step up for me automatically and unlike in the training videos where I explained teaching step up, I never give treats just for stepping up. To someone who doesn't know, it would appear that may parrots just obey and always step up without reason. However, there is a reason and a very good one. The parrots have learned to trust my step up requests because they inadvertently lead to desirable things (positive reinforcement) indirectly. If Truman steps up, I may walk over and show him something interesting, I may pet him, or I may cue him to perform a trick and earn a treat. Regardless, step up is likely to lead to something favorable for the parrot and never anything undesired. Since I make even going back to the cage a favorable experience, there is almost nothing bad that happens as a result of step up so my parrots step up very willingly.
This is why trick training is so useful even if you aren't particularly interested in the tricks themselves. Trick training sets up an atmosphere for learning and also teaches both you and your parrot to work toward better behavior. Training never ends and it is important to always expect your parrot to do better. This keeps it learning and doing more and more good behavior for fewer and fewer treats. At first you may need to give a treat for every step up. However, when you've taught your parrot to wave, you could have it step up without a treat for the opportunity to stand on your hand and wave to get a treat. At first it's just a trick chain but eventually the basic tameness becomes second nature. Your parrot may get used to being held or touched for the training of certain tricks (such as wings) and later on this proves helpful for routine maintenance behavior.
My parrots are excited to come out of their cages because being out can lead to treats, petting, flying, talking, and other things parrots enjoy. So I know that coming out is in itself rewarding and can be used as reinforcement for good behavior. I make sure my parrots aren't screaming, and in the case of Kili says hello, before I even consider letting them out. I taught Kili to say hello when she wants to come out instead of screaming by letting her out a lot of times after hearing her say hello (she got the hang of it realizing that saying hello just gets her out some of the time). I upped the requirements from there to also being on a perch to be let out. It's kind of hard to get Truman out of the canopy of his dome Cage so instead of chasing him around the cage to get him, I figured he's the one getting the special treat of coming out so I'll let him do the work. I used to open the door and hold my hand near the closest convenient perch and he had to climb down to it. Now when he sees me coming to let him out he goes there himself and it's a signal to me that he would like to be out. I never let the birds climb out of their cages on their own. The only way they come out is by stepping up. Thus I am giving a super reward for step up (the reward of getting to come out) at least twice a day, every day for the parrot's lives. This is such an easy way to reinforce step up and get credit from the parrot without creating any additional deprivation. The parrot already has to spend time in its cage so the deprivation of out of cage time is naturally present. I'm not suggesting putting the parrot in the cage on purpose to teach this, but since it is already anyway, let it be to your advantage.
Some people can't pet their parrots because they are scared and don't know it feels good. By using some basic taming/training techniques, the bird can be taught to accept touch in return for food. Once it is used to being touched and no longer scared, you will have the opportunity to pet it the way it likes and develop an alternative primary positive reinforcer to food. But without knowing what petting is like, the bird won't let you so it can't know what it is missing. So food can be effective for taming these other methods of reward. I don't think it is necessary to withhold petting just to be used for training, however, it is important not to do it during or after undesirable behavior. For example don't start petting your parrot because it bit you when you stopped to make you continue. As long as bad behavior isn't going on during petting, you are already rewarding behavior alternate to bad (like biting, screaming, etc).
Now of course what we perceive is bad behavior may well be natural behavior to parrots in the wild. Biting enemies and screaming to flock mates are survival tactics highly rewarding in the wild. Since these are harmful to our pet/human relationship, it is best for us to use training to avoid these. They may not be entirely avoided with positive reinforcement training, however, the more non-bad behavior that you can reward, the less bad behavior can occur. When you spend 20 minutes training tricks, that is a concentrated dose of good behavior learning for your birds. They learn that shaking their head, waving their foot, or showing their wings gets them what they want. By learning effective methods of getting what they want, they are also eliminating some ineffective methods (that are more natural and effective in the wild). Then the things they learned in training help the rest of the time when they are out because good behavior is differentiated from bad. And as long as the owner avoids rewarding bad behavior outside of training, the learned stuff carries over outside of training to lead to a well behaved parrot.
There is so much I can say about how resource management and training leads to well behaved, healthy, happy parrots but instead I will just share a video that shows how I can spend time with my well behaved parrots outside of training time. While I may spend 30-60 minutes a day teaching flight recalls for treats, at other times I can recall my parrots just for the sake of hanging out but they already know what to do from training. The same applies for step up, going in the cage, petting, and virtually all other "good behavior" from them. By constantly challenging my parrots and setting higher requirements for rewards, the easier things or things previously learned become routine and are maintained through indirect rewarding. Over time this good behavior begins to look natural and it's easy to forget the true source of all of it: parrot training!
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.