Trained Parrot Blog
HomeStoreNU PerchesTrees & StandsTrained Parrot BlogParrot AcademyVideos
Subscribe to Blog
Your Name
Your Email
Dancing Senegal Parrot


Type: Senegal Parrot
Genus: Poicephalus
Species: Senegalus
Subspecies: Mesotypus
Sex: Female
Weight: 120 grams
Height: 9 inches
Age: 14 years, 5 months
Caped Cape Parrot


Type: Cape Parrot
Genus: Poicephalus
Subspecies: Fuscicollis
Sex: Male
Weight: 330 grams
Height: 13 inches
Age: 12 years, 9 months
Blue and Gold Macaw


Type: Blue & Gold Macaw
Genus: Ara
Sex: Female
Weight: 850 grams
Height: 26 inches
Age: 10 years, 5 months
Trick Training Guides
Taming & Training Guide
Flight Recall
Go through Tube
Turn Around
Flighted Fetch
Play Dead
Piggy Bank
Climb Rope
Ring Toss
Additional Top Articles
Stop Parrot Biting
Getting Your First Parrot
Treat Selection
Evolution of Flight
Clipping Wings
How to Put Parrot In Cage
Kili's Stroller Trick
Camping Parrots
Truman's Tree
Parrot Wizard Seminar
Kili on David Letterman
Cape Parrot Review
Roudybush Pellets

List of Common Parrots:

Budgerigar (Budgie)
Alexandrine Parakeet
African Ringneck
Indian Ringneck
Monk Parakeet (Quaker Parrot)

Mexican Parrotlet
Green Rumped Parrotlet
Blue Winged Parrotlet
Spectacled Parrotlet
Dusky Billed Parrotlet
Pacific Parrotlet
Yellow Faced Parrotlet

Peach Faced Lovebird
Masked Lovebird
Fischer's Lovebird
Lilian's (Nyasa) Lovebird
Black Cheeked Lovebird
Madagascar Lovebird
Abyssinian Lovebird
Red Faced Lovebird
Swindern's Lovebird

Lories and Lorikeets:
Rainbow Lorikeet

Sun Conure
Jenday Conure
Cherry Headed Conure
Blue Crowned Conure
Mitred Conure
Patagonian Conure
Green Cheeked Conure
Nanday Conure

Black Headed Caique
White Bellied Caique

Poicephalus Parrots:
Senegal Parrot
Meyer's Parrot
Red Bellied Parrot
Brown Headed Parrot
Jardine's Parrot
Cape Parrot
Ruppell's Parrot

Eclectus Parrot

African Greys:
Congo African Grey (CAG)
Timneh African Grey (TAG)

Blue Fronted Amazon
Yellow Naped Amazon
Yellow Headed Amazon
Orange Winged Amazon
Yellow Crowned Amazon

Galah (Rose Breasted) Cockatoo
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo
Umbrella Cockatoo
Moluccan Cockatoo
Bare Eyed Cockatoo
Goffin's Cockatoo

Red Shouldered (Hahn's) Macaw
Severe Macaw
Blue And Gold Macaw
Blue Throated Macaw
Military Macaw
Red Fronted Macaw
Scarlet Macaw
Green Winged Macaw
Hyacinth Macaw

Glossary of Common Parrot Terms

The Positive Side of Negative Reinforcement

Comments (39)

By Michael Sazhin

Thursday April 17th, 2014

Negative reinforcement is perhaps the most misunderstood of the methods of operant conditioning. Although negative is used in the term, it does not mean “bad.” Instead, negative means “negating” or taking something away. Reinforcement on the other hand refers to increasing behavior. Again this neither means good or bad but just means that the behavior will recur with greater frequency.

In the game of animal training, increasing desired behavior is generally the goal so reinforcement is to be used. But the question remains as to whether it ought to be positive or negative?

When it comes to whether an animal “wants” to do something, it should make little difference whether the reinforcement be positive or negative. Avoiding something aversive may be as, if not more, desirable as gaining something nice. Pretty much any behavior that relates to safety is going to be based on negative reinforcement. There is nothing bad about being safe and in fact it is a good thing.

So why does negative reinforcement carry a bad rep? Part of it is the misunderstanding of the word negative, where in this context it does not mean doing something bad. Many people confused negative reinforcement with positive punishment. Based on common language it would seem that negative reinforcement should be the opposite of positive but based on psychological terms that is not the case. Let's not get carried away with technical definitions and focus more on the meanings.

The main reason negative reinforcement is perceived badly is because professional trainers (or tamers as they used to be called) would intentionally introduce aversives, pressure, or pain to animals for the sake of being able to stop causing it as a reward for desirable behavior. This is how horses, donkeys, camels, elephants, and many other animals have been trained for thousands of years. Basically it would involve beating the animal a lot and letting it learn that if it would do what it was commanded, then the hurt would stop.

If a trainer walks around with a stick, hook, or whip, its very presence symbolizes negative reinforcement and that if the animal stops doing what it is supposed to, then it will be used. What's bad about this? If the animal always does what it is supposed to, the instrument won't even be used. The problem is that the animal is acting simply out of fear and not out of a genuine desire. This does not lead to a great relationship between animal and trainer. If the trainer were to stop carrying around the negative reinforcement instrument, extinction would begin to occur. Whenever the animal would slip up and not receive the normally expected beating, the animal would realize that it no longer has to do as the trainer commands. This is why this type of negative reinforcement is neither truly effective nor nice.

But just because professionals misuse negative reinforcement, does not mean that it is all bad. The professional does not seek to have a personal relationship with the animal like a pet owner would. The professional needs little more than for the animal to do its tricks on command in front of spectators. On the other hand, the exotic pet parrot owner seeks desirable behavior throughout the day and a fantastic relationship to go with it. Thus clearly a relationship based on fear cannot be the solution.

Negative reinforcement is frequently misused in the parrot community although most are unaware they are even applying it. “Stick training” where a dowel is shoved into a parrot's belly until it steps up is an example of the misuse of negative reinforcement that is neither ideal training nor good for the relationship. The parrot learns to step on a stick before it gets nudged. But what happens when a hand is substituted for the stick? The parrot may opt to bite the hand instead because unlike the stick, it isn't inanimate. The parrot doesn't learn to always step up but instead learns to step when a negative-reinforcement instrument is used.

Aggressive Macaw

If you aren't scared of a bite and let your arm be like an inanimate object, the same effect can be achieved and the parrot will even learn that biting is futile. But the arm becomes just as much the negative-reinforcement tool as it a part of your body. This is conveniently tempting because unlike treats, you can have this (your arm) with you all the time. The problem is that if the parrot has any alternative to reluctantly complying (such as flying away, clinging to the drapes, running under the cage, etc), it may choose to do those instead because they are less intimidating/painful than the arm into belly shove. The arm is both the thing you want the parrot to trust/like and the instrument of aversion which creates a dilemma. The parrot learns to step up onto the arm to avoid the arm. Thus this example of the classic step up routine, really is a parallel to the circus days of animal training.

If a parrot's wings are not clipped, it is difficult for the trainer to be able to apply negative reinforcement because the bird will sooner fly away than put up with threats to do a behavior. The old school approach of clipping, flooding, and trainer induced negative reinforcement fail to drive cooperation when a parrot is no longer clipped which makes the owner choose to clip the wings again. Genuine success cannot be achieved this way.

I'm not going to get into the more successful positive reinforcement based method to training, you can find the details of this in my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. Instead, I'd like to write a bit about the positive side of negative reinforcement. How can negative reinforcement be a good thing?

Well, negative reinforcement is the increase of behavior through reduction in aversives. Thus any means of providing safety is essentially negative reinforcement. Safety is the reduction of danger and thereby a sought thing. There are naturally present dangers that drive fear in a captive parrot's life. By providing safety from these naturally present aversives, we can both provide comfort to our parrot as well as receive some training benefit out of it.

I do not believe that parrot owners should be intentionally causing harm to their pets in order to get to rescue it. But if the aversive already exists, then why not take some training advantage out of it? In fact, capitalizing on these negative reinforcement opportunities should help strengthen the bond rather than harm it. If the parrot realizes that it can receive protection from its fears through you, that will actually improve your relationship. This works as long as those aversives are not created (or even perceived to be created) by you.

For example if there is a loud disturbance going on outside, by stepping up for you, you bring your parrot to a quieter room, the parrot would be negatively reinforced for stepping up. The scary disturbance would be reduced by action you took to protect the parrot and the parrot would be more likely to step up for you in the future.

Here are some other examples from my experience. I take Kili & Truman to the park regularly to fly on harnesses or free fly. Sometimes the kids become too bothersome and I can tell the bird is getting a bit flustered. I will offer the bird a chance to flight recall to me and stay on me to avoid further confrontation. I don't have to give a treat for this type of flight recall because the bird gets reinforced negatively in the process.

Another recent example was when I took Santina to the vet for the first time. I was still in the early stages of gaining trust with her and using a lot of positive reinforcement to encourage her to step up. After Santina came back from anesthesia, Lorelei put Santina down on the floor. From the other end of the room I put my arm down. I did not go over to get Santina but instead she walked over to come to me. I was not giving out treats or head scratches. Santina came to me for safety and thus negative reinforcement for coming. I would not torment her with a towel (and I'm sure the vet wouldn't either) but since it was medically necessary and going to happen regardless, I might as well take the opportunity to take credit for providing safety. This is a case of a good application of negative reinforcement. The parrot learned to come to me for safety in moments of panic rather than to flee or worse yet that the danger was caused by me in the first place.

Macaw on Floor

One of the reasons negative reinforcement tends to be ineffective is because of desensitization with time. As the animal begins to get used to an aversive or pain, it may loose its effect. Especially if the aversive turns out to be physically harmless, the parrot will realize and stop responding to it. For this reason either a stronger dose of aversive is necessary or the behavior is lead toward extinction. Since I don't mind my parrots to stop fearing the naturally present aversives they encounter, I am not worried if the negative reinforcement will lose effect. If my parrots stop fearing these things, I will be just as happy because I don't want them to be fearful. I only use occasional natural negative reinforcement on behaviors that are already trained through positive reinforcement. Since I do not cause the aversives intentionally myself (and disassociate with any aversives that could be perceived as caused by me), the intensity of the aversive should not change. Further, these types of scenarios are fairly infrequent anyway. But since they happen from time to time, I capitalize on the situation and play the role of savior for my parrot.

Let me illustrate with human example. Let's say you are on a long cross country trip with a friend driving. You get an upset stomach and really have to get to a bathroom. So your friend is very understanding and gets you to one promptly to one in return for asking persuasively. We can agree that you gain nothing from going to the bathroom but you do get relief so this is negative reinforcement. You would then be grateful to your friend for helping you find relief from something uncomfortable that isn't your friend's fault. Now what if your friend put something in your lunch that caused this? Even though your friend saves the day by getting you to a bathroom, they were still the cause of your discomfort. Would you be happy and grateful to them? Probably not. You'd be more angry that they caused you discomfort in the first place. This is the difference between giving negative reinforcement to a natural/unrelated aversive vs being the cause of the aversive. Negative reinforcement can only work well when it is providing relief from something you have not caused or associated with.

So am I encouraging you to go and use negative reinforcement with your parrot? Not necessarily. What I am encouraging you to do is to give further thought into whether or not you are rewarding by giving something (positive reinforcement) or rewarding by taking something away (negative reinforcement)? Are you threatening in some way that until the parrot does something you want, you will do something? Why should your parrot comply with your requests and what will the consequence be if it does not? Being more aware and intentional in your training means will ensure that you are making the most effective application but also help you to ensure a good relationship. Making sure that you are not causing aversives but helping to reduce naturally occurring ones will work in your favor.

My book almost exclusively focuses on training using positive reinforcement because this needs to be the basis of any parrot relationship. However, this article is a supplement for those who already use positive reinforcement. This is for those who want to take their training to an even further level and learn to apply the good kind of negative reinforcement responsibly to get even more out of their training.

Avoid using threats (whether it be with a stick, your arm, a squirt bottle, or going back in the cage) and do things so the parrot would want to engage in the behavior without coercion. But on the other hand, when there are opportunities to save your parrot from uncontrolled environmental factors, take training advantage by having the parrot do something for it. Stepping up, coming to you, flying to you, etc are all important behaviors and ones that the parrot can learn to do more readily when it feels scared. By teaching your parrot to come to you rather than away, you can ensure that in times of panic, your parrot is more likely to return to you and that your relationship can be so good that you would be your parrot's means for safety. Negative reinforcement is often misused but it is not always bad. Focus on the good stuff with your parrot and your relationship will be better than ever.

How to Train Dangerous Behavior (OR NOT!)

Comments (1)

By Michael Sazhin

Thursday June 27th, 2013

There are many good behaviors that we can teach our parrots but there are just as many (if not more) bad ones we can inadvertently teach that may put our parrots in jeopardy. I have been seeing way too many photos of parrots placed in potentially dangerous situations. Often times the situation isn't dangerous in the moment the photo is snapped but it is teaching the parrot a behavior that is likely to some day get it hurt.

The most common circumstance I've seen in photos that I strongly object to is having a parrot on the stove. In many cases the parrot is actually being trained to go on the stove using operant conditioning through positive reinforcement. People are using the same techniques I use to train my parrots to go to their training perches, but to go to a dangerous place such as a stove instead! Even without food, just the act of laughing, taking a picture, or making a big deal about it can be socially reinforcing in itself. In other words just from someone putting their parrot on a stove and their reaction to it, may encourage the parrot to fly, walk, or jump there on its own some other time.

Even if you are careful not to cook when your parrot is out, which you should be, doesn't mean it's ok to allow the parrot on the stove when it's cold. As the parrot learns that the stove is a safe, fun, and possibly feeding place, not only does it lose deterent from going there but it is even encouraged. Even if you maintain a 100% perfect track record, there is still the possibility of someone else coming over and using the stove while the parrot is out. But not just that. There is also the possibility that your parrot will someday end up in a different home (whether boarding, rehoming, temporary care, etc). If your parrot was encouraged to do potentially dangerous behavior in your home, it could be the end of the bird in someone else's. That is why it is absolutely your responsibility to solve bad behavior and encourage good.

I was originally planning to link photos and stories related to this that I found disturbing but decided I don't want to single anyone out. But I don't want to downplay the severity at all. Believe me, these things are all too common and horror stories are real. The stove is one of the biggest ones that comes to mind but there are plenty of others. Always consider whether or not something could pose a danger to your parrot down the line. Don't encourage that sort of behavior now if it could cause harm later. A good starting point is if you wouldn't allow a toddler to be there or play with that, you especially shouldn't for a parrot!

In my book, I end up talking a lot about encouraging good behavior and cooperation in parrots. But the most important, free, simple, cheap, easy piece of advice I can give toward having a well-behaved/safe parrot is to avoid encouraging bad behavior in the first place! We're not talking about punishing or trying to eradicate bad behavior. We're talking about not giving it the opportunity to develop in the first place. If your parrot is stove obsessed, making it not want to go there is extremely hard and someday the stove may be cooling down and still hot enough to burn the parrot going on there. On the other hand, if you never put your parrot there or allow leftover food to encourage your parrot to go there, you are partly on the way.

Another element to avoiding a parrot from going some place is to never allow it to see you or anyone else there either. For example, my parrots want to chew up my keyboard and things they see me using in their presence. Since I never cook or even approach the stove while they are out, they don't see that as an interesting place. This isn't to say that it's impossible for them to land on the stove, but it makes it damned unlikely because they never saw it as a place birds/people go. It's very hard to keep a parrot from going to places it found to be fun or rewarding. However, preventing it from being rewarding is much more manageable.

So what I encourage you to do, is to think about what kind of household places or things you do may pose a danger to your parrot (not only under your supervision but even under others'). Not only that, don't give your parrot opportunities to play with or chew things that may be dangerous. Prevention is key. Put dangerous items away. Don't allow your parrot into dangerous rooms (such as kitchens/bathrooms). Don't let your parrot see you using potentially dangerous items. Never place reinforcing things (such as food or toys) in potentially dangerous places. And if your parrot does on its own come in contact with something that isn't imminently dangerous (just in the long term), don't make a big deal about it. Don't laugh, don't take a picture, don't give a toy instead, better yet don't do anything. There is a good chance the bird will get bored and that will be the end of that. Almost anything you do will more likely lead to reinforcement of the behavior so no reaction is best.

If the bird takes an interest to a dangerous place (such as a stove) without you reinforcing it, the only remaining solution is to prevent it from being in that room or perform direct training to keep the bird too occupied to have the opportunity to explore unwanted places. For example, place the parrot on a training perch and do some target training to distract if from what it wants to do. Break the bad habit by positively reinforcing a good one. Just remember to prevent and ignore unwanted behavior and then reinforce desirable. For lots more info about achieving a well behaved parrot, check out my book.

My Unique Clicker Approach

Comments (16)

By Michael Sazhin

Saturday March 9th, 2013

I have received much criticism of my atypical approach to using the clicker from beginners to experts alike. Many have noticed that I don't always give treats after using the clicker and that I make clicks while training two parrots simultaneously. I'd like to take a little time to explain how and why I am doing this and the impact it has on parrot training.

First of all, let's go over the typical approach to using a clicker as a bridge. At the moment the parrot does the right thing, a click is issued by the trainer using a clicker. Then at the trainers soonest convenience, a treat is given to the parrot. In other words, the clicker is a promise to give a treat as reward for the behavior being performed at the moment of the click. This is a highly effective techniques for capturing and shaping behaviors in training. Using the clicker can consistently and precisely mark the desired behavior so that the parrot can catch on and repeat it more readily.

I have used and do recommend the standard method of clicker training described above. For the vast majority of parrot owners, trainers, and performers, this may be the optimal approach. However, I have taken the clicker a step further and would like to present my method for those parrot owners and trainers that want to achieve even greater success with clicker training. The fundamental prerequisite is 6-18 months of consistent and successful clicker training using the standard method. The parrot should have already learned a bunch of different tricks and be reliable at demonstrating them. Attempting my special approach with an inadequately trained parrot will surely ruin the clicker and confuse the bird so I do not recommend this approach for most people. Only put this into effect if you have had extensive success training your parrot and want to take it one step further.

My clicker approach is made up of two parts. First is transforming the clicker from a bridge to a secondary reinforcer and the second is to use it in this way with multiple parrots simultaneously. Both of these parts require extensive successful clicker training of one bird at a time. Thereafter, either one or both of these can be applied although I would put off training two parrots simultaneously to the last. If you don't anticipate to move away from one click means one treat, you can skip to clicker training two parrots together.

The main reason I moved away from one click means one treat was because I wanted to train Kili to perform many different tricks but couldn't give her treats for everything or she would get too full. Thus I employed a variable ratio reinforcement schedule when it comes to treats. What this means is that the parrot has to complete the right behavior every time it is asked but only receives a treat some of the time at a random trial. However, one problem with doing this is that if the parrot botches one trick in the process, giving or not giving treats does not provide reliable performance feedback. With classic clicker training, not receiving a treat and likewise not receiving a click mark failure in regards to the bird's behavior. Since treats are necessary for continued motivation but providing them randomly provides poor feedback, I decided to use the clicker every time the right behavior is offered but provide food on a variable interval. Thus the clicker is used a continuous secondary reinforcer while the treats are provided on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule. This works out as a perfect blend of feedback and motivation with minimal satiation and maximum success/improvement.

In this way I can have my parrot run through 10 tricks in a row, click for the 9 correct times, not click for the 1 wrong time, and provide just a single treat at a random point (but only following a correct attempt). The parrot is still told that the 9 attempts were correct and could have earned a treat, 1 attempt was wrong and should not be done that way, and motivation was maintained the entire time. Furthermore, 10 treats could be used to elicit as many as 100 iterations (and thus 100 practices of performing the right tricks the right way at the right time) instead of just 10. This is how my special clicker approach is successful and goes well beyond the classic one click one treat approach. By having 110 trick attempts, 100 correct/successful ones, and 10 incorrect unclicked ones, he parrot has 10 opportunities to learn what not to do and 100 chances to learn what to do for the same number of treats that would have only provided 10 opportunities for learning. This allows my parrots to practice more behaviors, exercise more flight, and be overall more reliable than with the standard clicker approach.

Since the clicker has been so closely associated with food from the beginning, doing things to hear clicks can become desirable and thus a conditioned reinforcer of its own. Since good things tend to happen around clicks but don't have to, the parrots are still more inclined to demonstrate clicker-worthy behavior. This is also a great way to retain motivation through very high ratio variable reinforcement. For example, if I am going to make Kili fly 20 recalls to earn a single treat, as long as she keeps getting clicks, she knows it is worthwhile to keep trying and not give up. She knows from past training that as long as she keeps getting clicks, there will be a treat offered at some point. Since there is no other way to get that treat except to keep trying, that's the course she has to take to earn it.

Keep in mind that I only use this approach while I am sustaining tricks through practice. I do revert to the more effective continuous reinforcement strategy of one click one treat when teaching a fresh new trick. Once the parrot is well accustomed, I add that trick to my list of tricks to practice using variable reinforcement.

There are times when I chain behaviors either out of convenience or because it is a trick that requires multiple components. This is another great time to employ my click for correct behavior rather than treat for every correct behavior approach. Many times when I am training tricks to my parrots, I continue having them fly recalls to me from across the room for exercise. I used to feel bad when I would divert treats away from flight recall (which is valuable exercise) and use them for trick training instead. Lately, I've come up with a much better approach where I make my parrots first fly a long recall (or several) to me just to get the opportunity to practice a new trick to earn a treat.

After years of training, both of my parrots understand very well that new tricks earn treats every time while old behaviors only some of the time (although they are easier so they love to perform them). For this reason, they are very eager to give me some flight recalls for the chance to get a guaranteed treat for learning a new trick. Plus it's simply more fun that way.

Now when it comes to chaining tricks to form a long sequence, the clicker can apply in the same way. Let's take Kili's famous stroller trick (which was performed on the Late Show with David Letterman) as an example. Clearly the complete sequence is comprised of several independent tricks that she must perform in order. First she must pickup her baby, then she must patiently hold it for demonstration, then she must take it over to her stroller (and not the bed) and place it in, then she must walk around the stroller and start pushing it, then she must stop pushing and walk around, then transfer her baby from the stroller to the crib, rock the crib, and then finally wave goodnight to baby. How do you teach such a long chain to a parrot without stopping every couple of seconds to wait for it to eat a treat? This is where the click for every correct behavior but only a treat at a random time approach proves such a success! Obviously I taught Kili the separate tricks that combine into the sequence separately, but when I was finally teaching the complete sequence, I used this exact clicker approach. A problem that I was running into was her eagerness to skip steps to jump to the end and get the one final treat for finishing the sequence. For this reason I went back to the click every correct behavior and offer a random treat to ensure that all steps in the sequence are equally rewarding. After she got really good at the trick, I returned to clicking along the way (to remind her that she is doing things right by not skipping to the end) and only giving one treat at the end. Since she won't get a treat at the end of she misses a click along the way, she learned to patiently go through the entire routine.

The final non-standard complex use of the clicker I employ is teaching two parrots simultaneously while using just one clicker. I sneaky (but too annoying) approach could be to have two different sound makers where one is for each parrot and they know their sound. I differentiate who is earning clicks through attention and eye contact. Even though I say I train the parrots together, it's not actually in the exact same moment. Normally I'll have one bird stay on its training perch while I have the other fly over to me to learn something. The parrot near me knows it is earning the clicks and not the one far away. If I have the two birds on perches next to each other, they know when I am clicking for them because I am looking at them at the time of the click. Sometimes I have them perform the same tricks at the same time. In this case I am looking in a blank way toward both of them. They are exceptionally intelligent and catch onto all of these subtleties. The important thing is that I am consistent in these methods so the specifics they learned apply each time.

Although it might seem that mixing the clicker in the ways I do would be confusing or dilute its effectiveness, this couldn't be further from the truth in reality. Parrots are so highly intelligent and catch on to things very quickly. They learn the multi-dimensional complex of the clicker based on the context they observe. It's like we can hear the sound “toooo” and still be able to understand whether we are talking about “to”, “two”, or “too”. Since my mixed clicker strategy has not resulted in a diminish in clicker effectiveness (and in fact improved it), I am certain that parrots too can learn to understand things in context.

So that is my special mixed method of parrot clicker training. Although I would not recommend anything but the one click-one-treat approach to most people, I think this article should help clarify what I do and why. Also for the select few who have taught many tricks and wish to take their training to a new level, I share my approach. Whatever clicker approach you use, as long as it is effective, the parrot is learning, and you are both having fun in the process, it is already a major success.

Stop Rewarding Your Parrot For Bad Behavior

Comments (6)

By Michael Sazhin

Tuesday November 8th, 2011

Many parrot owners do not realize it but they are often rewarding their parrots for being bad. This is positive reinforcement working against the parrot owner and the reverse of our intentions in parrot training. It is as much, if not more important to avoid rewarding undesired behavior as it is to reward desired behavior. This will become much clearer when I offer some examples I frequently come across:

Example 1: The owner is eating at the kitchen table when the parrot flies over and lands on the kitchen table. The owner figures the parrot is hungry or attracted by his food so he gives some food off the table to the parrot. Now the owner can't keep the parrot off the table both during meals and between. By giving food from the table to the parrot, the owner positively reinforces the behavior of landing on the kitchen table. The owner may even think that this is cute/harmless behavior but it should not be encouraged for many reasons. I won't even get into the fact that I don't want feathers and poopy feat landing in my food. There are often sharp objects such as forks and knives on the table as well as burning hot foods and drinks. The more a parrot is accustomed to landing on a table, the more likely it is to get hurt by one of these at some point.

Solution 1: The best way to discourage landing on the kitchen table is to never encourage it in the first place. Never, ever, ever, ever give food to the parrot after it lands on the kitchen table. Landing on the table never equates to receiving food. But the parrot still wants it so this does not solve its motivation to get that food somehow. This is why if the parrot is not caged during meals (simplest solution), then an alternative method of reinforcement must be permitted. Take a piece of food from the table before the parrot has landed in your soup and step away from the table. Recall the parrot to your hand, reward for flight recall, and then send it back to its perch to eat. This way you are not only sharing food with the parrot, but also keeping it busy for a while from bothering you more. More importantly this rewards recall while at the same time making landing on the table even less worthwhile. Don't flight recall from sitting down at the table because this will encourage the parrot to keep flying to you while you are at the table. So instead, before it has the chance to fly, step away and teach it to fly to your hand while standing up.

Senegal Parrot Covered in Corn
Kili pigs out on corn and frozen mixed vegetables for being a good bird

Example 2: The owner wants to relax and use the computer or watch TV but the parrot keeps nipping for attention. So the owner picks up the parrot, says no, then puts the parrot down on its stand and offers a toy to keep the parrot busy. In this case, the parrot is positively reinforced for nipping the owner with both attention and toys. Furthermore, what the "no" which the owner perceives as a scold, in operant terms becomes a secondary reinforcer really meaning "you'll get toys and attention for what you have just done" (similar to a clicker). Doing this simply ensures that the next time the parrot gets bored, the first thing it will do is start nipping. Ignoring the nipping may be futile since variable ratio reinforcement becomes more resistant to extinction.

Solution 2: Instead of rewarding the nip with a reaction, foresee the situation and distract before it can happen. So instead of giving a toy after a nip to alleviate boredom (which is seen as positive reinforcement), give the toy before you sit down to do your own thing. Make sure the parrot is taken care of and occupied so that you don't have to deal with unwanted behavior afterward. This way you are rewarding the parrot for being on its stand and taking care of itself rather than for bothering you. By preventing the nip (whether it is caging when you are busy, giving toys before you do your thing, or not allowing the parrot onto your shoulder in that situation), you guarantee you won't be inadvertently reinforcing it. If the nip happens anyway, such as getting temporarily distracted with parrot on you, ignore the nip and do nothing first. Before it has the chance to nip again, put it down on its stand and ignore for a short while some more. Then cue the parrot to perform a trick and reward with a toy for doing the trick. This way there is no connection between nipping and getting what it wants. The reinforcement is provided in return for cued behavior and not nipping.

Example 3: Whenever the owner leaves the room, the parrot starts screaming. So the owner goes back so that the parrot would stop screaming. Please don't ever do this. The parrot is making a complete fool out of you if you do. This is the parrot training the owner using negative reinforcement. If you walk out and the parrot screams, too bad.

Solution 3: Don't come back until it stops screaming. Just leave, go do what you have to do. The parrot will eventually get tired and stop. You have no obligation to prevent it from screaming when you aren't even home for it to bother you. Of course this is more problematic when you live with other people who remain to hear the screaming. But trust me, this will only get worse if you keep rewarding it. For the sake of the long term, just deal with the screaming for leaving in the short term to reduce it in the long term. If for any reason you need to go back not pertaining to the parrot (like you forgot your keys or something), go in without making eye contact or going near the parrot. Just focus on what you need while pretending the parrot isn't even there to avoid giving any sense of attention in return for screaming.

In conclusion, whenever your parrot does something you don't like, don't do anything your parrot might like in return. If you aren't used to analyzing behavior under a microscope, then a good rule of thumb is not to do anything at all because odds are it will just encourage it anyway. Instead, when you have identified the unwanted behavior, try to prevent it next time all together. Cage the parrot in circumstances where it may be dangerous for it to be out. When it is more of a matter of nuisance, make sure you are either ready to give attention/supervision to the parrot or preemptively devise ways to keep it busy. Provide toys or foraging opportunities to give it something to do instead of bothering you when you don't want it. Don't play with the parrot or give it attention just because it is annoying you in attempt to get it. But also go out of your way to reward your parrot for being quiet and staying on its perch. It is easy to forget about a well behaved parrot (as opposed to the one that won't shut up or stop biting). Get up and reward the well behaved parrot with toys, treats, or attention for doing what you want from it. As a general rule of thumb, try to make sure your parrot is "earning" every good thing you do for it with good behavior as a requisite and not just because you want to be nice/generous. If it earned it, then it is far less likely that you are rewarding it for undesired behavior.
Older Articles Trained Parrot Home
Trained Parrot HomeAboutSitemapParrot Training PerchesThe Parrot ForumVideosYoutube Channel
Trained Parrot is a blog about how to train tricks to all parrots and parakeets. Read about how I teach tricks to Truman the Brown Necked Cape Parrot including flight recall, shake, wave, nod, turn around, fetch, wings, and play dead. Learn how you can train tricks to your Parrot, Parrotlet, Parakeet, Lovebird, Cockatiel, Conure, African Grey, Amazon, Cockatoo or Macaw. This blog is better than books or DVDs because the information is real, live, and completely free of charge. If you want to know how to teach your parrot tricks then you will enjoy this free parrot training tutorial.
Trained Parrot site content Copyright 2010-2020 Michael Sazhin. Reproduction of text, images, or videos without prior permission prohibited. All rights reserved.