Sunday, January 25, 2009

Training Tips and Parrot Bites

As a proponent of positive reinforcement training, one of my goals is to avoiding doing anything that creates the situation in which a parrot may be inclined to bite. That means avoiding force, reinforcing for desired behavior like stepping onto my hand when cued or off as the case may be, and paying close attention to my parrot’s body language that says “back off”…..and respecting it by doing just that.

In the long run these strategies make it less likely the bird will be inclined to present aggressive behavior in the future. Trust is built as the parrot learns I wont force him to do anything against his will and if he chooses to present certain behaviors (like stepping up) he earns desired outcomes….which often means treats. Yea!

However I thought I would share a few “techniquey” type things I have been using for years. Meeting parrots for the first time is a big part of what I do when I travel to teach seminars. Many of these birds have histories that may have taught them to present aggressive behaviors towards hands. However I purposely ask the owners to refrain from telling me the parrot’s histories.

This is because I want to base my actions on what the bird shows me with his body language. If I am unsure I have a few little strategies that help me have some confidence as I start to interact with the parrot.

1. Reach for the Treat

Offer a treat to the bird by holding it far enough away that the parrot must reach for it. Hold the treat in your fingertips so that the only thing the bird can reach is the treat. This way he won’t be able to get to your fingers to bite. Plus he gets a treat which can reinforce his calm acceptance of the treat. I repeat this a few times and watch the parrot’s response before venturing in closer. (I have more detail about this in the article "Training your new Parrot" on my website)

2. Do the Tighten Up

When asking a parrot I have just met to step up for the first time, I often keep my hand in a tight closed fist as pictured above. If a bird tries to bite, my first choice is to pull my hand and the treats away (time out from positive reinforcement aka negative punishment) But even the best of us may not react fast enough. Having your hand in a tight fist makes it difficult for the parrot to grab a hold of anything with his beak. I still don’t leave the fist there for the bird to gnaw on…I am not trying to flood the bird to accept a hand. The fist is just to avoid injury should I fail to respond to the parrot’s signals fast enough.

3. Hair Play

My final tip has to do with my hair. Some parrots show quite an adverse response to hands. In those cases I will sometimes lower my head and see if they might like to play with my hair. I offer the very top of my head as once again there is no flesh they can grasp. Many times parrots will start preening or playing with hair. This in some cases can get some pleasant interaction going with a parrot.

Keep these tips in mind when you are meeting a parrot for the first time or if you have a parrot that presents aggressive behavior. Hope they help.

Barbara Heidenreich

Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc

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