Monday, December 29, 2008

Why I like Training Parrots

I like what I do for a living. I get paid to play with parrots. Work often entails all sorts of things. answering lots of emails, many nights spent on the road, an endless "to do" list, but one thing I can count on to remind me why I LOVE this work is a great training session with a parrot. And I had one today.

Those who already train parrots may know exactly what I mean. When you are training a parrot a new behavior and you are taking painstakingly tiny approximations in the hopes that the bird "will get it" and HE DOES! WOOOHOOO! What a thrill. I like to call that the "training rush." It is the fabulous rewarding feeling the trainer experiences when the shaping plan was a success. This rush I think is what keeps me coming back for is my positive reinforcer everytime I train a parrot. Even if I am training a behavior I have trained 600 times before with 600 different birds. Each time I still get the little tingle in my belly.

While I was getting my "rush" today, I also paid attention to my parrot's reaction. I know I can never know for sure. But I think he got a bit of a "rush" too. Perhaps he was reacting to my enthusiam, but it seemed the moment he understood what he was to do, he started vigoursly performing the if to say "Yes! Yes! I now understand what you want!"

And was I proud of my parrot? You bet. Did I think he is just the smartest parrot in the world? Of course. And did I spend the rest of the day thinking my parrot is wonderful? Yup : )

And you can too. Positive reinforcement training is not only good for you is good for you too.

Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc

Friday, December 5, 2008

Terminology and Parrot Training

Learning about parrot training is fun! However sometimes the terminology used to describe training can get a bit confusing. I have prepared a list of terms typically used in animal training to help parrot training enthusiasts become familiar with some of the commonly used language.

The list could go on and on, however I decided to focus on the words most may encounter on their journey into parrot training. I also included parrot training examples of many of the definitions to help clarify their application.

You will see the terms come primarily from the science of behavior analysis with resources and references credited at the end. This science has been around for about 100 years. Although new things are always being studied and tested by science much of what we use to influence behavior of our parrots has been well defined for years. Some may choose to rename these principles with fancy catch phrases, but to me the beauty of it is that it all goes back to the science, regardless how you try to dress it up : ) No animal trainer or behavior consultant holds "secret" information. The teachings of behavior analysis are there for all of us to discover, share and explore. I hope you will find this page a resource you can come back to again and again.

Barbara Heidenreich

Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Parrot is Afraid of Toys

Positive reinforcement strategies involve focusing on kind and gentle methods to teach your bird that circumstances that were once frightening now result in desired consequences. To better demonstrate how to apply the principles let’s work through an example. Imagine trying to introduce a new toy into the cage of a bird that responds with fear behaviors:

As the conscientious companion parrot owner approaches her bird’s cage with the new toy, she notices her bird quickly moved to the back of the cage away from the approaching toy. Rather than put the toy in the cage, she decides to take a few steps back until her bird shows behavior that indicates comfort. She then gently and slowly places the toy on the floor in her bird’s line of sight. Each day the companion parrot owner gently moves the toy slightly closer to the cage. All the while noticing if her bird responds with any behavior indicative of fear. If she notices fear responses, she moves the toy away from the cage until the bird shows calm behavior. Over time the companion parrot owner has been able to get the toy so close it is right next to the cage. She then gently hangs the toy on the outside of the cage away from food or water bowls. (This is because she does not want her bird to driven away from his resources by fear.)This process is known as systematic desensitization. It is the idea of gradually exposing a subject to fear producing stimuli, arranged from least frightening to most frightening in combination with a relaxed state.

After the companion parrot owner has achieved this success, she then focuses on using positive reinforcement to train her bird to approach the new toy. An easy way to do this is to use a target. If a bird knows how to follow a target, the owner can present the target to her bird in the cage away from the toy. She then gradually moves the target closer and closer to the new toy. Each approximation is reinforced with food or another desired positive reinforcer. If her bird is especially fearful, many small approximations may be required. It also may take several training sessions for her bird to move close enough to the new toy to touch it.

Now that her bird is close to the toy, the companion parrot owner can work on teaching her bird to touch the toy. One strategy to encourage this action is to place treats on the toy. At this stage in the process her bird might be willing to take the treat off of the toy. This can also be further encouraged with more reinforcement offered from her hands after the bait is eaten. After her bird retrieves several treats placed on the toy, it is likely her bird may touch the toy without the need for a treat as a lure. At this point a bridge and reinforcer can be offered after the bird makes the effort to touch the toy. If touching the toy is particularly challenging, a treat can be held in such a way that the bird must accidentally touch the toy to retrieve the treat. If needed, approximations can continue to include touching the toy for longer periods of time or actually manipulating it with the beak.

Paralyzed with fear? Unlikely. Parrots are more prone to seek opportunities to escape or avoid a situation they find frightening. Avoidance is certainly contradictory with the goal of trying to create the best relationship possible with a companion parrot. Focus on showing sensitivity to fear responses and using positive reinforcement to turn a fearful feathered friend into a confident companion.

For more information on training your parrot visit

Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc

Monday, November 10, 2008

Get your Flighted Parrot Back Home Safely

It has been a very busy few months and I have had a hard time getting to the blog. It has been in the back of my head for a long time that I would love to make sure more resources are out there for people with flighted parrots. Too many times I see postings on chat groups in regard to lost birds.

I have posted an article about what to do when a flighted parrot is lost here on this blog, but now it is also available on my website. Here is the link.

It has detailed information on what to do when a parrot flies off and how to retrieve it. Please feel free to share the link with other lists. I hope it will help people get their birds back.

Also I know how panicked people can be when they are searching for a beloved parrot. So I have also prepared some free "Lost Bird Flyers" I don't have all species represented yet, but if you have a nice picture of your bird you would like to share we can make one and post it for others to use.

The flyer is designed so that all you have to do is enter your contact info and details on where you last saw the bird. You can add other items too if you want. But the basic template is there for you.

I recommend downloading the flyer, adding details and printing some to keep on hand. That way if you do ever end up on a search for your bird, no time is wasted making flyers. They are ready to go. Here is the link for the flyers.

I hope you will find these useful. Please feel free to cross post.
Photo: Scarlet Macaw provided by Chris Biro.
Photo taken by Barbara Heidenriech

Barbara Heidenreich

Parrot Podcast at
Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Listen to the New Parrot Podcast! It's Free

Enrichment Specialist Robin Shewokis and I have been doing a weekly podcast on Pet Life Radio. And we are pleased to hear the response has been great! Even better news is that anyone can listen to the podcast for free. If you listen via itunes you can subscribe and never miss an episode.(just click on the itunes icon under the episode title) We have a ton more topics scheduled to air in upcoming weeks. Here is the list of episodes available now. Click on the titles for links to each. Hope you enjoy them!

Meet Sid Price of Avian Ambassadors

Sid Price is a professional bird trainer, President Elect of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators and a regular contributor to online training discussions in the companion parrot community. He and Barbara chat about some of the hot topics in parrot training.

Let’s Talk Wild Amazons with Michael Schindlinger

In this week’s episode Robin interviews bioacoustic researcher, Michael Schindlinger. Michael is probably best known for his field work with wild Amazons in the creation of the film Stalking the Wild Amazons. Robin and Michael discuss his findings and how they relate to caring for your companion parrot. Michael also shares an exciting ecotourism project that is helping parrots in the wild.

Australian Aviculture and the Next Generation

Vice President of the Parrot Society of Australia, Shane Hancock gives insights into the differences between aviculture in the United States and Australia. He also shares his efforts to get kids excited about birds via the very innovative “Fledglings” program.

Conservation of Spix Macaws through Training

Australian bird trainer Nicholas Bishop shares his love of birds and his ground breaking adventure training the highly endangered Spix Macaw for a medical procedure at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation.

Finding Reinforcers & Creative Forms of Enrichment

So much to talk about…so little time! In this week’s episode Barbara and Robin discuss reinforcers for training and offer numerous suggestions for creating a vast menu of options for your parrot.


Meet Einstein! A very articulate parrot who lives in Texas. To clarify….. this is not the Einstein featured on Animal Planet’s Pet Star, but she can give that one a run for her money. This chatty parrot runs through her vocabulary, including phrases such as “What does E=?” “Look at the grackle” and “Who let the dogs out? Who?” Barbara also interviews Einstein’s caregivers Marcia and Jeff to find out how they came to have such a special parrot in their home.

Feather Destructive Behavior... Possible Causes and Cures.

In this week’s episode Barbara and Robin tackle a widespread issue in the companion parrot community, Feather Destructive Behavior. They review some of the many causes and make suggestions for alleviating this very common behavior.

Screaming for Attention

In this week’s episode Barbara and Robin discuss the often lamented challenge of the screaming parrot. Training and enrichment strategies that address this behavior are reviewed.

A Visit to the Avian Veterinarian

In this week's episode Barbara and Robin discuss choosing an avian vet and ways to build a relationship with that avian professional that will most benefit you and your companion bird. Some training techniques for preparing for the visit are also discussed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

When a Flighted Parrot Escapes

My blue fronted Amazon parrot, Tarah, does not have clipped wings. However like many birds that were clipped during the fledging process, he has never quite learned the kind of flight skills that might earn him the title of a “flyer”. I often said “He’s has his flight feathers, but he doesn’t fly.” One day I learned, the hard way, that this wasn’t exactly true.

I was visiting my parrots as I was moving from southern California to northern California. When I arrived I brought Tarah in his cage to my old bedroom. I opened the door to the cage to allow my bird some much needed free time. Before I knew it, he bolted off his cage, through the bedroom door, took a right and made his way down the hall. He then banked left and flew through the living room. At that very moment my father was just opening the sliding glass door to step out onto the deck. Guess who went through the door too? The deck was on the second floor, so my bird had two stories of lift to assist him on his grand flight down the fairway of the golf course behind the house. Thank goodness he was a green flying brick. He ran out of gas and slowly descended to the soft green grass before a tree offered its branches as refuge. Juiced by adrenalin, my feet barely touched the ground as I ran after my bird.

I have always been very careful about the choices I make having a flighted bird in the house. But I was very surprised by the amazing flight my bird made on that day. Sometimes birds that we think will never fly do indeed fly. Sometimes birds that have flight feathers trimmed surprise us when feathers return. Sometimes experienced flyers get frightened or find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Whatever the situation, there are some strategies that can be very useful to recovering a bird that has flown to a location undesired by you. The following information is provided to prepare you for that day when your bird may find itself airborne and heading in the wrong direction. These strategies apply if you bird has no flight skills or is a world class flying athlete.

Bird is flying away

  • Call to your bird loudly as he is flying- it may help him find his way back to you.
  • As your bird is flying, do not take your eyes off of him. Note the last place you saw him, the level of his flight, how tired he looked. He may have landed in that area. (Radio or phone contact for a group of people searching can be very helpful in this situation. Grab your cell phone!)

Searching for your bird

  • If you have a group of people, spread out and circle the area you last saw him.
  • If you cannot locate him, call to him. He may call back. Say words or sounds he knows or mimics. Most parrots are located by their screams.
  • If he has another bird he likes, put that bird in a cage and bring it to the area you last saw him. Walk away from the bird in the cage. It might encourage the bird in the cage to scream. This may inspire the lost bird to scream. Keep talking to a minimum so you can listen for the scream.
  • Look carefully in a limited area (within 1 mile) in the early stages of your search. Parrots usually do not go far unless, blown by the wind, chased by a bird of prey or extremely frightened.
  • Keep in mind your parrot may see you before you see him. When this happens, parrots are sometimes very quiet. This may be because the parrot is more comfortable now that you are present.
  • Despite some parrots bright colors, they can be very difficult to see in trees. Look for movement buried in the trees as opposed to your whole bird perched prominently on the tree.
You have located the bird, but he is out of reach

  • Once you find you bird, relax (unless the bird is in immediate danger.) It is better to let the bird sit where he is (if he is inaccessible) while you work out a strategy. Do not frantically try to grab the bird, hose or scare him down.
  • If the bird has just landed. He will probably not fly again (if at all) for awhile.
  • Bring the bird’s favorite person and/or favorite bird friend (in a cage) to the area where your bird is located.
  • Bring favorite food items, familiar food bowls and the bird’s cage if possible.
  • Be careful not to ask your bird to fly from a great height or a steep angle. Try to position yourself (or bird buddy, or bird cage) to allow short flights or short climbs to lower places.
  • Try to lure your bird to fly or climb to branches/objects that are similar to those upon which he is sitting if possible. A bird may be too frightened to climb onto a distinctly different perch. (For example, the bird might be afraid to climb off of a tree onto a fence.) If you have no other option, expect the process to be slower and be patient with your bird as he builds his confidence. He may also fly again if he touches the new perch and is frightened by it.
  • Do not raise unfamiliar objects up to your bird to have him step onto it. More than likely this will only scare your bird to fly farther away. If you have a familiar item, you may have a chance that the bird will step onto it. Keep in mind things like ladders, people climbing trees, cherry pickers etc. may also scare your bird. Go extremely slowly if you resort to using these items. Stop any action if your bird looks like he wants to fly away.
  • Try to call your bird down when his body language indicates he is ready to try to come down. Do not constantly call.
  • Try hiding from your bird on occasion. This will create a level of anxiety in your bird which may cause him to try to come to you once you reappear. Usually birds will scream and or start moving around a lot when they are ready to make an effort to return to you. If you notice this activity, come out from hiding.
  • If you hear your bird screaming while you are hiding, he may be ready to fly or is already in the air. Come out of hiding right away. Most parrots scream when they are flying in this type of situation.
  • Birds also often relieve themselves and also scream right before they fly. Be alert for this. You may need to see where your bird flys. Be ready to run if necessary.
  • Avoid having a crowd of people around the bird’s favorite person. A scared bird may not want to fly into a crowd of strangers. Give the bird’s favorite person lots of room.

The sun is setting and your bird is still out.

  • Parrots will usually fly again shortly before the sun starts to set. This is probably your last opportunity to get your bird back before he will begin to roost for the night. Take advantage of it. You can try to get the bird “pumped” up by yelling and creating a level of excitement. This may encourage one last flight.
  • As the sun starts to set, your bird will start to fluff his feathers and get ready to roost for the night. At this point it is best to just allow him to go to sleep. Keep an eye on him until the sun has set completely. Remember his exact location.
  • Before the sun rises the next day, return to that location. Your bird should still be there, unless he was frightened in the night (owls can cause this).
  • Usually by 8:30 or 9:00 AM your bird will be ready to fly again or make an attempt to get to you. Repeat the steps described in the section “You have located your bird, but he is out of reach”.

Your bird has flown off and after 24 hours of searching he has not been spotted.

  • Contact the following people and let them know you are looking for your bird. If a person finds your bird they may contact one of these organizations.
    • Call animal control
    • Call the SPCA/humane society
    • Call local veterinarians
    • Call local zoos
    • Call local pet shops
    • Call local police
  • Place an ad in the classified section of the paper for a “lost” bird.
    • Note: Don’t give out the bird’s band number. If your bird accidentally falls into the wrong hands this could lead to removal of the band.
  • Check the classified section of the paper for “found” bird. Answer all ads. People are sometimes unaware of what they have found. A Congo African grey may be mistaken for the mythical red tailed pigeon by a helpful stranger who is unfamiliar with parrots.
  • Post flyers that state “lost bird” in the areas you last saw your bird. You may also wish to offer a reward as incentive for people to call.
  • Often times a bird is found within 24 hours of his disappearance. The trick is to find the person who found your bird before you.

Do not give up

The key to getting a bird back is perseverance. Do not accept that you will not get the bird back once you have lost sight of him or her. As a professional bird trainer that free flys many types of birds on a regular basis, I can attest that parrots are often the easiest type of bird to locate and recover. Trust me - nothing is more frustrating than searching for the silent, but observant owl who has buried himself in the bushes and has watched you walk by 100 times! Thankfully our parrots often seek out human or bird companionship if and when they have a big flight adventure.

Copyright 2005 © Good Bird Inc. First appeared in Good Bird Magazine Volume1 Issue1 Spring 2005. Cannot be reprinted without permission.

For more information on training visit

Monday, August 18, 2008

Five Easy Tips for Solving Parrot Behavior Problems

Solving Behavior Problems: Help! My bird is driving me crazy!

Parrots can provide us with great joy in our lives. However, at times their behavior seems completely inappropriate for the home. Sometimes these unwanted behaviors can lead to desperate efforts to find a new home for a beloved parrot. While some unwanted behavior may be too difficult to modify without help, many behaviors can be addressed by applying the following simple principles.

1. Learn how to read and interpret your bird’s body language:
This is how your bird communicates to you. Notice how your bird holds his feathers, how his eyes appear, what he is doing with his mouth, etc. during different times of the day. Decide by what you see if your bird is comfortable, relaxed, showing a fear response, or aggressive behavior, etc. Try to remember what body postures go with what "state of mind". Use this information when you interact with your bird. Try to avoid doing things that cause your bird to display behavior that indicates he is scared, nervous or aggressive. Focus on interactions that seem to promote a relaxed and comfy bird. For example, if you try to pick up your bird and his body language shows that he might bite, respect what he just told you with his body language and try again later. You can also try to persuade your bird to look forward to stepping up by using a treat or reward.

2. Find a treat that works:
Having a food treat that your bird really likes to use to reward good behavior is an excellent tool for modifying behavior. The treat is your way of communicating to your bird that what he just did was “good”. An easy way to identify a good treat for your bird is to feed your bird his normal diet in the morning. Notice what food item your bird eats first. That is probably his favorite food. Take that item out of the regular morning feeding and use it to reward your bird for good behavior throughout the day. Many parrots also enjoy sunflower seeds, peanuts, nuts, grapes, etc. Make sure to break big items into smaller pieces for more opportunities to reward your bird and to help avoid feeding your bird too many treats.

3. Don’t make your bird do anything he doesn’t want to do:
This may seem like common sense, but it is often easily overlooked. Reading your bird’s body language is very important when trying to do this. Recognize when your bird is telling you “no” with his body language. Instead of continuing to force the issue, try to find a way to get your bird to do what you want using positive methods, like using treats and rewards for steps in the right direction. This will help build a positive and trusting relationship between you and your bird.

4. Ignore undesired behavior, reward desired behavior:
It is easy to react to undesired behavior when we see it. However, this isn’t always an effective way to modify that behavior. For example, if your parrot screams for attention, walking over to his cage to yell at him can actually be the attention your bird was looking for. This can teach your bird to scream to get you to come over to his cage. If instead you wait until the bird stops screaming, or does something else, and then go over to your bird, you will teach him “quiet” or other behaviors will get the desired attention.

5. Teach your bird to do what you want by rewarding little steps of progress towards the desired behavior:
It may take longer to teach your bird to do something using positive methods, but in the long run both you and your bird will be happier. Instead of forcing your bird to do whatever you would like him to do, break the behavior down into little steps in your mind. After your bird performs each step, give him a treat. Eventually you can get to the desired behavior and the entire process will have been positive and fun for your bird. For example you can teach your bird to step up by rewarding him for taking a step towards your hand, for lifting a foot, for putting a foot on your hand, for putting both feet on your hand, for allowing you to move your hand and so on. By doing this, you can create a bird that looks forward to doing what you ask him to do.

Applying these basic principles can help shape your birds behavior. This can lead to a long, happy and harmonious relationship with your bird. Give it a try!

Want more information on solving behavior problems? Try the book “Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots” or “The Parrot Problem Solver. Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behavior” or the new DVD "Understanding Parrot Body Language" by Barbara Heidenreich. Visit to order.
Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Submit your Parrot Training Success Story

(Photo: Barbara with Hair by Hahn's...Hahn's macaws that is. Taken at the Williamson's Aviary in Australia 2008)

Not my usual type of blog, but I do very much like letting the world know that positive reinforcement training is easy to do and that people are having success working with their birds at home. If you have a success story you would like to share, let me know! Your story can be published in Good Bird Magazine and be read by subscribers around the world. Here are the submission guidelines.

Inspire others by sharing your experiences with positive reinforcement training.

Please include the following:

The Back Story: Describe some history on your bird and any problems you were trying to address.
What You Did: Describe what strategies you used to solve the problems.
The Results: Describe what the situation is like now.
Recommendations: Provide a few tips you think were important to your success.

Please use the following guidelines for your submission:
Length: 1500 -2000 words is preferred
File Type: Microsoft word documents are preferred
Font preferences: Times New Roman, 12 point font size
Titles and Headers: Bold may be used for headers or titles (please avoid underlining, italics or using all capitol letters)
Single space, no tabs or indentations for beginning of paragraphs
One space in between paragraphs
Please do not number pages
Photos that are 300 dpi at 5 inch by 7 inch size are appreciated
Description of photo content is also appreciated
Avoid the use of abbreviations and symbols such CAG, DYA, LOL, FYI, BTW, &, +, etc. Please spell entire word(s).

Please be sure to include the following in your document:
Date of submission
Title of article
Author’s name
Contact information for author (mailing address, phone number and email address)
Photographer’s name if different from author

Submit your article and photos to Electronic submissions are preferred. For mailed items please send materials to the following address:

Good Bird Inc
PO Box 150604
Austin, TX 78715 USA

Good Bird Inc retains the right to edit your story for content, length and accuracy. Copy rights are non exclusive. Stories may be reprinted by the author. A by line indicating story first appeared in Good Bird Magazine with Volume number Issue number and a link to is requested for reprints.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Warning! Bogus Blogs Target Parrot Owners

A while back I wrote a bit of an expose in my blog about what has been transpiring in the parrot industry. It is no secret that internet marketers are teaching money hungry entrepreneurs to grab onto a niche market and sell “information.” Needless to say the parrot community is one of the more recent victims of these practices. The evidence is all over the internet. New sites are popping up every day and the tactics get sneakier and sneakier. One that really seems to have exploded is what I call the “bogus blog”

What you usually see is a blog that is presented as someone’s personal journal through parrot owning. When you dig a bit deeper you see the post is not really their personal story, but appears to be a reposting of something you may have read elsewhere. It seems like perhaps their content might have been provided by someone else…perhaps an internet marketer’s stock supply of articles? Maybe? Often when you click on their profile for more information, under “occupation” or “areas of interest” they even boldly say “internet marketing” Usually these folks are affiliates for the main company selling the parrot training information, toys, or other products. At some point in their blog readers will be directed towards the bloggers “new favorite product.” Ah, the real reason for the blog is revealed! I have no problem with affiliates. I have no problem with people selling stuff. I do have a problem with someone misrepresenting themselves as an innocent consumer with no hidden agenda. I think they should admit that they are on the payroll.

Another new trend is inserting words into a blog that are often searched on the internet like “Viagra” or “insurance.” The words have nothing to do with the subject of the blog. At the end of the blog is the link to the parrot website. I don’t usually like to give links to these examples so as not to give those sites more traffic. But this one is the perfect example of many of the problems. First it starts with a bogus blog with the non related words inserted. Then it sends you to a parrot site that is laden with ads, including a youtube clip from avian veterinarian Ellen Cook that they do not have rights to post on their site. It also includes articles from some of the people most notorious for aiming to make a buck via massive internet marketing.

In some ways these sites are a blessing. The more “hard sell” sites that crop up, perhaps the more people will be questioning the purpose of these many parrot related sites. Are they there to rip off the innocent consumer or are they legitimate sellers with solid information and the credentials to back it up. Perhaps the consumer will be forced to be a more cautious shopper. I hope so …….for the sake of their birds.

On a positive note there are some fabulous legitimate blogs out there. I love hearing about Melanie and Stewie, Sid Price offers good solid free advice…no strings attached, as does Raz.
Patricia Sund also has a new blog that showcases her adventures in the parrot world. These sites are based in the science of behavior analysis, written by people with no hidden agendas who truly love parrots and training. And while they are often kind enough to mention Good Bird Inc, they are not on the payroll :) Visit them for great information.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Einstein the Talking Texan Parrot

I thought I would post a short note on a new parrot friend of mine named Einstein. She is featured on one of our recent podcasts (Visit Wings n' Things at

Einstein is not the same one that appeared on Pet Star, but she has a pretty extensive vocabulary. You get a sample of her skills on the podcast. Check her out and also the article on her in the latest issue of Good Bird Magazine

You can also visit her website at

Photo courtesy of

When Good Parrot Behavior Breaks Down

At a recent zoo consultation I found myself in a bit of a pickle. A department I have been working with for a number of years had experienced a great deal of turn over due to things like births of new babies, health issues, etc. This left them a bit short handed. They also moved their entire group of animals to another part of the zoo. This meant lots of work for the staff and little time.

The end result was much of the good work we had done training dozens of animals was starting to break down. Attaining a training goal doesn’t mean it will stick permanently. We still need to continue to reinforce desired behavior in order for it to be maintained. On the flip side if a behavior breaks down it also is not lost forever.

What needs to happens next is refresher course in the importance of committing to a positive reinforcement approach to every interaction with an animal. This commitment needs to happen with every person that works with the animals because one person’s poor training can affect everyone’s relationship with the animals.

For example some chickens that were very well trained to enter a kennel, were starting to choose to move away from people when they approached. This was the opposite behavior from what had been trained. What happened? It was discovered that when the chickens are a little slow to go into their nighttime holding enclosure they were being shooed inside (negative reinforcement.) by some individuals. To get back on track caregivers may need to ask for smaller approximations they can positively reinforce to get the chickens moving towards a target, kennel, enclosure or person. They may also want to try to retrain the behavior throughout the day when there is not an immediate pressure for the birds to shift. The good news is usually a behavior can get back on track in just a few sessions or less.

So how does this relate to your parrots in your home? Well, I can think of a number of times I have been in a household and watched behavior breakdown because not everyone in the house was using the same approach to influence behavior. For example I can think of a screaming cockatoo that was never reinforced for screaming by the mom in the home, but occasionally reinforced by her teenage son who would run to retrieve the bird when the parrot screamed. This intermittent schedule of reinforcement kept that behavior strong!

Or how about the cockatiel that never once was forced to step onto the hand until a new baby entered the household? An innocent grab towards the bird by the child caused the parents to occasionally push into the bird’s chest and scoop him up for his own safety. Next thing they know their sweet angel of a bird is beginning to bite at fingers to protest the coercion he had never known before.

Keep in mind that very rarely do we need to resort to coercion to get behavior. Positive reinforcement creates quick, reliable, repeatable behavior. And often behaviors trained with positive reinforcement can be learned in one or two sessions. Try to arrange situations so that your parrot can easily achieve the desired behavior and then challenge yourself to positively reinforce every time your bird does what you want. It is not just about training sessions. It is about every time you interact with your companion parrot. Practice this and you will find your parrot’s good behavior can become very strong and resistant to breaking down.
Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Parrot Training and Handling Guidelines

Susan Friedman, PhD and I developed these guidelines to use when involved in a training session with your bird. We have been fortunate to teach a number of workshops with hundreds of parrots and have apllied these strategies with good success. We hope you will find them useful.

Parrot Handling and Training Guidelines
Prepared by
Barbara Heidenreich
and S.G. Friedman, PhD

Make it your goal to create an environment in which a parrot appears relaxed and comfortable at all times. This can only be inferred from the parrot’s body language, specifically the behavior of feathers, eyes, head, wings, body, legs and feet.

Approach unfamiliar parrots slowly, calmly and quietly to avoid creating any signs of anxiety, fear responses or aggressive behavior.

If a parrot presents any signs of anxiety, fear, or aggressive behavior discontinue the actions creating this response, including lowering hands or stepping away from the parrot.

If a parrot presents aggressive behavior, immediately discontinue actions creating this response.

Keep your attention and your eyes focused on the parrot.

Avoid engaging in conversations with people around you when committed to an interaction with a parrot.

If you need to direct your attention away from the parrot for more than a few seconds put it back in the enclosure or carrier if that is a place where the parrot is relaxed.

Be aware of where you place or hold food in the presence of a parrot, as this can cause anxiety.

Be aware of how every action you do influences the parrot’s behavior and adjust your behavior moment by moment to maintain a calm bird.

Be aware of moving objects and how that may influence parrot behavior.

Move crate, carriers, cages that contain parrots with extreme care to minimize jostling or bumping the bird.

Prior to removing a flighted parrot from an enclosure or carrier, evaluate surroundings for safety and address any potential safety issues (cover large mirrors, shut doors, pull down shades, etc.).

If a parrot launches into flight, offer the parrot your steady, firm hand as a place to land.

Be aware of the parrot’s body and its proximity to surrounding objects. Avoid hitting tails, wings, and head on anything. This may require careful placement of the perch or hand where parrot is positioned.

Avoid creating a high level of arousal/excitement (e.g. bobbing or crest raising) by talking loudly or using other animated actions. This can sometimes contribute to the presentation of aggressive behavior.

While another person is working with a parrot, quietly observe as unobtrusively as possible to minimize distractions for both the parrot and the primary handler.

© Copyright 2007 Barbara Heidenreich and S.G. Friedman, PhD

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Parrot Podcast on Pet Life Radio

Robin Shewokis enrichment guru and owner of The Leather Elves ( and I are now hosting a pod cast. The first show was recently posted on We are the new hosts of a show formerly presented by Susan Chamberlain called "Wings 'n Things" The current show description will soon be changed to reflect the new direction we are taking things.

The show will be a bit more focused on behavior, training and enrichment. However we anticipate we will cover more topics, especially when we get to interview some of the many inspiring people we have met traveling for speaking engagements. To listen go to and click on Wings N Things.

Please feel free to spread the word, cross post and also drop me a line if you have a suggestion for a show topic.


Barbara Heidenreich

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stop your Parrot from Screaming for Attention

This article was published in Good Bird Magazine in spring of 2006.This is a great place to start to get an understanding of how to address this common behavior problem. If you want a more in depth look at this problem, I also offer a recorded version of  one of my webinars Addressing Screaming for Attention in Companion Parrots. To purchase a recorded version of for $19.95 visit this link . To see if I have any live webinars coming up, visit my calendar page. In any case, dont give up! This is a very fixable problem.

Wow. That Bird Sure Can Scream!
By Barbara Heidenreich
“Screaming. Somebody reinforced the heck out of that behavior.” I said to myself. Misty, a double yellow headed Amazon parrot, lived with me for only a few weeks. She was there so that I could put some of her vocal behaviors on cue. However it quickly became apparent she had a few other behaviors that needed to be addressed first. Before her stay with me she resided with Jill Bell for six years. Prior to that time her history is pretty fuzzy. She is estimated to be 19 years old. This meant screaming could have been reinforced for at least 13 years. It must have been, because it was STRONG. Misty was relentless. I’d leave the room; she’d scream and scream and scream.

She had been a good reminder of what companion parrot owners experience when faced with a very annoying and challenging problem. It can be very frustrating. Oddly enough, when I walk into someone else’s home and hear screaming birds I am usually not effected. But when a bird is screaming specifically, in what feels like a demanding way, to get my attention, it strikes a nerve. How does one find the patience to be a good trainer in those situations? It is not easy, but definitely necessary.

My mantra with Misty was “I am solving the problem. Getting angry or letting that knot in my gut sway my strategy will not give me the desired results. I am confident what I am doing will work. It has worked before with other birds I have trained. Hang in there!”

And it is true, my blue fronted Amazon parrot Tarah also learned to scream for attention. Completely through my own ignorance I reinforced screaming. I acquired Tarah, as many people do, when he was offered to me for free. At the time I was working in a veterinary hospital. One of my co-workers also worked part time in a pet store. Someone had walked in off of the street and sold her the bird for $100. Was the bird stolen, smuggled or desperately unwanted? I don’t know. My co-worker found she was overwhelmed with too many animals in her home and asked if I would be interested in watching the bird for awhile. (That “while” has turned in 18 years.)

Once in my apartment I was thrilled when Tarah offered a “hello” at the sight of me snacking on a piece of bread. However the enchantment wore off as Tarah began to scream anytime I was out of sight. Unaware of how to stop this undesired behavior, I did as many do, I ran back into the room each time Tarah screamed and told him to “Be quiet.” Did it work to stop the screaming? No, and at the same time I found I very much disliked my attempts at punishing reactions to the undesired behavior. I so enjoy having animals respond positively to my presence and did not want to become an unpleasant experience in my bird’s life in order to stop the screaming behavior.

While in the middle of dealing with this problem, I was introduced to the book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor. (Also known as the bible of animal trainers) As I read the book, I latched onto two important principles that could help me address the screaming problem. Extinction and differential reinforcement. Extinction is described as the process of discontinuing reinforcing a behavior that has been previously reinforced. In other words part of my strategy should include discontinuing offering reinforcement for screaming. This meant I should no longer run back into the room, or yell at Tarah. The book did not describe the exact situation I was experiencing with my bird. Rather it described the principles and how to apply them to a variety of examples, human and animal. In reading the words, I made the connection that the concepts could apply to any behavior I no longer wanted to continue. Paired with the principle of extinction was the strategy of differential reinforcement of an alternate behavior. In other words, if screaming would no longer work to get a response from me, what would? For Tarah this turned out to be a whistle. In the middle of a session of screaming and me doing my best to ignore this undesired behavior, Tarah offered a “whistle”. I immediately reinforced this by responding with the word “good”. Tarah replied with a scream. This was because at this point he only had one repetition of whistling being positively reinforced and entire of year of screaming being reinforced. However I remained consistent with my strategies and within two weeks time Tarah learned to whistle instead of scream when he wanted a response from me. 17 years later Tarah whistles when he wants to know where I am, when he desires a toy or treat, when I come home, and when he simply seems to be “happy”. The undesired screaming behavior was extinguished and replaced with a whistling sound.

Misty seemed to throw a kink in our now peaceful, well behaved and relatively quiet household. I “knew” from my past experience that I could repeat the process I had implemented with Tarah. However this time proved to be a bit more challenging. Because I was working out of the home at the time, it meant no breaks from dealing with the behavior problem. Every time I left the room I was challenged with having to be focused on training this bird. I was finding this to be very demanding. In addition there were times in the day when mentally I was just not prepared to train. Rather than feeling inspired to train and ready to resolve the behavior problem, I found myself dreading having to leave a room and work with Misty. I decided I needed to better set myself up for success. In getting to know Misty, who other than the screaming behavior, I found to be a delight, I learned that in the past she was accustomed to being covered at night. I took advantage of this and decided to leave Misty covered during the time in the morning I needed to shower and prepare breakfast and bird diets in the kitchen. This allowed me time to peacefully attend to necessary tasks in the morning. After this, I found I was less stressed and more prepared to begin a training session with Misty.

Throughout the day I would treat each time I left the room for whatever reason as a learning opportunity for Misty. I practiced my strategy of extinguishing screaming by not responding to it, followed by reinforcing a desired behavior. In Misty’s case the desired behavior was not a specific sound. Instead I chose to reinforce silence. My plan was to reinforce small increments of time of silence and gradually increase the duration Misty was silent before I would reinforce her with my presence or attention. If I was in the kitchen I would wait just outside of her view while she screamed. At first if she offered a pause in screaming that seemed the slightest second longer than what she had presented in between screams in the past, I would quickly appear and offer generous amounts of attention. I wanted quiet to receive a greater amount of positive reinforcement than screaming if I could. Overtime I gradually increased the amount of time she remained quiet before I would respond. And it worked!

However this was not without challenges. There were times throughout the day when a training session was not convenient for me when I needed to leave the room. Rather than cover Misty I opted for engaging her in other acceptable activity. For example, I often offered Misty a small cardboard box, a rolled up ball of newspaper, a new toy, or a portion of her diet just prior to leaving the room. This gave Misty another activity to focus on instead of screaming. But it also was not an opportunity for Misty to learn that screaming would not gain my attention and quiet would. It was still important to include training sessions throughout the day. The other activity was meant only to offer a break from training for me. This may have also lengthened the amount of time it took overall to teach Misty that screaming no longer would work.

Another challenge in training Misty was that Tarah was in the same room as Misty. Tarah would whistle at times when I left the room. While I wanted to respond to his whistle, I did not want to also then accidentally reinforce Misty’s screaming. My strategy had to be to only reinforce Tarah’s whistle if Misty was not screaming. If I was focused on the training session, I also found I could position myself so that Tarah could see me, but Misty could not. This allowed me to reinforce Tarah’s “good” behavior and wait for Misty to offer silence before responding to her.

Misty’s screaming also appeared to stimulate an occasional screaming behavior in Tarah as well. Fortunately because he had a strong reinforcement history for a whistle, I simply waited for him to offer a whistle before I would respond. Tarah quickly returned to offering a whistle and once again extinguished screaming.

Misty also would on occasion scream for my attention while I was in the room. When this occurred, I simply left the room. Again my thought process was to teach her that screaming now created the opposite response. Instead of people coming to her, people go away. It was also important to reinforce her with attention at times for being quiet while I was in the room as well.

Overall training misty to present silence to gain my attention took about 6 weeks to train. Obviously this was longer than it took to change Tarah's behavior. This could have been a result of the strength of the behavior in each bird based on their individual positive reinforcement histories. It could have also been a result of the fewer training sessions applied to Misty during the given amount of time. It could also be a factor of the birds as individual learners. In any case the end result was a bird that successfully learned to present desired behavior for attention as opposed to the undesired behavior of screaming.

I went through the emotional gamut that many companion parrot owners face when addressing screaming problems. However by focusing on good training strategy and allowing myself opportunities to relieve myself of the stress associated with addressing the problem I was able to attain my desired training goal. Screaming for attention is a behavior problem with a solution. Set yourself up for success and invest the time to train the desired behavior. The end result can be a lifetime of good behavior.

Tips to address screaming for attention
  • Extinguish screaming.
  • Reinforce any other behavior besides screaming.
  • Remember the extinction burst is a good sign! The end might be insight. Change your feeling from frustrated to hopeful when your bird really goes for it.
  • If you need to leave the room, but can’t focus on training, offer another positively reinforcing activity prior to leaving the room. This may buy you a short window of time to move freely between rooms without screaming behavior. However you will still need to include training sessions at some point.
  • Get some earplugs to help you cope with the screaming during the extinction burst.
  • Plan to wait in the other room. Prepare in advance a quiet activity you can do when trying to deal with a screaming session.
  • Leave the room immediately when your bird screams for your attention.
  • Manage your activities to help set yourself up for success. For example keep the lights off or your bird covered for a few extra minutes in the morning until you are prepared to deal with the screaming with good training strategies.
  • Get support. If neighbors are having a problem with your screaming parrot, explain to your neighbors that you are working on training your bird not to scream.
  • Count seconds in intervals of silence and increase if possible.
  • Focus on fixing the problem instead of your frustration.
  • Believe you will get there. This strategy does work.
  • Keep notes if necessary to determine how and when this behavior maybe getting reinforced. Eliminate any reinforcement of screaming.
  • Offer even more reinforcement for the desired behavior than the undesired behavior would normally receive in the past.
© Copyright 2006. First appeared in the Volume 2 Issue 1 Spring 2006 Good Bird™ Magazine. For permission to reprint contact

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jackpots and Parrot Training

Jackpots are really a “trainer” thing. I define them as bigger or more preferred reinforcers presented after an approximation that might be particularly challenging for the bird to achieve. I also use them when an approximation is presented that is a bit closer to the final desired goal. In theory my hope is that the parrot will learn that the approximation that earned the jackpot is worth repeating. I see them particularly useful as a tool to keep behavioral momentum going and also to get past hurdles in training.

However, I am also careful not to jackpot too often. This is because a parrot may find it frustrating or perhaps even punishing to receive lots of great treats and then suddenly the good stuff disappears when you go back to the normally received reinforcer. I also don’t want the reinforcer to be so distracting that the parrot forgets what was happening in the training session.

Here is the really interesting thing. At this point there is no scientific data that supports “jackpotting” as a tool to facilitate training. In fact some think jackpots do more for the trainer than the animal. They just may be a superstitious trainer thing. It makes us feel good to offer a better reinforcer when the parrot has done well.

The good news is there are a few researchers working on experiments to test jackpotting. I am anxious to hear the results. I too am learning and perhaps I will soon learn that jackpots were really just reinforcers for me! We’ll soon see.

Copyright Good Bird Inc 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys

I have been inspired by a question posted to my yahoo group. The question was asked how do you get a parrot used to a new toy? I think that is a marvelous question. All too often we assume because it is a toy, our parrots should automatically be eagerly interacting with it. In general parrots tend to show hesitancy around new items or situations. As positive reinforcement enthusiasts, most of us know that we can train our birds to be calm and confident with change. But it does take some investment on our part. Not a financial investment, but a commitment to teaching your bird via positive reinforcement training strategies. But if in this moment your bird has clearly demonstrated new toys create a fear response, what can you do?

I usually start with systematic desensitization. This means I place the toy a distance away from the parrot. I also make sure the bird is presenting calm relaxed body language. I then leave the toy there for a period of time, maybe even days. Over time I gradually place the toy closer and closer to the cage. Again making sure the parrot is relaxed and comfortable. Eventually I may hang the toy on the outside of the cage, but near the bottom of the cage. I can gradually move it higher. When the parrot is ready, I can try moving the toy to inside the cage. I usually put it away from food and water bowls and preferred perches. This is because if the bird has any concerns with the toy that I failed to notice, it will not be a hindrance to his physical needs and comfort.

Once the parrot is comfortable with the toy in his cage, now I can consider some of my other positive reinforcement tools of the trade. I can use a target to help encourage the parrot to move closer to the toy. I could pair positive reinforcers with the toy, by placing them near or on the toy. I could also “free shape” the behavior.

To free shape, rather than use a target or a food prompt, I would just wait until the bird presents an approximation I can reinforce. For example if the bird looks at the toy I can reinforce that. After several repetitions the bird may move in the direction he has been looking. I can reinforce that. Eventually the parrot may move closer, and over time try to touch the toy. This is all shaped by looking for the slightest approximation towards the desired goal behavior of interacting with the toy.

I recently used this strategy to help my puppy get past a fear response he had with a new vacuum cleaner. First I reinforced him for looking at the vacuum from far away and then reinforced him for approximations he took moving closer to the thing. He then sniffed it and eventually touched it with his nose and paws, and even moved it. The entire process took about twenty minutes. I have promised my yahoo group I would get the video clip on my You Tube site. I will notify everyone once it is up!

Hope this gives readers some ideas for ways to get your parrots playing!

Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Parrot Training Marketing Secrets Revealed

Today I must admit, I find myself very saddened by some of the things I am seeing on the internet. My colleague Sid Price expressed the same concerns in his recent blog. There is a current trend in email marketing that while apparently not illegal sure seems to border on the unethical side.

I found a site that featured a super cool you tube video clip on a web page of a talking parrot. Under the video the people who own the site listed all the things the bird could do, which are really very, very impressive. However below that were instructions for the reader to buy their training product if you want your bird to learn to do the things showed in the video. Well, I am cool with people selling their product. There are plenty of us with something to offer.

But one thing was a little difficult for me to overlook. The video clip is one of a colleague of mine who works at a zoo. The bird she was training belongs to the zoo. So I asked my colleague…..did you know you and the zoo’s bird were being used to sell this person’s product? I wasn’t surprised to hear she had no idea. Like me it sure rubbed her the wrong way….. and the news was sent to the zoo director. Here is a fabulous very experienced trainer and a bird that has been doing shows for somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 years or more for a very prominent zoo being used without their consent to sell someone else’s product. Bummer. And in this trainer’s opinion…unethical.

I admit I too share videos of other trainers, but as someone who wants my copyrights respected, I am painstakingly careful to make sure those who have generously shared video with me are credited each and every time I present their videos. Those of you who have been to my parrot behavior and training workshops can attest to that.

Of course more emails featuring zoo professionals unwittingly being used to sell someone else’s product followed.

All this makes me wonder …if this training system is so wonderful, why doesn’t it feature birds trained by the seller or clients of the seller? Are these self proclaimed experts not really what they claim to be? If the product is so wonderful I would think providing plenty of examples of the real results of people using the product would be the ideal way to sell the item.

To add insult to injury, on the very same day I read a very old article from Winged Wisdom’s online magazine on reading bird body language. Shortly after that I received a marketing email sharing the “secrets of bird training” that also featured the subject of body language. “I’m game, I’ll read that one.” I thought. Yowza. The email was almost word for word the 10 year old article by the author I had just read. Of course that person could have given permission for the use of her article, but sadly it was presented as new, original teachings of the person selling again secrets to bird training. Again in my opinion very misleading to the public. If someone is professing to be an expert, but in fact is using other’s people writings (with permission or not) and putting them as his or her own ideas it is misrepresentation. It leads me to ask just what are the seller’s credentials if any? I am guessing they are lacking, if they indeed are resorting to using and/or buying other people’s material. Unfortunately how can the general public know the difference?

This misrepresentation of one’s knowledge and experience is easily sucked up by those naïve to the bird training world. And no doubt has been successful for those sellers who use those methods, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. A behavior that is repeated has been reinforced. So indeed money talks in this case.

So what to do, what to do? And is there anything to do? In my opinion there is. My hope is that there are enough of us out there willing to take a bit of stand against these practices. For one if something appears to be lifted, contact the person whose rights were possibly violated. They have the right to know and decide what they would like to do. Secondly I would suggest steering prospective learners in the direction of teachers you trust. It certainly does not need to be me, although I do appreciate the support. But there are a number of really, good, honest, ethical experienced, professional trainers out there and I promote them in Good Bird Magazine and on my website. Use them. Support them. Refer people to them. Buy their products.

And if asked for your opinion of these marketing practices, I hope you will share this story as well as your own experience. I personally don’t feel comfortable standing by and watching good people and colleagues misrepresented in this manner. I hope you feel the same.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Sun Conure Training Success Story

Usually readers of my publication, Good Bird Magazine, are the ones to submit success stories to me. For a change I thought I would share a success story about a parrot named Chile. Chile is a sun conure.

Chile was a bird that had been used in Education Programs for some time. However his reputation was not so great. He was known to make a piercing scream when he desired attention. He bit so hard and so often his handlers had resorted to wearing a leather glove to pick him up. He also was showing an inclination to only interact with one person. And he was doing a kamikaze launch onto the backs of passers by he seemed to dislike. In his case the target was often men. Needless to say the mere mention of his name often caused people to sigh and roll their eyes in exasperation.

But all that has changed. Now staff members talk about Chile with affection. I even heard the words "Chile" and "Superstar" used in the same sentence!

What is responsible for this change? Positive reinforcement training. The first step was to throw away the leather glove. Which in a way is symbolic of throwing away those old training strategies that rely upon coercion and aversives. Our goal was to create a situation that was so fun for Chile there would be no reason for him to bite!

We started with target training. We used a closed fist as a target. Once he mastered targeting, we worked on training him to turn in a circle on cue. This is an easy hands off behavior that helped Chile "learn how to learn."

The next step was a tough one. We really wanted Chile to learn to step up onto a bare hand. It took a bit more time to train. We used tiny approximations of using the target to encourage Chile to move towards the hand and a quick time out when the slightest aggressive behavior was presented. (You can see this exact method in my first DVD. The clip of just the portion on training step up is also available on my website. )

What a day it was though when he finally did it! Next thing you know he was stepping up onto new people, transporting easily in a carrier, and performing his circling behavior for school groups. He later also learned how to do a retrieve.
Now staff members are looking forward to training new behaviors with Chile. His screaming for attention has decreased dramatically. And he has even learned to like a few men.
For me, I am happy to know that Chile's life has changed for the better. Even more rewarding for me is to hear the staff members who work with Chile sharing what they have learned with others. I must admit I beam a bit like a proud mom when one of my "students" becomes the teacher. Congratulations to Chile and his trainers!

Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc

You Tube Parrot Training Video Clips

This is just a small little blog to let people now I have a You Tube Channel. If you are interested in viewing clips of parrots trained to do behaviors, parrots in the process of learning behaviors, parrots just being cute and also other species of animals, check it out. Here is the link

You will see Toby the Meyer's parrot who used to bite his caregiver. With positive reinforcement training he has become a completely different a good way : ) There are some clips on training parrots for medical behaviors, for training parrots for trick behaviors, and more. There is also a news piece on a zoo animal training seminar and also some clips from a Parrot Behavior and Training workshop presented in Sweden last year.

Enjoy! More to come.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Parrots and Punishment

The last blog generated an email response, if I read it correctly, in regard to being careful about teaching the application of punishment with parrots. Let me see if I can elaborate on my previous post a bit.

Some may be familiar with the hierarchy of behavioral procedures. This is essentially the order in which we apply the principles of behavioral analysis to address a behavior....typically this list is quite helpful when trying to change a parrot's problem behavior.

1.Make sure Medical, Nutritional, Physical are met.

2.Antecedents Arrangement - Can you change the situation or environment to increase success?

3.Train what you want with Positive Reinforcement.

4.Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior - reinforce a different behavior that is acceptable.

5.Negative Punishment - there it is....the time out from positive reinforcement.

6.Negative Reinforcement - another method to increase behavior, but usually involves an aversive.

7.Extinction - this is discontinuing to reinforce a behavior that was previously reinforced. This can be quite frustrating for an animal when used by itself.

8.Positive Punishment- waaaay at the bottom of the list. The addition of an aversive experience to decrease behavior.

For me, as this list recommends, positive punishment is a last resort. There is a lot of fallout from using positive punishment that can be very damaging to the relationship between the parrot and caregiver. Susan Friedman's article "The Facts about Punishment" go into this well, as does the book "Coercion and its Fallout" by Murray Sidman.

I think it is good for parrot owners to know what positive punishment is though. And here is why. Too often it is the first place people go to when they are faced with a problem behavior they want to stop. When the list shows us we have 7 other steps to consider before positive punishment. And I can say from experience the process works.

Going back to my Pooping on Cue example. If the problem behavior is "my bird poops on me when on my shoulder" I can change that by going through the steps.

Step 1. Make sure the bird is healthy and not pooping inappropriately due to a medical condition.

Step 2. One way to avoid having the bird poop on me, is to not place him on my shoulder. (antecedent change)

Step 3 I could train the bird to poop on cue for positive reinforcement prior to getting on my shoulder.

Step 4 I could also train him to leave my shoulder to go poop in acceptable areas when he needs to go. This is a different but acceptable behavior I could reinforce.

Step 5. I could immediately remove him from my shoulder when he does poop on me. If he enjoys my companionship this would act a negative punisher (AKA time out from positive reinforcement.)

And in reality I don't need to go to the other steps. By this point I have solved the problem in a whole myriad of ways. I did use punishment, but it was negative punishment. Here is where sometimes feathers get ruffled. I believe we are sensitive to the word "punishment." Keep in mind it is just a principle that means to decrease behavior. What we need to watch for is if the methods suggested involve negative punishment or positive punishment. Therefore I do teach application of negative punishment. However I also teach parrot owners to use steps 1-4 first. I also teach that the time out from positive reinforcement is most effective when paired with reinforcing the desired behavior. And that the time out really need be only a few seconds. This way a parrot learns what works and what doesn't.

Some examples: A parrot screams for attention- the care giver walks away (negative punishment). The exact moment the bird offers something else that is acceptable, the care giver walks to the bird to shower him with attention (positive reinforcement for that behavior.)

A parrot who usually steps to the hand, lunges at it. The hand is withdrawn as is some preferred treats (negative punishment). Seconds later the hand is offered again and the bird steps up. Treats are delivered immediately (positive reinforcement) To me this is much kinder than forcing ones hand on a bird and allow it to bite until it gives in and steps up onto the hand. There is a video clip on my website (from DVD 1 clip #4 on training step up) that shows the application of a time out and pairing it with positive reinforcement to get a lunging parrot to look forward to stepping up. It can be found at this link It is one of my favorites because you can watch the macaw's body language go from lunging so hard he almost knocks the perch over, to pulling my hand in closer so he can hop onto it. It only took two twenty minutes training sessions. And, no, I did not get bit. This was because the bird learned his slightest indication of aggressive behavior resulted in a short time out.

Hope that helps to clarify some questions!


Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Parrot Training and Terminology

Well, it sure has taken me awhile to get on here. And I do apologize. I see there were even a few lovely posts wondering when the heck this thing might start up. Thanks for letting me know that there is some interest.

I could certainly ramble on about various things, but my guess is most people are stopping by to hear about parrot training and behavior! So lets get to it.

I know many who visit are already well versed in the science behind the practical application of animal training. But when I cruise around the internet it is pretty obvious there are many who have yet to discover how helpful it is to wrap ones brain around the terminology. While it is true you can train without knowing the science. I do think it makes a big difference in your overall success and is very important in helping people use the kindest, gentlest methods possible.

I read on another site today that "parrots dont understand punishment" Hmmmmm. Not true : ) Just like any learning creature they sure do understand it.

The site also went on to mention that negative punishment wouldn't work with a parrot it. Again negative punishment works quite well. I think the author made a simple mistake that can be attributed to not knowing what "negative punishment" actually is. In this case I think the author really meant punishment that involved the application of an aversive. (Which by definition is actually positive punishment) But even works too.

It is easy to get the "negative and positive" thing a bit jumbled up as we tend to think of those terms meaning "good" and "bad." It helps to remember they mean to "add" or "subtract" in the science.

To sum up both negative punishment (the removal of something) and positive punishment (the addition of something -usually an aversive) both work to decrease behavior.....yes, even in parrots.

However most good trainers do their very best to avoid using positive punishment. Negative punishment is something that can be used that is effective and also in the realm of kind and gentle. Some of you may know it by its other name "time out from positive reinforcement"

In the Spring 2008 of Good Bird Magazine I wrote an article about Training your Parrot to Poop on Cue. In this article I explain how I used a time out to train my parrot to not poop on me and wait until he returned to his cage. It should be out soon. Once it is ready it will also be available on the website Just go to the digital media page to download.

Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc