Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Quick Training Tips: Using Foraging to Get Good Behavior

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Foraging is often looked at as a fun way to provide enrichment for your parrot. I am all about parrots having fun, but I am also very interested in teaching my parrots to be well behaved. Believe it or not, foraging activities can also be used to help influence your parrot’s behavior for the better. Here are four situations in which foraging activities can be used to help create desired behavior and prevent undesired behavior.

Tip #1 Use foraging to make going back into a cage or enclosure reinforcing:
If you parrot enjoys your company, going back into the cage can be a difficult behavior. Some parrots view spending time with preferred people as highly desirable. To address this, the goal is to make sure fun things happen inside the cage as well as outside. Giving copious amounts of attention inside the cage is usually not realistic. This means we have to offer something else as reinforcement. Foraging toys or activities that are delivered right when your parrot goes back in the cage are a great way to increase the value of going home. This time consuming activity also helps keep your bird focused on foraging instead of wondering where his favorite person went.

Tip#2 Use foraging to teach your parrot to enjoy spending time on a play stand:
Many companion parrot owners want their birds to spend time on play stands. Play stands are often positioned to ensure lots of socialization and enrichment. However play stands can quickly lose their appeal for parrots when everything (view, toys, diet, etc.) stays the same. Providing foraging activities can make a play stand interesting again. The novelty of having to search and extract food items from foraging toys can increase the likelihood your parrot will choose to spend more time on the play stand rather than roaming around the house. Mix up where food is placed and how your bird will access it regularly to keep play stands more engaging.

Tip #3 Use foraging to prevent your parrot from vocalizing for attention:
Many parrots learn to vocalize loudly when a preferred person leaves the room. A great way to prevent this is to engage your bird in other acceptable activities prior to leaving the room. This is a great time to offer foraging toys and activities. When your bird is eagerly foraging, you can slip out of the room and let your bird enjoy searching for his favorite foods.

Tip #4 Use foraging as an alternative to feather damaging behavior:
Feather damaging behavior is a challenge for many parrot owners. If your bird has this problem be sure to visit a veterinarian with experience with this condition to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. In the meantime you can work on redirecting your bird’s behavior from feather picking to foraging. If you know there are certain times when your bird is prone to pick, plan on providing foraging activities just before that time. For example some birds seem to pick early in the morning. For these birds, foraging toys can be placed in the cage just as your bird is going to roost for the night. When the sun rises your bird may choose to engage with the foraging activities rather than destroy feathers.

Foraging is more than fun for your parrot.  It is a great tool for managing behavior. Get creative with ways you can use foraging to influence your bird’s behavior. The end result is a well behaved companion parrot.

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Good Bird Inc ( provides parrot training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in eighteen countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos. 

Copyright 2013 Barbara Heidenreich 
Good Bird Inc


Anonymous said...

I guess my problem is that I don't understand what constitutes a "foraging toy."

Barbara Heidenreich said...

No worries! I can explain. Foraging toys are really just about anything that you can stuff food into. Some manufacterers make toys especially for this. They have to be manipulated by the bird to get the food out. But you can also make then yourself. For example, you can stuff newspaper into an empty cereal box then sprinkle pellets inside and fold it shut. Attach it to the side of the cage and voila...foraging toy. Here are some more ideas for DIY foraging toys from Kris Porter

Anonymous said...

My problem is that my bird is not terribly food motivated and it is hard to tempt her with anything but peanuts. ANd I try to keep peanuts to a bare minimum.

Barbara Heidenreich said...

See this blog for some ideas to help with motivation: Also I have an ebook on Creating Motivation.