Bird Training Explained

In a year-long University of Pennsylvania survey of dog owners who use confrontational methods to train aggressive pets, veterinary researchers found that most of these animals will continue to be aggressive unless training techniques are modified. 

How do you stop bad bird behavior?

When I first got  parrot fever a number of years ago and acquired my first birds, there was a lot of talk about preventing bad behavior before it happened.  People were taught that they had to show dominance over their bird.

20 years ago, I read lengthy articles about never allowing your bird to perch over your head higher than your head if you wanted to show your pet bird that you ruled the roost. People thought that they should squirt their noisy bird with water or put them in a dark cage to calm it down.

Nowadays, we know that we can shape more enjoyable bird behavior simply by using important parrot wellness strategies and reinforcing the behaviors that we want to see more of. 

According to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA Therapy), there are a few different types of reinforcement.  Positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement.  And,  differential reinforcement.

As a rule of thumb, when it comes to ordinary behavioral challenges like screaming, biting, and hormonal aggression, combining positive reinforcement with parrot wellness is the way to go. 

If you stop and think about it, birds are flock animals.  They’re wired to get along! And, being animals of prey, a bird would rather avoid confrontation unless it feels emotionally or physically cornered.

A bird that screams, bites, and lunges at you has either actually trained you or it’s not feeling well! If you want to stop bad bird behavior you'll need to take positive bird training and parrot wellness under your wings.  Are you ready to put in the effort to train your bird?

ABA therapy Is a science-backed behavior approach that has been around for decades. This therapy approach piggybacks off of B F. Skinner’s operant conditioning which taught us over a century ago that a behavior that is reinforced will reoccur over and over again.

We, as bird behaviorists, don't exactly label behavior as good or bad. Instead, we realized that a behavior, like biting and screaming, may have developed because it's been reinforced in one way or another.  It serves a function for your birds.

So, if you've accidentally reinforced a behavior that you don't like,  don’t punish your bird.  The way to turn it around is to do three things. 

  1. Make sure that your birds physical and emotional needs are being met by using important parrot wellness strategies.
  2. Teach your bird positive replacement behaviors.  
  3. Discontinue reinforcing the behavior that you don't care for.

If you're unsure about what positive behaviors that you should be teaching your bird read this blog post on how to teach your bird manners.

How do you punish a bird?

The trouble with punishment is that it brings about the very behaviors that we don't enjoy. These would be aggressive and fear induced behaviors. 

Most animals don't respond well to manhandling.  Yelling at your bird, locking it away without socialization, banging on the cage, and other forms of punishment make your bird worse.

Manhandling, punishment, and dominance always backfire.  These methods will ruin your relationship with your pet bird. Not many people get a pet bird in hopes that you just won’t get along!

Rather than “manhandling” your bird or assuming a role of dominance, preserve your relationship with your bird by developing positive reinforcement skills to actually teach new behaviors that you want to see more of.

It’s really all about a mindset shift. 

Rather than punishing your bird  for challenging behaviors that you may have accidentally reinforced in the past, 🙅‍♀️ shift your mindset towards building your bird’s skills. 

Your  bird has the capability to think and problem-solve as well as a four or five year old child. Why not use your bird's excellent intellect to your advantage by building its skill set as well as your own?

What if I told you that there is a common sense approach to bird training through positively reinforcing certain behaviors that are much more enjoyable to be around? And, that for the most part, the only thing that it will cost you is a little bit of time.

That time is an investment into bonding with your feathered friend. 

Rather than punish your bird, help it to become the pet that you envisioned with clicker training for birds. Clicker training for birds allows you to communicate with your bird in a way that motivates it to want to learn what pleases you. 

How do you train a scared bird?

A scared bird will either try to scare you off or internalize it's fear by engaging in self-harming behavior, like feather plucking or bird  self-mutilation. 

Keep in mind that there is a range of fear.


Range of fear

In this scenario, I'd suggest three approaches:

  1. Help your bird get physically fit with an excellent diet, ensuring adequate sleep, and encouraging exercise. When your bird is physically fit it feels better which releases healthy chemicals in the brain that make it happy  and less worried.

  2. Use bird calming aids to ease your birds mild to moderate nervousness.

  3. Build trust over time.  For a rescue bird, this may take 12-18 months.

Is it bad to scare a pet bird?

Purposely scaring your bird will make your bird not trust you. Worse, it will make your bird want to avoid interactions with you at all costs.  Even if it has to get aggressive. I don't know about you, but when I don't trust someone I have a tendency to lash out as a protective mechanism.

Rather than scaring your bird into submission, use its strong desire to bond with you to your advantage. If you simply use positive reinforcement methods to teach your bird manners and then reinforce them over time your bird will become a safe, fun companion.

Is it bad to yell at your bird?

People often try to coerce their pet bird by yelling at it.  This method of behavior management will backfire. 

Let me tell you why. Think about this for a minute.  Our birds are from rainforests and jungles. They live in huge flocks and must communicate with each other over miles. If they want to inform the flock that they’ve located a rich, new food source, they call out loudly.

If you think that you can yell at your bird to get control of it, I can guarantee you that a bird that can scream across 10 to 15 miles will always yell louder than you.  

But, more importantly when you yell at your bird that you're having a normal conversation with it. That's how birds communicate. Screaming loudly across miles.

For us humans yelling is the drama card! For birds, yelling is normal. 

When I say that yelling will backfire that's because your bird's attitude will be, “Hey! Bring it on!”  Your bird doesn't know that you're mad.  

Unless you live out in the middle of nowhere, Your neighbors will not appreciate the noise.  I don't know about your neighborhood but in my neighborhood the Animal Control Officers would be banging at my door threatening to confiscate my birds.

Even as a seasoned bird owner I don't enjoy listening to a screaming bird.  If you want to learn about how to deal with a screaming bird check out my book, "Why Is My Bird Screaming?"

In conclusion, using coercive methods to try and change bird behavior like punishment, manhandling, and yelling at your bird  are never appropriate bird training strategies. Instead, in most cases, use positive reinforcement augmented with clicker training for birds to teach your bird replacement behaviors that will make it much more fun to be around.

Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.

Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.

TAGS: #BirdTraining #ClickerTrainingForBirds