It wasn’t all that long ago that people used absolutely detrimental training techniques on their puppies. When the inevitable housetraining accident occured, people were advised to rub the puppy’s nose in it. When it got too rambunctious, you rapped it on the snout with a rolled up newspaper. When it barked, you squirted it in the face with water. Ughh!
How could any dog EVER learn to stop pooping in the house with this sequence of events…
- puppy poops on floor (probably because the owner neglected to walk it)
- owner eventually finds the poop (the dog has long since left the scene)
- owner curses at dog and smears poop on its nose.
How is it even possible that a dog might be able to connect the vague dots tying the punishment to the crime? Wouldn’t it perceive that there was objection to the poop itself rather than its location? Wouldn’t it see its owner’s actions as aggressive and random?
It is nothing short of a miracle that most people were not mauled to death by the family dog as a result of their barbaric treatment. However, the dogs always forgot the deed and forgave their owners for their sins.
Suffice to say, dogs are different beasts than parrots; a parrot might forgive you for such an atrocity (after a long period of probation) – but a parrot never forgets. He will tuck away for safe-keeping the idea that you might become untrustworthy again at any moment..and this may be used against you at any time.
It is safe to say that all animals learn in a similar fashion – they do something, and the repercussions determine whether or not they will do it again. But there are big differences in the personalities of dogs and parrots.
For one, dogs aim to please their owners. You can see suffering in their eyes when we disapprove their actions and they go to great lengths to make amends with us.
A parrot doesn’t much care if we approve of their behavior or not. They are very busy tending to those things that are important to parrots and it is merely unfortunate if our wants are overlooked in the process.
It’s not that your parrot is bad or doesn’t like you, its that parrots are self-serving by nature. They are thinkers, they have goals and priorities which they are inclined, sometimes instinctively, to carry out. Everything your parrot does has a purpose, even when we don’t see an end to their means. This is the reason punishment is not only ineffective, but detrimental to a parrot.
Someone on facebook was bitten by their parrot recently. A friend linked her to an article in which the reader was advised to: “Verbally tell your parrot ‘no’ and place the bird back in its cage as a form of punishment. Cover the cage and leave it alone for some time. The parrot, being an intelligent bird, will sense that it is being disciplined.”
This could not be further from the truth and it’s terrible advice. You can’t discipline an animal that has no sense of right or wrong. Parrots only do what they do – in the way that birds do things. They are free of conscience when it comes to their behaviors.
When your bird destroys your favorite book, it is carrying out an instinctive need to chew and shred. It does not weigh up its actions beforehand, or consider the consequences of getting caught.
If your parrot bites and screams it is trying desperately to communicate that something is wrong in the only way it has found to be effective. It certainly does get our attention.
Is your bird bad for doing these things? NO! It is being a bird, doing what comes naturally and handling matters in ways that seem to work. If you were to punish it, your actions would be perceived as aggressive because, to their way of thinking, they have done nothing to elicit YOUR behavior. Covering your bird or placing it in a dark room is counter-productive. It will be percieved as cruel – and it is!
As intelligent creatures they do come to understand that their actions may meet with disapproval, but as they are simply carrying out the duties that nature has assigned to them, your objections may seem unreasonable.
This makes the word “no” absoluely pointless. In most cases, when a bird on a mission hears this, he knows you intend to reroute him away from his intended target and will actually race to acomplish the goal. Sometimes our hands become collateral damage. Bad bird? No. Just a determined bird.
In short, you can’t punish a bird for acting in accordance to its nature. You will find much more success in detering unwanted behaviors by using distraction and avoidance:
- If your parrot is headed to somewhere its shouldn’t be, divert its attention with an unexpected act. The sound of tearing or wadding paper is enough to stop my birds in their tracks. Then when a paper ball lands at their feet they no longer remember the mischief they were about to get into. Distraction.
- If your bird is being excessively noisy on a given day, sometimes an impromptu shower is all that is necessary to break the mood. Distraction.
- If your bird can’t help but poke holes in the cover of your paperback, don’t leave it laying around for him to get at. Likewise, don’t wear jewelry that is precious to you if your bird is attracted to it. Avoidance.
Should your bird damage things that you love – it is YOUR fault for letting him near something that is important to you. Remember, he is just being a bird – often that means destruction.
The best form of distraction is training which lets you use their self-serving nature to your mutual benefit. One of the reasons birds respond so well to positive reinforcement training is because it gets something of value out of it.
Treats are earned and therefore it serves your bird to collaborate with you to get something it values. Birds, being very social animals, will also work for rewards like physical attention or praise – that serves them too.
Over the years, we have seen many, many behavioral problems magically disappear when an owner begins training. Birds that are viewed as uncooperative or aggressive find a way to connect with their owners and turn their interests to this new means of getting things that are important to them.
As a result, these birds are all too willing to engage in activities other than the ones that landed them back in their cage prematurely. These happy and emotionally healthy birds have owners that allow them to be the birds that they are and avoid using unproductive measures of control like punishment.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.