Why I HATE The "Step Up" Command

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Somewhere in Nevada Road trippin': Galah "Bandit"

Have you ever noticed watching videos of me with my birds that I don’t ever tell them to “step up”? You won’t ever hear me telling my birds to step up. I hate the step up command. Why? Because it should be a REQUEST, not a command, to your bird. Telling your bird to step up is telling it what to do, not asking. No matter what tone of voice you say it in. That’s why it bugs me so much. I understand why some people use it, and I’ve even worked with some birds that have gotten mad at me for not telling them to step up because they were so accustomed to it if that’s what the person wanted. But... I think it gives the person the wrong mind set. You don’t give your bird commands, you give cues. And you don’t tell your bird what to do, you ask it what it wants to do. That’s a respectful birdie relationship.

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Centralia, WA Pictured: Galah "Bandit"

I recently read in a book the author asking the bird owner, “Who is the king bird in your house? You.” It just rubbed me wrong. Birds do not respond well to a dominant household approach. To a bird, you are their equal. Maybe to a dog you are their master, but dogs and birds are not alike when it comes to training. A dog will show genuine remorse for upsetting its “master”, a bird won’t look like he gives a damn. It’s not necessarily because he doesn’t care when he hurts your feelings, he just is thinking about things differently than you are. That’s why it’s important not to boss your bird around. Not to say you can’t have boundaries (every household should have birdie rules that are agreed upon and that will be a whole other blog post...) BUT... you don’t want to be in the mindset of commanding your bird to do everything. How would you like it? The other reason we don’t use the step up command with our birds is because the mere presence of your hand being there or being offered to your bird is cue enough for them to know what you want or are asking. It really becomes a double-cue to add the verbal of “step up” along with your presented hand and becomes unnecessary.

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Las Vegas, NV Pictured: Toco Toucan "Rocko"

Here’s how I’ve seen the step up command come into play with a bird that it has been used on... what CAN happen when using the verbal command of “step up” is that your bird learns to say “step up” and in the future can start to say step up when it wants to actually step up, as a way to let you know. (Bandit right now says “c’mere!”) However, I’ve never actually seen parrots use that in a positive way. All the parrots I’ve seen who know how to say “step up” use it as a way to get the human to come over so they can bite them because it was always said as a command rather than a request. Storm, the blue fronted amazon parrot, was a supreme example of this. When I first got him he would come to the side of the cage looking extremely cute and say, “Storm! Get over here! Step up!” and he would bite as hard as he possibly could into any hand stupid enough to fall for it. This amazon would even lift his foot up as if he was going to step up and bite... his timing was pretty much perfect.

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Las Vegas, NV Shown: Toco Toucan "Rocko"

Ace, the rose breasted cockatoo, was the other bird that told me to step him up all the time but 70% of the time he would bite instead of step up, or he would step up and then bite. I’m sure there’s birds who respond well to the step up command, but it’s all about mindset. Are you giving a command or a cue? Are you asking or telling? Think about it with everything you do. Some blue and gold macaws we worked with in the Bahamas responded really well to Dave and I, but not to the girl who was in charge of them there. She didn’t understand why, but every time she approached them she was very commanding in her presence. She wanted to be “in charge” and she wanted the birds to like her and respond to her the way they did with us and she was becoming more and more frustrated. The macaws would literally bite at her until she went away and when Dave and I approached they would gladly step up. In fact, I don’t think either of us got bitten once working with them.

Photo by Dave Location: Centralia, WA Shown: Galah "Bandit"

The only thing she changed was her and how she approached and interacted with them. Instead of commanding and bossing them around all the time, expecting them to do exactly what she wanted, she waited and asked and backed off when needed and eventually a respectful relationship was formed.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

1 comment


Help!!! My B&G is 26 years old. She was cagebound for many years and I have been working with her for 6 months using your stick and clicker method. She is wonderful at that…..touching the stick with her beak and accepting a treat from my hand..BUT…I tried the step-up with the clicker and a still hand near the perch and she just growls and wants to bite me. What should I do?


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