Here’s what to do when good Parrot behaviour 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 behaviour in order for it to be maintained.
On the flip side if a behaviour 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 behaviour from what had been trained. What happened? It was discovered that when the chickens are a little slow to go into their night-time 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 behaviour throughout the day when there is not an immediate pressure for the birds to shift. The good news is usually a behaviour 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 behaviour breakdown because not everyone in the house was using the same approach to influence behaviour.
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 behaviour 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 behaviour. Positive reinforcement creates quick, reliable, repeatable behaviour. And often behaviours 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 behaviour 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 behaviour can become very strong and resistant to breaking down.
Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc. https://www.goodbirdinc.com/
This was originally published on Barbara’s blog in 2008.
For more on Parrot behaviour please click here.