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Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist…

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Browse by category: Parrot Care, Behaviour and Training, Conservation, Ethics and Welfare, Housing and Environmental Enrichment, General, Health and Nutrition


Hi there, I have a parrotlet called Fynn and I've had him about a year now from when he was a chick (parent-reared, if that helps). I know parrotlets are sometimes territorial and the main thing to do is to teach them to step up. This does not work with him. He bites hard and lunges if I come close to his cage, and I always get bitten getting him out. He won't step up onto a twig either. But when he's in a different room he's a different bird- he loves kisses and stays with me (despite not being clipped- I understand this makes him harder to train as well but he's beautiful when he flies). This problem has got worse now I have moved to Uni with him, and his cage is in my bedroom. Now he won't have anything to do with me and I can't really take him into a different room. Please could you let me know if there are any ways of getting him to be less aggressive about his cage?
>Thanks so much smile

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Hi Lauren,

Cory here from Susan Friedman’s ParrotBAS teaching team! Thank you for coming to us with your question. The great news is that biting doesn’t have to be a necessary part of living with a parrot. With careful attention to Fynn’s body language, thoughtful arrangement of his environment, and a positive reinforcement teaching plan, the biting can be reduced and Fynn can be taught a behavior you would like him to do instead of the biting.

It is great that you described the undesired behavior in observable terms (biting when asked to step up in cage), because this is the first step towards predicting and changing it! Biting is something that Fynn does which we can see. Labels such as “territorial” do not describe what Fynn is doing, but rather what we think Fynn is being. Since behavior is defined as something that an animal does which can be observed, given certain conditions, it is best to focus on specific behaviors that we want to see more of - just like you did. We can’t teach “friendly”, it's just a label, but we can teach Fynn to approach hands and step up, or even fly to you on cue, all of which are specific behaviors.

All repeated behaviors, including biting, serve a function, a purpose, for Fynn or he wouldn't keep doing them! Animals, including people, choose behaviors to either avoid something undesirable to them, or to gain something they value. The key to understanding what function the biting behavior serves is to look into the immediate outcome, the change the behavior causes in the environment. The event that happens right before the behaviors occurs, called the antecedent, is a signal or cue to the bird about what to do right now to produce the outcome. Identifying the antecedent helps us predict when the behavior will occur. The event that immediately follows the behavior (called the consequence) determines whether the behavior will increase or decrease in the future. When the antecedent (A) happens, the animal can do the behavior (B), in order to gain or avoid the consequence (C). With the information that you have given me, I suspect that in this case it could be that when you reach your hand into Fynn’s cage (A), Fynn bites (B), in order to remove your hand (C). In other words, it seems like Fynn is biting in order to stop your approach and to create distance between you and his cage.

So, how do we teach Fynn to enjoy having you in close proximity to the cage? Approaching Fynn’s cage will become a signal that good things will happen if you continuously pair yourself with positive reinforcers such as food, and this means that your presence itself will become reinforcing to Fynn. Each time you pair yourself with food you will be making a deposit in Fynn’s trust account and growing a positive balance, so you can do this several times throughout the day by walking up to Fynn’s cage and simply giving him a bite of his favourite food. The key to keeping the trust account from going bankrupt is to avoid any negative or forceful interactions with Fynn. Of course, since Fynn is flighted, he can fly away from anything aversive. Resist calling him names like stubborn, territorial or unfriendly. When that happens, it is good data for you that Fin is escaping your approach and so you need to change what you do and add more trust into the account.

While step up is a great management behavior to teach and it’s your ultimate goal with Fynn, it isn’t necessarily the first thing that you should teach him. A great stepping-stone towards the step up goal is to teach Fynn a behavior called targeting. Targeting is to touch his beak to an object like a chopstick. It sounds (and is!) simple, but it also extremely useful because of it’s versatility and many applications, one being that it can help you avoid being bitten while teaching the step up behavior! The great thing about targeting is that you can teach it to Fynn while he is in his cage so that he isn't pressured to come to your hand, your fingers stay safe and you can work at his pace to continue building trust.

Once he follows the target stick for a treat, you will be able to target him out of the cage. New behaviors like targeting can be shaped through reinforcing small approximations towards the final behavior goal. When you present the target stick to Fynn at first, be sure to hold it on as close as he remains relaxed. Then some approximations you can reinforce are: 1) Looking at the target stick, 2) Leaning towards the target stick, 3) Touching beak to target stick. Each step should earn him a food treat and should be repeated until he performs that step without hesitation. If he happens to be afraid of the target stick in the beginning, just introduce it gradually at his pace, pairing its presence with a food treat. Body language that could indicate that Fynn is uncomfortable with something could include things like feathers slick against his body and leaning away. Learning to recognize subtle changes in Fynn’s body language and respecting it is a great investment in having a good relationship with him!

Once Fynn is touching the target stick with his beak, you can then teach him to approach it from further away by gradually increasing the distance you hold it out at. You can also teach him to follow a moving target by first reinforce him following it for a step, then a few steps, and so on. To keep the positive reinforcement really effective when teaching new behaviors deliver a food treat every time he does the approximation correctly, and immediately (within a few seconds). A great thing that you can do to improve your timing is to use a word like “yes” as a bridge to mark the exact moment that Fynn does the correct behavior, and then follow it up with food each time.

When Fynn knows how to target, you will have a full trust account and it’s time to zero in on teaching him how to step up onto your hand. To start, you can use the target to move Fynn onto a designated perch in his cage and reinforce him for standing on it while you open the cage door. It’s important to continue to reinforce Fynn for having calm body language as you gradually move your hand closer to him. Here’s where the target comes in handy. You can use it to orient Fynn’s head upwards as you shape him to step onto your hand because he can’t hold his head up and bite you at the same time - they are behaviors that are incompatible with one another. Since Fynn already knows how to follow the target, he can follow the target onto your hand at his pace, and then you can fade the target so that it isn’t needed anymore. Or, you can target Fynn to the top of his cage or to a perch affixed to the inside of his door.

For more ideas, go to http://www.behaviorworks.org and read Susan's and Lisa's article called "Right On Target", under "Written Works." It is always best to focus on what we want the animal to do, since after all, animals are built to behave and we can take advantage of that to empower them to do desired behaviors. There are some wonderful resources available to learn more about this: Dr. Susan Friedman’s excellent articles can be found at http://www.behaviorworks.org, Natural Encounters also has some quality avian training articles at http://www.naturalencounters.com and some great parrot training videos by Barbarah Heideneich can be found through http://www.goodbirdinc.com.

I wish you the best of luck with training Fynn!

Sincerely,
Cory
Cory Cordes
Animal Behavior Technologist
http://www.animallearningsolutions.com

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Dear Nicole, The dilemma that arises given an opportunity to help a needy parrot vs. keeping a well functioning apple cart upright is one that tugs at many people’s heartstrings, mine included. The great news is that your concern demonstrates that you have the sensitivity and impulse control to be a successful caregiver for this Congo African Grey (CAG): The not-so-great news is that without a crystal ball, no one can predict with certainty the outcome of bringing these two birds together.

I do have some questions for you to ponder that I hope will help you get closer to making a confident decision. First, before getting another bird, ask yourself how getting the new bird helps or improves the quality of life for your current bird. Are the resources (for example, time, energy, and money) that would be allocated to the new bird better spent on improving your current bird’s life style, such as buying a bigger enclosure, spending more time preparing a fresh diet, building a bigger trust account through positive reinforcement activities, increasing mental stimulation with foraging opportunties and complex enrichment items, or arranging for more sunshine and other experiences outdoors?

If getting the CAG doesn’t improve the quality of life for your Galah cockatoo, or in fact reduces the quality of life for your Galah, you may want to think twice before adding the CAG.

Second, ask yourself, can I live with the worst-case scenario should that be the outcome of adding a second bird? Perhaps the worst-case scenario is that you have two birds who don’t show any interest in one another, or perhaps the worst case scenario is two birds who cannot tolerate being near one another as evidenced by aggressive behavior. Given either of these outcomes, can you manage them safely and provide two separate, enriched environments for each bird? If so, you may not need to think twice before adding the CAG.

Since I am a behavior analyst, I usually consider how the science of behavior change can inform answers to our questions. We know that the behavior we see today is influenced by an animal’s genetic history, learning history, and current conditions. I wonder what information about each bird’s behavioral history would predict success living together. For example, does either bird have experience living among other birds, or are they both from 1-parrot homes? Does each bird, or at least your current bird, have a history of empowerment that produces flexible individuals?

Another idea to consider is your level of interest about how behavior works, behavior-change technology, and your current skill level teaching new behaviors to learners in your care. Knowledgeable positive reinforcement teachers can often teach parrots the skills they need to live peaceably with one another. Animals are more likely to accept a new animal in the home when doing so has value to them. They are less likely to accept a new animal in the home when doing so produces aversive outcomes like less time with a favorite person. Of course every bird is a study of one, a unique individual; and that brings us full circle to why there is no single or easy answer to your question.

I hope I’ve given you some helpful ways to discover the answer that will work best for your family.
All the very best!
S.
Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D.
Utah State University
Dept of Psychology
Dept of Special Education

Dont try to be the best in the world; try to be the best for the world.


filed under: General

Thank you for considering my question. I have a rainbow lorikeet that has ended up as my pet. I'm a WIRES carer and he (I can't be sure he is a male) came into my care in April as a displaced chick while he was a grey ball of down. I hand raised him with the intention of releasing him but at a certain point I took him to a vet who advised that he had beak and feather so was not releasable but that he could have a good life as a pet.

So at that point my partner and I started to treat him as a pet. A few weeks later I took him to another vet due to a thrush infection and while there, they did a DNA test that showed he does not have B&F. He does have poorly formed feathers though which the vet attributed to a nutritional &/or trauma incident related to him coming into care. He can fly in a limited way but needs to molt before he will be able to fly properly and the vet advised that he would not be releasable due to the length of time in care.

My partner and I love him very much and he has become known as Friend. I am a relatively new wildlife carer and we have never had a pet bird before so we have been figuring things out as we go.

Friend has a large cage but we try to let him out as much as possible and he loves interacting with us and is super playful. About two weeks ago Friend had been hanging out with me in my bedroom for about an hour, playing and exploring the space. At one point he just flew straight up from the bed and bit me extremely hard on my upper lip, drawing blood. I had to catch him to put him in his cage. He has since engaged in the same behaviour about 6 times with me, always going for my face and in particular my mouth; though he hasn't done it to my partner Nathan. We are both very attached with Friend though I am the one who feed him as a baby, I'm the one who does things like give him medication if he needs it.

I have started to recognize his precursor behaviour, his eyes pin and he stares intently at my face and there is just a shift in his body language. Each time he has bitten me (and now when he is starting to show the signs) we have put him back in his cage and waited for at least 15mins & he has settled down to get him out.

I'm afraid I'm starting to become fearful of handling him. I don't want him to be unhappy and I really don't want to be bitten.

I had thought that perhaps it was a result of hormones related to Spring but everything I have read says that they don't sexually mature until two years and he was only born around March/April.

As we don't know much at all about having a pet bird we haven't trained him at all and it was fairly common for us to have to catch him to put him in his cage when it was time. After reading info online I see how silly
that is and we're trying to use positive reinforcement of his much loved grapes to get him into his cage.

He use to do a thing where he would hop around our heads and shoulders and flap super rapidly for about 30secs and bite at our heads though not hard. We use to cover our faces while he flapped but we didn't stop him doing
it. Since the biting started we have not allowed him to engage in this behaviour on us.

I really want to sort out what is going on for him and I want to do the right thing by him and me. I would really appreciate some advise, I'm worried that I could be making it worse through ignorance.

He is molting at the moment and he spent last weekend at the vet because he had been regurgitating. The vet thought it was an infection though he was also treated for heavy metal poisoning just in case. I have given him his last dose of antibiotics tonight.

I'm more than happy to do as much research and training with him as I need to and Nathan & I are happy to go to as much effort as is needed. We would happily consider getting him a companion rainbow lorikeet and have been
thinking about it anyway as we want his social needs to be met especially during the day while we're at work. I was a little bit worried about the possibility of them not getting on and how to go about it. At this point I
feel like I need to sort out the issues with his behaviour before adding another bird into the mix. We would even consider taking him to live at a Wildlife park such as Featherdale if that was what was best for him. We would find it a very difficult thing to do but we would rather he was happy. He calls back and forth to the local wild lorikeets and they occasionally come down close to observe him. I just worry that having been a tame bird that going to
somewhere like Featherdale may also cause him problems and stress.

I'm sorry for the super long question but I want to give you the full picture. If you have any questions please let me know.

Thank you for your time.
Michaela

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Dear Michaela,

You asked Jim McKendry about Friend's behavior but he is unfortunately unavailable this month. I hope the responses from my team are helpful! S.

Hi Michaela,

Shauna from the LLP teaching team! It is a super call on your part to be looking into Friend's diet. Good nutrition is imperative to help assure a bird’s health (physical and behavioral) and longevity. This becomes even more critical in cases of malnutrition evidenced by poor feathering such as you describe with Friend. Malnutrition can result in a wide range of adverse effects by compromising a bird's state of overall well-being.

It’s important to keep in mind that there have been only a few wild Lorikeet or other parrot diet studies to date, resulting in very little information about species typical diets. However, it is also worth considering that what birds eat in captivity needn’t be absolutely identical to the diet of their wild counterparts, given the huge difference in lifestyles between wild and captive birds. The brass ring of nutrition is the health of each individual in the environment in which they live.

We do know that Lorikeets have some special dietary requirements such as a food regimen that is low in iron and not excessively high in vitamin A or vitamin C. To meet these needs in captivity a specialized diet is critical. A diet that isn't too high in iron and also doesn't contain excessive amounts of vitamin A is needed. A safe way to provide vitamin A is through beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. Spirulina, in the correct amount, works well. The diet should also be diverse, including fresh fruits, a vegetable slurry, and a Lorikeet powder, Lorikeet pellet, or both. If offering Lorikeet pellets they can be left in a bowl all day. Also during the day a few whole foods, such as a whole berry hidden in a flower can be offered for foraging activity. Wildlife nutrition specialist from Australia, Debra McDonald, Ph.D., studied wild Lorikeet diet. Her product, Dr. Mac's formulated Lorikeet diet, may be available in your area. For more information, go to http://www.drmacs.com

Lorikeet slurry can be offered by combining some of the foods that are listed below with a blender. Slurries not only add fresh food to the diet, but they also provide phyto-nutrients and antioxidants, which formulated foods lack. Fruit also provides energy via natural sugars.

Fruits to consider for lorikeet slurry are as follows: papaya (include daily), mango, melon (several varieties to choose from), kiwi, apple, berries, lychees guavas, plum, peach, or apricot.

Vegetables you might include in the slurry: Sweet potato, carrot, beets, zucchini, squash. Always include some dark leafy greens, e.g., kale, mustard greens, collards, and dark leafy lettuces.

For some Lorikeet foraging enrichment, you can offer green beans, corn, and fresh flower blossoms such as nasturtiums, pansy, hibiscus, roses, sunflowers, zucchini flowers and dandelion.

Sprouted seeds can also be part of a healthy Lorikeet diet, and their addition will enhance overall nutrition by adding easy to digest protein, B- complex vitamins, and other nutrients.

Lory's can be fed twice a day such as offering a formulated Lory food next to a bowl of fresh water, some sprouted seeds in the morning, professionally formulated Lory food in the afternoon (next to fresh water again), and about 2 Tablespoons of slurry (mixed fruit and greens from a blender).

Foods to never offer are: honey, corn syrup or other refined syrups, molasses or table sugar. Refined sugars are not the same as plant sugars. Plants contain raffinose sugar, which act similarly to fiber and slows digestion time down. Refined sugars may negatively effect beneficial gut flora where as raffinose may be beneficial to gut flora. Also molasses is high in iron so not recommended for Lorikeets.

This is the diet protocol used at The Gabriel Foundation (TGF, a US parrot welfare organization). If you are able to offer Dr. Mac's Organic Lory Nectar then you should follow instructions for that product, which may be slightly different than what we do at TGF. All diet suggestions above are a combination of what has been used successfully at TGF and information shared by Dr. McDonald.


As with any diet change have a good scale on hand to keep an eye on Friend's weight. Be sure to get weights at the same time each day. An ideal time would be in the morning before breakfast, if that works with your schedule. Also be sure to discuss diet choices and changes with Friend's veterinarian.

All the very best,
Shauna

Hi Michaela,

Billie here! I’m also teacher from the LLP team. First of all, thank you for coming to WPT for help with your problem. It sounds like you are willing to do whatever is needed to give Friend a life-long home. With that willingness, you will succeed. While we can’t cover all the information in one short email, we can certainly give you more “food” for thought about how behavior works, and some resources to consider.

Your main behavior concern is that Friend flies to your face and bites your lips. I do not blame you for not wanting to get bitten -- especially in the face. Biting is not a necessary part of having a companion parrots by any means. At the same time, we don’t blame friend for biting because from his point of view, it works – or he wouldn’t continue to do it! Our plan for behavior change requires that we redesign the environment, including what you do, to reduce the signals to bite and to remove reinforcers for biting.

It’s very astute of you to recognize his body language just before flying at your face. You described that his eyes pin, he stares at your face, and he shifts his body. Those are excellent observations, which we can use as predictors or warning signs. What you can predict, you can usually redirect or prevent.

Let’s start with the most basic foundation of behavior: Behavior that is repeated always serves a function the behaving individual. If you can observe what that is you may be able to provide that reinforcer for an acceptable, alternative behavior. For example, if the most immediate consequence for biting is that you move away, than try to move away at the first warning sign, when his eyes pin. This empowers your bird to use his behavior for an effect; that’s what behavior is for! It is a separate learning objective to teach your bird to approach you willingly and with enthusiasm. You can teach that by reinforcing small steps toward your hand. Again, give coming to you more function (value) for Friend and he will do it more often.

Even if we can’t figure out what reinforces a behavior, we can often reduce it by reinforcing a different behavior, the behavior you want to see more often. This approach, differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior, is usually paired with ignoring the problem behavior at the same time. The problem with biting is that it really can’t be ignored. When you are bitten, you are going to have some kind of reaction to it. No matter what your reaction is, whether screaming, ducking, or you turning away, it is most likely the bird has already been reinforced for biting you. The feel of your skin on his beak, or on his tongue could well be a reinforcer for his behavior. Flight is another reinforcer to consider. It is also entirely possible, since this is a young bird, that Friend is testing the limits in his environment, i.e., learning how to gain valued outcomes and escape unpleasant ones. Another consideration is the number of times he has been captured, which you wisely note is more intrusive than other methods available.

It is essential that you completely avoid getting bitten since anything your bird has an opportunity to practice improves! Even a small bird can do serious damage, especially when flying to your face. And it probably reduces the quality of Friend’s life too, to have a biting relationship with his companion.

When we want to change a behavior, we need to change what happens just prior to the behavior, what happens just after the behavior, or both. We never want any bird to get the opportunity to practice biting so let’s focus on what happens immediately before the behavior that sets the occasion for the behavior to occur. We should also be aware of what any consequences might be that would be maintaining and escalating the behavior.

If possible, try to remember the 6 times that Friend flew at you to bite you. Some possibilities might be:

1. How long has Friend been out of his cage?
2. What activity was he engaged in at the time? Was it interrupted?
3. Who was in the room? Were people talking loudly or interacting in particular ways?
4. Were you talking animatedly or waving your hands?
5. Was your attention directed elsewhere?
6. What does the bird escape/avoid by flying and biting your the face? Was Friend returned to the cage? Medication time? Capture time?
7. What does he gain by flying and biting your face?

These details can be key. For example, if Friend is most likely to bite when he has been out an hour and has not had much to do, you could put him in his cage before the hour is up. Leave him out for 45 minutes and put him away. Or, you can give him toys to play with while he is out of his cage so he has plenty to do, which may increase the value of going back into the cage when he’s tired of playing.

In the wild, birds are on the move a lot of the time foraging for food, building nests, flying to different places. In our homes, we need to take care to provide some of these activities. Make sure Friend has lots of toys in his cage that he plays with and toys on the outside of his cage. You will learn what toys he likes best as you try different types. You can make a lot of toys yourself to keep the cost down. Craft stores have a lot of supplies you can use. Just make sure that any wood parts aren’t painted and that you don’t give him anything toxic. If he doesn’t play with them when first introduced, that can be a great training activity.

It is also important that they have down time hanging out, relaxing, preening and napping. They should also get adequate rest each night. It might take some detective work on your part to figure out what sets the occasion for the behavior to occur, but the effort is certainly worth it.

As you suggest in your email, positive reinforcement is the way to go. To that end, we would suggest getting some information on bird behavior. At http://www.behaviorworks.org there are some excellent articles. Once you get to the web site, go to “Written Works” and then “Learning and Behavior.” I would suggest you start with the article “He Said - She Said, Science says.” The others are excellent as well. Check out the articles in “The Success Files” area under “Written Works” that deal specifically with biting that might give you some useful information. Also you could start training some basic behaviors, such as stationing, turnaround, and targeting, as they are easy to train. You could then move to step up and step down, and recall. All the time respecting the body language that says, “No thanks!” There are some wonderful articles at ww.naturalencounters.com and great videos on training your companion bird available at Barbara Heidenreich’s website. Her web site is http://www.goodbirdinc.com.

We know you will succeed! Have fun; teach and learn together!
Good luck!
Billie

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hello,My name is Nina. I am from Bulgaria. We have two year old Cacatua Gallerita. Her name is Rea (it is not proved she is a female, it was told to us from a breeder). So far, we didn't have any problems with her. We want to teach her to fly with a harness. This is a problem for us , because she doesn't want to wear it. She is now a flighted bird . Flies around all house. She was clipped twice first year, but now we decided to let her fly. It is o.k. with us , but it is a problem when trying to wear the harness.

She is so unwilling of this and always flies away from the perch . She is not afraid of harness itself - she plays with it , but she is afraid of when we try to wear it on her. Otherwise she is very cuddly and gives her wings any way . What should we do to make her life better? How can we show her that the harness is not so awful to wear? Should we clip her wings once more to force her and to wear the harness or this will be a big mistake? Please , help us and thank you in advance

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Hello Nina, You pose some very good questions. I'll say first that I like to teach birds to wear a harness, but I don't like them for actually 'flying' a bird with. I think they make a great safety device to back up solid training when you take a bird outside. There are many potential problems with trying to fly them in a harness, one is that, even with elastic leashes, the bird comes to an abrupt halt when they hit the end of the leash, resulting injury. Even without injury, the experience of an abrupt halt could make the harness an unpleasant thing for the bird afterwards. Another problem is the the bird somehow getting the leash free, or too much line, so that it gets tangled up in a tree or worse, where you can't help untangle and retrieve the bird. That would very dangerous. Forcing a bird into a harness is a really bad idea. It might work once, maybe twice, but it could damage your relationship or cement in the bird's memory that the harness is a 'bad thing'.

Since your bird is not afraid of the harness, teaching her to wear it is fairly straight forward, using the gradual teaching strategy call shaping. Especially since she's comfortable having you handle her wings and body. That helps a lot. But you want to go about it at the bird's pace, using lots of positive reinforcement for each small step. Just as important as putting the harness on, is taking it off. The one I have ruffles my bird's head feathers backwards when removing it, so we've had to work on making a game out of her pulling her head out of close quarters. Otherwise a few times of that can make the bird decide it wants nothing to do with the harness.

Barbara Heidenreich has a good video showing how she trained two birds to wear a harness. It's very clear and helpful. Here's the video



Really though, I'd discourage the idea of training flight with a harness. A better alternative for flying is to find large buildings that will let you use or rent the space to practice inside. The harness is good as a backup safety device when out and about but your bird must be supervised at all times when wearing a harness, so that s/he doesn't chew through it or get a body part stuck.

Thanks for the question, Nina!

Dana McDonald

filed under:

I have a rose breasted cockatoo and also three ex battery hens and two rescue turtles. I am now thinking of getting a dog. A non terrier type as they tend to chase or hunt dogs. Obviously I would always supervise. The pets I have now are my first priority. I am giving this lots of thought as I am aware dogs are predators, and birds are often prey. I have heard of multi-pet households working. Anyone have this set up?

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Bravo for approaching this decision so thoughtfully. Multi-species households can be very enjoyable but also problematic. At least one author has referred to turtles as "doggie sushi"! Nevertheless, cockatoos, hens, turtles and dogs have lived together, compatibly, in my household for many years. Let's take a look at some of the steps that help us achieve that compatibility.

When bringing home a new dog, breed characteristics can be an important consideration. As you note, some breeds have been bred for specific behaviors. Knowing the breed characteristics might help us to understand certain behavioral tendencies, for instance, why a Dachshund might choose to dig holes in the yard (the breed was bred to flush small animals from underground dens). It is very important to also note that wide variations in behavior can be found within the individuals of the various breeds or species.

1. Recognizing that individuality and setting each individual up for success is the key to a successful multi-species environment, whether we are talking about one parrot and one human or many, many species living together harmoniously.

How do we set an individual up for success? By skillfully arranging and enriching the environment to meet the unique needs of each individual. Each of us, no matter the species, needs safety, fresh food and water and jobs we choose to do. Often, as caregivers with multiple species, in our zest to ensure safety we can sometimes overlook the very important need for jobs suitable to each individual. All species are built to behave and studies have shown individuals who are empowered to operate on their environment are more likely to be behaviorally healthy than those who are not empowered. Providing foraging opportunities suitable for each individual is just one way to enrich the environment for each of your charges. A pup who is digging up toys in his own special digging area is not digging in the turtle enclosure!

2. Clear communication. As caregivers, it is important to learn the body language other species use to communicate with us. Whether it is the cockatoo's raised crest or the dog's raised fur, they are telling us something if we are willing to listen and learn. Clearly communicating to them is equally important. Positive reinforcement training is an enjoyable and effective way to facilitate clear communication. Immediately after the desired behavior is emitted, we mark the behavior with a sound or word, such as "good". The immediacy of the marker after the behavior increases the effectiveness of the learning. The teacher then, quickly, follows the marker with a reinforcer, something the individual values such as a food treat. At the very minimum, a few basic behaviors should be put on cue, practiced and reinforced regularly. "Come" (recall) and "drop it" are two "musts" for both parrots and dogs. Targeting is another great behavior to teach. Positive reinforcement training has been shown to be effective with a multitude of species, including humans. When training hens using positive reinforcement, the use of a clicking sound to mark the target behavior (clicker training) might be especially helpful. One of my turtles will often enthusiastically run to me when he hears the clicker. Time spent training with positive reinforcement is quality time for the learner and the teacher. Only a few minutes a day with each individual can greatly enrich their lives and our relationships with them.

3. As you have wisely noted: Constant Supervision!!! No matter how long or how successful our relationships have been in a multi-species household, we must maintain careful observation and remain alert to possible changes in each individual's behavior. For instance, age, illness or injury can cause profound changes in the relationships amongst the members of the household.

For further reading:
Environmental enrichment resources on the World Parrot Trust website: http://www.parrots.org/index.php/referencelibrary/behaviourandenviroenrich/
Additional articles on behavior and positive reinforcement training: http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/articles_behavior_change.html
An excellent behavior tool: http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/downloads_toolkit.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YY7IhoebQo
A positive reinforcement training classic: "Don't Shoot The Dog! The New Art Of Teaching And Training" by Karen Pryor.

Wishing you much success.
Cynthia Whitehead, and The LLP Team

filed under: General

Dear Susan, I have two Monk parakeets that will be one year old in June. They are active and appear to be in good health, but I have been reading everywhere that parrots should be brought for an yearly veterinary visit to ensure they health condition. Can you confirm to me if this is necessary or if it would be a useless stress for them? Thank you for your consideration and have a good day.

[Editor's note: Original question received in Italian, English translation provided above]
Ho 2 parrocchetti monaci che hanno 1 anno a giugno, sono vispi e apparentemente in salute ma leggo ovunque che bisognerebbe far fare una visita annuale per essere più sicuri sul loro stato di salute. mi conferma se è proprio necessario o se potrebbe essere un inutile stress per loro? grazie dell'attenzione e buona giornta

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Dear Giulia, Thank you for asking your question. My area of expertise is behavior change, not avian veterinary medicine; however I found your question about yearly health exams interesting from a behavioral point of view.

It is commonly recommended that parrots have a yearly veterinary exam to ensure their heath condition, although not all possible tests need to be run routinely every year. The final decision on what tests should be included yearly varies, and is usually based on the veterinarian direct observation of the bird and the caregiver’s report. This information establishes a baseline from which changes in your bird’s physiology and behavior can be monitored for the earliest possible detection and treatment of any problems, both visible and invisible to caregivers, which may arise.

The behavioral part of your question is so important: You asked if yearly health visits would be a useless stress for our parrots. The subject of patient stress is important to consider one two levels -1) the bird’s discomfort, and 2) the potential for stress to invalidate medical data. This means that reducing patient stress is a number one priority for our birds during all activities related to accomplishing yearly exams including preparation for the visit at home, transport to and from the exam, and during the exam.

From a behavioral point of view, we need to consider what stress looks like in observable terms. How will you know if your bird is stressed? Or, more to the point: What does an unstressed bird look like? The body language and behavior we consider representative of stress can vary by species and individuals. Observe carefully your bird’s feather positions, body posture, and the position of the legs, wings, eyes, beak, and head during times when your bird is alert but calm. To the greatest extent possible, that’s what we want our bird to display throughout exam day.

The best way to meet this goal is to do a task analysis of every activity that will occur during exam day and then teach your bird how to do each activity using our best teaching strategies, for example shaping new behaviors with positive reinforcement. The time to teach a bird calm transport and exam behavior is not the day of the appointment! Plan ahead and start teaching one behavior at a time, now. Teach your bird to willingly enter and exit a carrier, remain relaxed during transport, step on and off a scale, relax while held in a towel.

You don’t need to have all the behaviors mastered before the exam. Each behavior you do successfully teach your bird to do, will strengthen your relationship and help your bird be resilient to a temporary withdrawal from your “trust account”. There are stressors in every animal’s life that can be easily overcome when they live an empowered lifestyle in general.

[Editor's note: Original question received in Italian, English translation provided above]
Cara Giulia, Grazie per aver inviato la tua domanda al Forum di Esperti del WPT.
La mia area di competenza è la modifica del comportamento, non la medicina veterinaria. Tuttavia, ho trovato interessante dal punto di vista comportamentale la tua domanda sulle visite veterinarie annuali.

Generalmente, si raccomanda di far svolgere una visita veterinaria annuale ai pappagalli per verificare il loro stato di salute, anche se non è necessario sottoporli annualmente a tutte le analisi disponibili. La decisone finale sulle analisi da svolgere ogni anno può variare, e generalmente si basa sulle osservazioni da parte del veterinario e su quanto gli viene riferito dal proprietario. Queste informazioni rappresentano le basi dalle quali i cambiamenti della fisiologia e del comportamento dei pappagalli possono essere monitorati per poter individuare e curare il prima possibile qualsiasi problema che possa emergere, sia visibile che invisibile ai proprietari.

L'aspetto comportamentale della tua domanda è molto importante: chiedi se queste visite annuali possono provocare uno stress inutile ai nostri pappagalli. Vi sono due aspetti importanti da considerare nello stress nei pazienti: 1) il disagio del pappagallo, e 2) la possibilità che lo stress alteri i risultati medici. Questo significa che la riduzione dello stress nei pazienti è la priorità più importante per i nostri pappagalli durante tutte le attività relative alle visite veterinarie annuali, come la preparazione a casa per la visita, il trasporto per e dal veterinario, e durante la visita stessa.

Dal punto di vista comportamentale è necessario considerare come appare lo stress in termini osservabili. Come farete a sapere se il vostro pappagallo è stressato? Più precisamente: Come appare un pappagallo non stressato? Il linguaggio corporeo e il comportamento che riteniamo sia rappresentativo dello stress varia tre le diverse specie e i singoli esemplari. Osservate attentamente la posizione delle penne del vostro pappagallo, la posizione del corpo, e quella dalle zampe, delle ali, degli occhi, del becco, e della testa, quando il vostro pappagallo è vigile ma calmo. E' così che vorremmo che il nostro pappagallo si sentisse il più possibile nel giorno della visita veterinaria.

Il modo migliore per raggiungere questo obiettivo è di analizzare gli interventi necessari per ogni attività che si verificherà durante la giornata della visita veterinaria, e poi di insegnare al pappagallo come svolgere ogni attività usando i nostri metodi migliori per l'insegnamento, per esempio lo 'shaping' di nuovi comportamenti usando il rinforzo positivo.
Il momento per insegnare al vostro pappagallo ad essere calmo durante il trasporto e la visita, non è il giorno dell'appuntamento! Pianificate in anticipo e iniziate ad insegnare un comportamento alla volta, da subito.
Insegnate al vostro pappagallo ad entrare e ad uscire volontariamente dal trasportino, a sentirsi tranquillo durante il trasporto, a salire e a scendere da una bilancia, a rilassarsi quando è avvolto in un asciugamano, ecc.

Non avrete bisogno di perfezionare ogni comportamento prima della visita. Ogni comportamento che insegnerete con successo al vostro pappagallo rinforzerà il vostro rapporto, e lo aiuterà a resistere temporaneamente a un prelievo dal “conto fiduciario”. Vi sono degli stressor nelle vite di ogni animale che possono essere superati facilmente quando le loro vite sono generalmente stimolanti e gratificanti.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hi, My name is Naomi. My family and I have a Fiery-shouldered Conure parrot named Mario that is about 5 years old. Currently there are 7 people living in our house. We have had him for the past year from a previous owner who could not give him the attention he needs.

For the most part Mario is a lovely bird. He used to have issues with biting but we have gotten that under control to the point where he rarely bites. Unfortunately he has always been a loud bird. While I understand that they generally make noise his noise has progressed to a behavioural problem. Since his cage is in our dining room and there are 7 people living in our house we just put up with it because it seemed impractical to train him. This means that we often enter the room when he is screaming so we can eat (or for some other activity) and he becomes quiet. Essentially we have rewarded his bad behaviour. But he also makes noise when we have deep or emotionally charged conversations or when we play music which I don’t think should be “punished”. (I should also note that there are a lot of people around all day and that he gets flying time from after supper around 6:30pm until we go to bed (10:30-11:00 pm).

While we put up with his screaming it is annoying our new housemate, my uncle (who is at home the most during the day with Mario). My uncle says he has researched how to train the bird and says we simply cover the bird up until he is quiet. I have found this method so far to be very inconsistent and so I do not think the bird understands this. Alternatively, I have read that giving him treats to find when we leave will keep him distracted. Given our family situation of a large household should we stick to the covering method or do you have a “nicer” method? If so how long of an interval should we wait to uncover him once he is quiet? I should also mention I am his favorite followed by my dad, though my dad has more authority over Mario. Please help. I love this little guy and just want to give him the best home possible without giving him away.

Thank you,
Naomi

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Hi there Naomi, Thank you for bringing us this question. Many people who live with parrots have a problem with excessive loud vocalizations. This behavior can be one of the most difficult to replace, unless caregivers are very systematic. It is wonderful that you are willing to work with this little fellow to ensure that his quality of life is enhanced, and yours too, without using force or coercion that are often suggested on some the internet sites. Great catch on your part realizing that covering may well not work as intended. Why might that be I wonder? Let’s see if we can figure it out.

All animals including humans are impacted by what goes on in the world around us as we go about acting out our daily lives. We all behave for a purpose either to get a particular outcome or to escape or avoid a particular outcome. We have learned to turn on the heat when we are cold; to drink water when we are thirsty; to put our foot on the brake to avoid hitting another car; and, to call out to our family and friends when we want to get their attention for one reason or another. Parrots, including conures, are not all that much different. In other words, those events that immediately follow any behavior can send a signal about whether to emit that behavior again in the future. There is a clear relationship between behavior and the consequences that follow it. Mario’s case, we can posit that he gets something of value out of the making the loud noises.

A goodly number of the loud sustained vocalization behaviors that occur in the home are directly related to seeking our human attention. That isn’t to say that living in a busy home with seven people might not be a factor considering each person may well react in a different way to the vocalizations but starting with one behavior often is more than enough to reduce behaviors that occur in other circumstances so let’s deal with the first point.
If it has been too long since Mario last interacted with a human, or a specific human, then loud vocalizations may well be the behavior used to gain that interaction. Stated another way:

WHEN there is little attention, IF Mario loudly vocalizes, THEN a family member looks at him/speaks to him.

That simple sentence gives us one possible functional assessment of Mario’s behavior to start with. As soon as he gets that “look” the behavior may well have been reinforced long before the cover is added or other action taken (yelling at him, making faces at him, leaving the room, etc) . We also know that behaviors we get something of value for doing will be repeated. Therefore we can state with some confidence that the “loudness/screaming” will continue. Yikes! What can we do about that? There are a number of strategies we can use that we will be talking more about below but now we have one starting point to dig in and use.

One point that should be noted here, the intervention would work best if you can get the entire family onside – perhaps each person working to teach Mario a different behavior. The more reinforcement Mario can get for behaving in ways that you can live with, the faster the “loudness” will subside.

What can we do?
• Observe and collect data on when the “loudness” is most likely to occur. Sometimes, a simple change in the environment before the behavior occurs is all that is needed. For example:
- The television is too loud - we can turn it down a notch.
- The kids are scrapping - we ask them to consider Mario and what impact their behavior is having on him. Can they move to another room?
- Emotionally charged conversations can be held away from Mario.
- It has been two hours since anyone spoke to Mario directly - so we drop by the cage and say “ How are you doing little fellow”.

• Observe and collect data on what we humans are already doing that reinforces the loud behavior, that produces something of value for Mario. We are laughing loudly and Mario joins in – we look at him and laugh too. Mario is loud and we tell him to “stuff it”, or words to that effect and we have again reinforced his loudness, or we move toward his cage (without or without cover). Using that information can lead us to a greater understanding about why the behavior occurs in the first place. Being able to understand, predict and change the behavior of interest can then lead us to some great strategies discussed more below.

• Teach him new ways to get that attention. Any bird can’t whistle, or talk, and be “loud” at the same time. We reinforce those sounds that we can live with. To do that, we need to teach ourselves to listen - developing a keen ear for those sounds that the family can live with and then reinforcing those pleasant sounds immediately. Called Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible behavior (DRI), it works well since Mario can’t be “loud” and talk/whistle pleasantly at the same time.

• In cage and out of cage enrichment. Adding toys that Mario will interact with and changing them regularly will provide greater in cage interest for those times when the family is busy with life so that Mario can entertain himself. Part of enrichment can be the addition of foraging toys/ boxes. It is possible that Mario would need to be taught how to play with toys or shaped to use foraging devices. You can find more information on how to shape behavior at the links below.
In the wild, a large part of a bird’s day is spent hunting/foraging for food. In the home we can replicate that somewhat using boxes with foot toys, treats, hidden portions of the daily diet that need to be searched for. Not only are foraging boxes enriching, they are also reinforcing for those birds who have learned how to use them plus having the advantage that we can also reinforce this type of behavior with some attention at the beginning and then slowly fading the attention component as Mario becomes more proficient at searching for toys and foraging. Differential Reinforcement of Alternative behavior (DRA) is another wonderful tool to have in the tool kit and that’s the procedure of reinforcing alternatives like foraging!

• Teach Mario new behaviors. Parrots are learning all the time unfortunately, what we are often teaching them in the home is to bite harder and scream louder. If instead, we teach them behaviors such as station to a specific perch, come/approach when called, stay where you are for example; we not only have a well behaved psittacine but a bird who has increased positive reinforcement in its life. That later point is very important since those birds with the most positive reinforcement are usually the most behaviorally healthy.

Admittedly, you do have your work cut out for you but if you can get the family onside you can surely change Mario’s behavior. Each family member will have their own level of tolerance for “loudness”, the trick will be coming to some consensus that you can all agree on.

There are some great resources on the World Parrot Trust website http://www.parrots.org/index.php/referencelibrary/behaviourandenviroenrich/
as well as a tool you can use that will be found at the following link: http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/downloads_toolkit.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YY7IhoebQo

Amongst the many articles on the behaviorworks web site you might find the one under the “Written Works” tab and “S Files” tabs that show a similar problem with a Moluccan cockatoo very useful.

Lee McGuire and Susan Friedman

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Dear Susan, I have a 7 year old yellow crowned amazon called Merlin, confirmed by my vet to be a male. He was hand reared and I have had him since he was weaned at about 12 weeks. For the first 21/2 years we had a very good relationship - I would never have believed how "cuddly" a parrot could be. He is my second parrot. The first was an african grey, re-homed due to the death of his elderly owner. Sadly Fred died after only 2 years, suffering from the
long term effects of his previous owner being a heavy smoker. I had no problems handling him.

When years old he became more cheeky, but initially he was not a problem until one day he flew at me, landed on my head and started scratching and biting like mad. Having seen the program about Sirocco the Kakapo, I now believe Merlin was showing the same sexual behaviour. However at the time it frightened me and I brushed him off my head. This happened a couple more times and I began to loose confidence in handling him. Soon after this I went to a Parrot Training and Environment Enrichment course at Paradise Park UK which was a great help and for a while things improved. Sadly later that year Merlin started biting me more frequently - even choosing to bite my hand rather than take a treat when he had moved to his perch on request. We soon reached the stage when I involuntarily pulled my hand away when he went to bite(hold?) my finger and I found I couldn't cope with him being loose. I am sad to say he now stays in his cage. He is in a Macaw sized cage and has a changing variety of toys and several foraging items each day. He comes to the side of the cage and hangs upside down for a scratch or gently preening on his head and will take a treat to eat whilst I reach in to clean the cage. I think actually I trust him less than he trusts me?? I have tried to find a local trainer (Bedfordshire UK) who might be able to help me without success. I know the problem is ME not Merlin - any suggestions as to how I can improve my trust of him would be so much appreciated.

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Hi Lesley, First I want to say good job. You admit some of the problem is your fear and also that you want to improve the situation with Merlin. These are both great steps on the path to changing behavior, both yours and Merlin's. The ideal is to live in harmony and you can make this happen.

Behavior change can be done safely and relatively easily using baby steps. You've already started the process by giving Merlin scratches though the cage bars and giving him a treat when you clean the cage. Start taking these farther. Teach Merlin to station (if he doesn't already) when you clean the cage. Stationing means going to a particular perch on cue, generally one farther from the door. Once on that perch then he receives the treat. You can train this behavior either by luring (using the treat to encourage him over to the perch) or by target training first. I might suggest training to a target stick so it can be used later for other behaviors. Target training has the advantage of teaching Merlin how you want him to behave in the future when he see's the target stick, without having the extra step of having to fade the lure out.

While you are moving Merlin farther away from you when cleaning, you are also teaching him about a relationship that you and he can have in a training mode. This strategy also has the advantage of allowing you to gain more confidence around Merlin and he in you. There are many in cage behaviors you can then start to teach that will add more reinforcement to Merlin's daily life while at the same time keeping you safe from a bite. You could teach him to ring a bell, turn around, wave etc. Each little behavior is a confidence builder for both of you. Eventually you could target Merlin to the open cage door and always be able to cue him back to that stationing perch. http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/articles_behavior_change.html and click on Right On Target for more information on targeting.

By beginning with these 'in cage' behaviors, not only do you and Merlin both build some confidence but you also learn how to observe Merlin more closely and learn the body language and signs that say he has had enough interaction at this time. Just as importantly, it allows you to learn how to train Merlin without mistakes leading to you being bitten. From Merlin's viewpoint, he learns that goodies come from you and this increases your value to him.

Once you and Merlin feel more confident and less fearful you could start to slowly train Merlin to step up to your hand. This is where those new observation skills you have developed will help you to watch for any change in Merlin's body language and stance. Don't ask yourself or Merlin for a full step up, just him touching your hand with one foot is great. With more confidence gained, you can work on Merlin getting both feet on your hand, but allowing him to go back onto the cage door. When you first move your hand with Merlin on, only move a small distance and then back to the cage door for Merlin. Gradually you will increase the time Merlin stands on your hand calmly and also the distance from the cage. You will find many articles at the above mentioned web site that may help you along with the process, including both Empowering Parrots and Shaping New Behaviors

With many successes and repetitions of these behaviors, you will feel more secure, and will learn how to watch for any body language that might signal discomfort and an impending bite. One little step at a time, there is no rush!

Gay Noeth
Lee McGuire
Susan Friedman




filed under: Behaviour and Training

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