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Multi-species Home

Expert Question

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? Thanks! Nicole

Expert Answer

Hi Nicole! 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:

Enrichment and training resources on the World Parrot Trust website:

Additional articles on behavior and positive reinforcement training:

An excellent behavior tool:

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

Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates
About Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist for more than 25 years, her area of expertise is learning and behaviour with a special emphasis on children’s behaviour disorders. 

In the last several years, Susan has helped pioneer efforts to apply to animals the humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology from the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which has been so effective with human learners. The guiding principle of this approach is a hierarchy of teaching interventions starting with the most positive, least intrusive, effective behaviour solutions.
Susan is a steadfast proponent of changing behaviour through facilitation rather than force. These tools of facilitation focus on animals’ extraordinary biologic capacity to learn by interacting with their environment. She teaches that by changing the environment for success, animals learn to behave successfully. Susan currently teaches Living and Learning with Parrots: The Fundamental Principles of behaviour several times a year. (See for more information and links to her recent articles.)

Susan is the first author on two recently completed chapters on learning and behaviour for two new avian veterinary texts (in press, Harrison and Lightfoot’s Clinical Avian Medicine and Luescher’s Manual Parrot behaviour) and enjoys contributing to and learning from several internet lists on parrot behaviour. She is a core member of the California Condor Recovery Team and takes every opportunity to work with companion animal caregivers, veterinarians, animal trainers and zookeepers to empower and enrich the lives of all learners. Foremost in this interdisciplinary effort is her passion for and commitment to working with companion parrots and their caregivers.