Archive

Archive for November, 2009

Strategies to Utilize when a Flighted Parrot Escapes

November 16, 2009 1 comment

Webmaster’s note: Here is the last of four articles by Barbara Heidenreich that I am posting.  It’s about what to do if your parrot escapes.

 

Strategies to Utilize when a Flighted Parrot Escapes

By Barbara Heidenreich

www.GoodBirdInc.com

 

My blue fronted Amazon parrot, Tarah, does not have clipped wings. However like many birds that were clipped during the fledging process, he has never quite learned the kind of flight skills that might earn him the title of a “flyer”. I often said “He’s has his flight feathers, but he doesn’t fly.” One day I learned, the hard way, that this wasn’t exactly true.

 

I was visiting my parrots as I was moving from southern California to northern California. When I arrived I brought Tarah in his cage to my old bedroom. I opened the door to the cage to allow my bird some much needed free time. Before I knew it, he bolted off his cage, through the bedroom door, took a right and made his way down the hall. He then banked left and flew through the living room. At that very moment my father was just opening the sliding glass door to step out onto the deck. Guess who went through the door too? The deck was on the second floor, so my bird had two stories of lift to assist him on his grand flight down the fairway of the golf course behind the house. Thank goodness he was a green flying brick. He ran out of gas and slowly descended to the soft green grass before a tree offered its branches as refuge. Juiced by adrenalin, my feet barely touched the ground as I ran after my bird.

 

I have always been very careful about the choices I make having a flighted bird in the house. But I was very surprised by the amazing flight my bird made on that day. Sometimes birds that we think will never fly do indeed fly. Sometimes birds that have flight feathers trimmed surprise us when feathers return. Sometimes experienced flyers get frightened or find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Whatever the situation, there are some strategies that can be very useful to recovering a bird that has flown to a location undesired by you. The following information is provided to prepare you for that day when your bird may find itself airborne and heading in the wrong direction. These strategies apply if you bird has no flight skills or is a world class flying athlete.

 

Bird is flying away


  • Call to your bird loudly as he is flying- it may help him find his way back to you.
  • As your bird is flying, do not take your eyes off of him. Note the last place you saw him, the level of his flight, how tired he looked. He may have landed in that area. (Radio or phone contact for a group of people searching can be very helpful in this situation. Grab your cell phone!)

 

Searching for your bird


  • If you have a group of people, spread out and circle the area you last saw him.
  • If you cannot locate him, call to him. He may call back. Say words or sounds he knows or mimics. Most parrots are located by their screams.
  • If he has another bird he likes, put that bird in a cage and bring it to the area you last saw him. Walk away from the bird in the cage. It might encourage the bird in the cage to scream. This may inspire the lost bird to scream. Keep talking to a minimum so you can listen for the scream.
  • Look carefully in a limited area (within 1 mile) in the early stages of your search. Parrots usually do not go far unless, blown by the wind, chased by a bird of prey or extremely frightened.
  • Keep in mind your parrot may see you before you see him. When this happens, parrots are sometimes very quiet. This may be because the parrot is more comfortable now that you are present.
  • Despite some parrots bright colors, they can be very difficult to see in trees. Look for movement buried in the trees as opposed to your whole bird perched prominently on the tree.

 

You have located the bird, but he is out of reach


  • Once you find you bird, relax (unless the bird is in immediate danger.) It is better to let the bird sit where he is (if he is inaccessible) while you work out a strategy. Do not frantically try to grab the bird, hose or scare him down.
  • If the bird has just landed. He will probably not fly again (if at all) for awhile.
  • Bring the bird’s favorite person and/or favorite bird friend (in a cage) to the area where your bird is located.
  • Bring favorite food items, familiar food bowls and the bird’s cage if possible.
  • Be careful not to ask your bird to fly from a great height or a steep angle. Try to position yourself (or bird buddy, or bird cage) to allow short flights or short climbs to lower places.
  • Try to lure your bird to fly or climb to branches/objects that are similar to those upon which he is sitting if possible. A bird may be too frightened to climb onto a distinctly different perch. (For example, the bird might be afraid to climb off of a tree onto a fence.) If you have no other option, expect the process to be slower and be patient with your bird as he builds his confidence. He may also fly again if he touches the new perch and is frightened by it.
  • Do not raise unfamiliar objects up to your bird to have him step onto it. More than likely this will only scare your bird to fly farther away. If you have a familiar item, you may have a chance that the bird will step onto it. Keep in mind things like ladders, people climbing trees, cherry pickers etc. may also scare your bird. Go extremely slowly if you resort to using these items. Stop any action if your bird looks like he wants to fly away.
  • Try to call your bird down when his body language indicates he is ready to try to come down. Do not constantly call.
  • Try hiding from your bird on occasion. This will create a level of anxiety in your bird which may cause him to try to come to you once you reappear. Usually birds will scream and or start moving around a lot when they are ready to make an effort to return to you. If you notice this activity, come out from hiding.
  • If you hear your bird screaming while you are hiding, he may be ready to fly or is already in the air. Come out of hiding right away. Most parrots scream when they are flying in this type of situation.
  • Birds also often relieve themselves and also scream right before they fly. Be alert for this. You may need to see where your bird flys. Be ready to run if necessary.
  • Avoid having a crowd of people around the bird’s favorite person. A scared bird may not want to fly into a crowd of strangers. Give the bird’s favorite person lots of room.

The sun is setting and your bird is still out.


  • Parrots will usually fly again shortly before the sun starts to set. This is probably your last opportunity to get your bird back before he will begin to roost for the night. Take advantage of it. You can try to get the bird “pumped” up by yelling and creating a level of excitement. This may encourage one last flight.
  • As the sun starts to set, your bird will start to fluff his feathers and get ready to roost for the night. At this point it is best to just allow him to go to sleep. Keep an eye on him until the sun has set completely. Remember his exact location.
  • Before the sun rises the next day, return to that location. Your bird should still be there, unless he was frightened in the night (owls can cause this).
  • Usually by 8:30 or 9:00 AM your bird will be ready to fly again or make an attempt to get to you. Repeat the steps described in the section “You have located your bird, but he is out of reach”.

 

Your bird has flown off and after 24 hours of searching he has not been spotted.


  • Contact the following people and let them know you are looking for your bird. If a person finds your bird they may contact one of these organizations.
    • Call animal control
    • Call the SPCA/humane society
    • Call local veterinarians
    • Call local zoos
    • Call local pet shops
    • Call local police
  • Place an ad in the classified section of the paper for a “lost” bird.
    • Note: Don’t give out the bird’s band number. If your bird accidentally falls into the wrong hands this could lead to removal of the band.
  • Check the classified section of the paper for “found” bird. Answer all ads. People are sometimes unaware of what they have found. A Congo African grey may be mistaken for the mythical red tailed pigeon by a helpful stranger who is unfamiliar with parrots.
  • Post flyers that state “lost bird” in the areas you last saw your bird. You may also wish to offer a reward as incentive for people to call.
  • Often times a bird is found within 24 hours of his disappearance. The trick is to find the person who found your bird before you.

 

Do not give up


The key to getting a bird back is perseverance. Do not accept that you will not get the bird back once you have lost sight of him or her. As a professional bird trainer that free flys many types of birds on a regular basis, I can attest that parrots are often the easiest type of bird to locate and recover. Trust me – nothing is more frustrating than searching for the silent, but observant owl who has buried himself in the bushes and has watched you walk by 100 times! Thankfully our parrots often seek out human or bird companionship if and when they have a big flight adventure.

 

Copyright 2005 © Good Bird Inc. First appeared in Good Bird Magazine Volume1 Issue1 Spring 2005.

 

To learn more about products and services to help you train your parrot visit www.GoodbBirdInc.com

 

Barbara has been a professional in the field of animal training since 1990.
She owns and operates a company, Good Bird, Inc., (www.GoodBirdInc.com)) that provides behavior and training products to the companion parrot community. These products include Good Bird Magazine, books, videos, and training/behavior workshops. Barbara has provided behavior workshops and/or animal training presentations at the Association of Avian Veterinarians conference, The American Federation of Aviculture conference, The International Parrot Conference at Loro Parque, Parrot Festival, The International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators conference, American Association of Zoo Keepers conference, Association of Zoos and Aquariums conference, The Parrot Society of Australia conference and many more. She is a  past president of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (www.IAATE.org) and served  on the Board of Directors from 1997-2009. Her expertise has been utilized by the
US Dept. of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous international professional organizations.

She is the author of “Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots” by Avian Publications and also “The Parrot Problem Solver. Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behavior” by TFH Publications. She is also the producer of the Good Bird Parrot Behavior and Training DVD series.

Barbara’s experience also includes consulting on animal training in zoos and other animal related facilities. She has been a part of the development and production of more than 15 different free flight education programs. Barbara continues to provide consulting services to zoos, nature centers and other animal facilities through her other company Animal Training and Consulting Services. In her career she has trained animals, trained staff, and/or presented shows at facilities around the world.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Pet Parrots Tags: ,

Screaming Parrots!

November 14, 2009 1 comment

This is number three in the series of articles by Barbara Heidenreich that I am posting.

 

Wow. That Bird Sure Can Scream!

By Barbara Heidenreich

http://www.GoodBirdInc.com

 

“Screaming. Somebody reinforced the heck out of that behavior.” I said to myself. Misty, a double yellow headed Amazon parrot, lived with me for only a few weeks. She was there so that I could put some of her vocal behaviors on cue. However it quickly became apparent she had a few other behaviors that needed to be addressed first. Before her stay with me she resided with Jill Bell for six years. Prior to that time her history is pretty fuzzy. She is estimated to be 19 years old. This meant screaming could have been reinforced for at least 13 years. It must have been, because it was STRONG. Misty was relentless. I’d leave the room; she’d scream and scream and scream.

 

She had been a good reminder of what companion parrot owners experience when faced with a very annoying and challenging problem. It can be very frustrating. Oddly enough, when I walk into someone else’s home and hear screaming birds I am usually not effected. But when a bird is screaming specifically, in what feels like a demanding way, to get my attention, it strikes a nerve. How does one find the patience to be a good trainer in those situations? It is not easy, but definitely necessary.

 

My mantra with Misty was “I am solving the problem. Getting angry or letting that knot in my gut sway my strategy will not give me the desired results. I am confident what I am doing will work. It has worked before with other birds I have trained. Hang in there!”

 

And it is true, my blue fronted Amazon parrot Tarah also learned to scream for attention. Completely through my own ignorance I reinforced screaming. I acquired Tarah, as many people do, when he was offered to me for free. At the time I was working in a veterinary hospital. One of my co-workers also worked part time in a pet store. Someone had walked in off of the street and sold her the bird for $100. Was the bird stolen, smuggled or desperately unwanted? I don’t know. My co-worker found she was overwhelmed with too many animals in her home and asked if I would be interested in watching the bird for awhile. (That “while” has turned in 18 years.)

 

Once in my apartment I was thrilled when Tarah offered a “hello” at the sight of me snacking on a piece of bread. However the enchantment wore off as Tarah began to scream anytime I was out of sight. Unaware of how to stop this undesired behavior, I did as many do, I ran back into the room each time Tarah screamed and told him to “Be quiet.” Did it work to stop the screaming? No, and at the same time I found I very much disliked my attempts at punishing reactions to the undesired behavior. I so enjoy having animals respond positively to my presence and did not want to become an unpleasant experience in my bird’s life in order to stop the screaming behavior.

 

While in the middle of dealing with this problem, I was introduced to the book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor. (Also known as the bible of animal trainers) As I read the book, I latched onto two important principles that could help me address the screaming problem. Extinction and differential reinforcement. Extinction is described as the process of discontinuing reinforcing a behavior that has been previously reinforced. In other words part of my strategy should include discontinuing offering reinforcers for screaming. This meant I should no longer run back into the room, or yell at Tarah. The book did not describe the exact situation I was experiencing with my bird. Rather it described the principles and how to apply them to a variety of examples, human and animal. In reading the words, I made the connection that the concepts could apply to any behavior I no longer wanted to continue. Paired with the principle of extinction was the strategy of differential reinforcement of an alternate behavior. In other words, if screaming would no longer work to get a response from me, what would? For Tarah this turned out to be a whistle.  In the middle of a session of screaming and me doing my best to ignore this undesired behavior, Tarah offered a “whistle”. I immediately reinforced this by responding with the word “good”. Tarah replied with a scream. This was because at this point he only had one repetition of whistling being positively reinforced and an entire  year of screaming being reinforced.  However I remained consistent with my strategies and within two weeks time Tarah learned to whistle instead of scream when he wanted a response from me. 17 years later Tarah whistles when he wants to know where I am, when he desires a toy or treat, when I come home, and when he simply seems to be “happy”. The undesired screaming behavior was extinguished and replaced with a whistling sound.

 

Misty seemed to throw a kink in our now peaceful, well behaved and relatively quiet household. I “knew” from my past experience that I could repeat the process I had implemented with Tarah. However this time proved to be a bit more challenging. Because I was working out of the home at the time, it meant no breaks from dealing with the behavior problem. Every time I left the room I was challenged with having to be focused on training this bird. I was finding this to be very demanding. In addition there were times in the day when mentally I was just not prepared to train. Rather than feeling inspired to train and ready to resolve the behavior problem, I found myself dreading having to leave a room and work with Misty. I decided I needed to better set myself up for success. In getting to know Misty, who other than the screaming behavior, I found to be a delight, I learned that in the past she was accustomed to being covered at night. I took advantage of this and decided to leave Misty covered during the time in the morning I needed to shower and prepare breakfast and bird diets in the kitchen. This allowed me time to peacefully attend to necessary tasks in the morning. After this, I found I was less stressed and more prepared to begin a training session with Misty.

 

Throughout the day I would treat each time I left the room for whatever reason as a learning opportunity for Misty. I practiced my strategy of extinguishing screaming by not responding to it, followed by reinforcing a desired behavior. In Misty’s case the desired behavior was not a specific sound. Instead I chose to reinforce silence. My plan was to reinforce small increments of time of silence and gradually increase the duration Misty was silent before I would reinforce her with my presence or attention. If I was in the kitchen I would wait just outside of her view while she screamed. At first if she offered a pause in screaming that seemed the slightest second longer than what she had presented in between screams in the past, I would quickly appear and offer generous amounts of attention. I wanted quiet to receive a greater amount of positive reinforcement than screaming if I could. Overtime I gradually increased the amount of time she remained quiet before I would respond. And it worked!

 

However this was not without challenges. There were times throughout the day when a training session was not convenient for me when I needed to leave the room. Rather than cover Misty I opted for engaging her in other acceptable activity. For example, I often offered Misty a small cardboard box, a rolled up ball of newspaper, a new toy, or a portion of her diet just prior to leaving the room. This gave Misty another activity to focus on instead of screaming. But it also was not an opportunity for Misty to learn that screaming would not gain my attention and quiet would. It was still important to include training sessions throughout the day. The other activity was meant only to offer a break from training for me. This may have also lengthened the amount of time it took overall to teach Misty that screaming no longer would work.

 

Another challenge in training Misty was that Tarah was in the same room as Misty. Tarah would whistle at times when I left the room. While I wanted to respond to his whistle, I did not want to also then accidentally reinforce Misty’s screaming. My strategy had to be to only reinforce Tarah’s whistle if Misty was not screaming. If I was focused on the training session, I also found I could position myself so that Tarah could see me, but Misty could not. This allowed me to reinforce Tarah’s “good” behavior and wait for Misty to offer silence before responding to her.

 

Misty’s screaming also appeared to stimulate an occasional screaming behavior in Tarah as well. Fortunately because he had a strong reinforcement history for a whistle, I simply waited for him to offer a whistle before I would respond. Tarah quickly returned to offering a whistle and once again extinguished screaming.

 

Misty also would on occasion scream for my attention while I was in the room. When this occurred, I simply left the room. Again my thought process was to teach her that screaming now created the opposite response. Instead of people coming to her, people go away. It was also important to reinforce her with attention at times for being quiet while I was in the room as well.

 

Overall training Misty to present silence to gain my attention took about 6 weeks to train. Obviously this was longer than it took to change Tarahs behavior. This could have been a result of the strength of the behavior in each bird based on their individual positive reinforcement histories. It could have also been a result of the fewer training sessions applied to Misty during the given amount of time. It could also be a factor of the birds as individual learners. In any case the end result was a bird that successfully learned to present desired behavior for attention as opposed to the undesired behavior of screaming.

 

I went through the emotional gamut that many companion parrot owners face when addressing screaming problems. However by focusing on good training strategy and allowing myself opportunities to relieve myself of the stress associated with addressing the problem I was able to attain my desired training goal. Screaming for attention is a behavior problem with a solution. Set yourself up for success and invest the time to train the desired behavior. The end result can be a lifetime of good behavior.

 

Tips to address screaming for attention

  • Extinguish screaming.
  • Reinforce any other behavior besides screaming.
  • Remember the extinction burst is a good sign! The end might be insight. Change your feeling from frustrated to hopeful when your bird really goes for it.
  • If you need to leave the room, but can’t focus on training, offer another positively reinforcing activity prior to leaving the room. This may buy you a short window of time to move freely between rooms without screaming behavior. However you will still need to include training sessions at some point.
  • Get some earplugs to help you cope with the screaming during the extinction burst.
  • Plan to wait in the other room. Prepare in advance a quiet activity you can do when trying to deal with a screaming session.
  • Leave the room immediately when your bird screams for your attention.
  • Manage your activities to help set yourself up for success. For example keep the lights off or your bird covered for a few extra minutes in the morning until you are prepared to deal with the screaming with good training strategies.
  • Get support. If neighbors are having a problem with your screaming parrot, explain to your neighbors that you are working on training your bird not to scream.
  • Count seconds in intervals of silence and increase if possible.
  • Focus on fixing the problem instead of your frustration.
  • Believe you will get there. This strategy does work.
  • Keep notes if necessary to determine how and when this behavior maybe getting reinforced. Eliminate any reinforcers for screaming.
  • Offer even more reinforcers for the desired behavior than the undesired behavior would normally receive in the past.

 

© Copyright 2006. First appeared in the Volume 2 Issue 1 Spring 2006 Good Bird® Magazine.

For more information on training your parrot visit www.GoodBirdInc.com

Barbara has been a professional in the field of animal training since 1990.
She owns and operates a company, Good Bird, Inc., (www.GoodBirdInc.com)) that provides behavior and training products to the companion parrot community. These products include Good Bird Magazine, books, videos, and training/behavior workshops. Barbara has provided behavior workshops and/or animal training presentations at the Association of Avian Veterinarians conference, The American Federation of Aviculture conference, The International Parrot Conference at Loro Parque, Parrot Festival, The International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators conference, American Association of Zoo Keepers conference, Association of Zoos and Aquariums conference, The Parrot Society of Australia conference and many more. She is a past president of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (www.IAATE.org) and served  on the Board of Directors from 1997-2009. Her expertise has been utilized by the
US Dept. of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous international professional organizations.

She is the author of “Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots” by Avian Publications and also “The Parrot Problem Solver. Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behavior” by TFH Publications. She is also the producer of the Good Bird Parrot Behavior and Training DVD series.

Barbara’s experience also includes consulting on animal training in zoos and other animal related facilities. She has been a part of the development and production of more than 15 different free flight education programs. Barbara continues to provide consulting services to zoos, nature centers and other animal facilities through her other company Animal Training and Consulting Services. In her career she has trained animals, trained staff, and/or presented shows at facilities around the world.

 

What is wrong with the Step-up Command?

November 12, 2009 2 comments

Here is the second of four articles by Barbara Heidenreich that I am posting this week.

What’s Wrong with the Step Up Command?

Barbara Heidenreich

Good Bird Inc

www.GoodBirdInc.com

It has been reiterated for years in the companion parrot literature…your parrot must obey the step up command! Obey and command. For me these words carry strong implications. I visualize a parrot with no desire to step up onto the hand being forced to comply. This usually involves maneuvers such as a hand pushing into a bird’s chest, quickly scooping a bird onto the hand, or peeling toes off of a perch. For a positive reinforcement trainer such as myself this is very unpleasant to picture. Why one might ask? Certainly the mentioned strategies can create the desired resulting behavior of a bird on the hand. However the process of training through force involves strategies that rely on aversive experiences. Pushing a hand into a bird’s chest, scooping or peeling toes are uncomfortable experiences for a parrot, no matter how minimal the aversive is.

Fallout from Force

There can be serious repercussions with lasting effects from using aversives to gain cooperation. One of the most common results is a parrot that learns to bite in response to the presence of a hand. The important word in that sentence is “learns”. Parrots are not hatched with an inherent aggressive response to hands. This behavior is learned through repeated exposure to unpleasant interactions involving hands. Often as a last resort, a parrot bites in an effort to deter the persistent pushy hand. Should the bite produce the desired results; the bird can learn in that one encounter that biting works! And it will be likely to use it next time a hand invades its space.

This is not to say one should ignore a bite to dissuade the aggressive behavior. A more trust building approach is to heed the parrot’s body language prior to biting. Typically a parrot will present other body language that indicates discomfort well before a bite is landed. By carefully observing body language and making adjustments so that the bird appears as comfortable as possible, a sensitive avian caregiver is more likely to gain cooperation without aggressive behavior.

The same can be said for fear responses. Many likely have met a parrot who will step onto an arm, or shoulder, but will do everything in its power to avoid a hand. Again it would be an odd adaptation for a parrot to come into this world with an innate fear of hands. More realistic is the explanation that the bird’s experience with hands taught it to display fear responses.

Side Bar

Fallout that has occurred from forcing parrots to step up

–        How many birds now bite due to forced step up behavior?

–        How many birds are given up due to biting problems?

–        How many birds are afraid of hands and flee to the back of their cages?

–        How many birds are relegated to cages with little attention or enrichment because they learned to bite or are afraid?

–        How many birds suffer fates worse than this because they responded to force with understandable aggressive behavior and/or fear responses?

Positive Reinforcement Offers Hopes

Unfortunately it can be challenging to retrain a parrot to step up onto a hand for positive reinforcement after it has learned aggressive behavior (and/or fear responses) towards hands. But the good news is it can be done. This is particularly important to note as so many birds are often given up, left with little or no attention, or suffer fates worse than that due to being labeled a biter or no fun, through no fault of their own. It is always a sad moment for me to encounter a parrot that has learned aggressive behavior. It is sad mainly because it never had to be if the people in its life had been given the opportunity to learn about positive reinforcement.

Having worked in free flighted educational bird programs for years it was quite a shock when I first discovered the thousands of parrots that had fear responses or showed aggressive behavior towards hands in the companion parrot community. This observation lead me to conclude that the difference is information. The community training flighted parrots for shows has been raised on a positive reinforcement approach to training. Flighted parrots can easily choose to leave should a trainer resort to negative reinforcement to force a bird to step up onto the hand.  Therefore negative reinforcement and its drawbacks are usually not a part of the training strategy.

The companion parrot community, on the other hand, has traditionally been fed advice that heavily promotes the use of negative reinforcement. This in turn has lead to a plethora of troubled birds. This means an important opportunity lays waiting for companion parrot caregivers. With positive reinforcement training finally making its way to many avian caregivers, parrots and their owners now have hope. No longer do parrots have to obey, instead they can learn stepping up results in desired consequences. They can learn to look forward to stepping up!

Positive Reinforcement Vs Negative Reinforcement

Change can be difficult. And those accustomed to using negative reinforcement to create behavior often present solid evidence as to why there is no need to consider other strategies. These arguments include the statement that negative reinforcement works! This is true. Negative reinforcement does work. However effectiveness is not always the measure one needs to consider as a conscientious caregiver. The reason is that the process of learning through negative reinforcement is not a pleasant one. Negative reinforcement is also sometimes called escape or harassment training. The animal complies to avoid the aversive experience. Not exactly a trust building process. In addition negative reinforcement training strategies create a bare minimum required response. Animals only do what is necessary to avoid the aversive experience.

There is also the misconception that negative reinforcement will create faster more reliable responses. While results can be immediate, it should be noted that quick, efficient, reliable, repeatable responses can also be attained with positive reinforcement.

Some argue that in an emergency the bird must step up quickly. In a true emergency, such as the house is on fire, it is understood that one may do whatever is required to ensure his or her parrot is safe. However sometimes the lines get fuzzy on what constitutes an emergency. Being late for work is not an emergency enough for this trainer to abandon her positive reinforcement training strategies. In the long run I will get more reliable performance of the behavior if I take the time to commit to using positive reinforcement even when it is slightly inconvenient to me. In my experience there is no real justification for the use of negative reinforcement for the behavior of step up in most cases.

Tips on Training Step Up with Positive Reinforcement

A key component of training with positive reinforcement is giving the bird choice. Rather than forcing oneself on the parrot, the goal is to teach the parrot choosing to come to the caregiver results in desired consequences. These consequences can be food treats, head scratches, toys, attention, etc.  Identify what the bird likes and use this to reinforce approximations towards the desired goal behavior of stepping up onto the hand.

An easy way to teach a parrot to move in a desired direction is to train the bird to orient its beak towards a target. The target can be any chosen object. The target can then be gradually positioned closer and closer to the hand identified for the step up behavior. The identified hand should remain stationary and in a position that facilitates an easy step onto the hand for the bird. The goal is not to move the hand towards the bird, but for the bird to voluntarily move to the hand by following the target.

A bird that has had an unpleasant history with hands may show signs of apprehension or aggressive behavior as it ventures closer to the hand. Reinforce generously the frightened bird that dares to move in closer. If the parrot shows aggressive behavior, gently remove the hand as well as any positive reinforcers being made available to the bird for just a few seconds. This not only demonstrates to the bird that its body language was understood and acknowledged, but it also removes the opportunity to gain positive reinforcers. When this strategy is paired with reinforcement of the desired behavior, the bird can quickly learn to increase calm behavior and decrease aggressive behavior without the use of training strategies that rely on aversives.

Eventually the parrot can learn to voluntarily step up onto the hand to earn positive reinforcers. While the bird is learning to step up, the targeting behavior can be used to help direct the parrot where to go if needed for basic husbandry duties. This helps avoid caregivers resorting back to negative reinforcement training strategies to move birds during the re-training process.

Conclusion

A positive reinforcement approach embraces giving animals choices to participate. Caregivers can try to make it easy for parrots to choose to present the desired behavior, such as step up, followed by ample rewards. The result is a companion parrot that eagerly anticipates interacting with its caregivers. One of the joys of sharing ones life with a companion parrot is the relationship that can be forged between the caregiver and the bird. Positive reinforcement fosters trust and that incredibly rewarding relationship. If there is one thing you change in your handling strategy, make it this. Move over step up command….. here comes the step up request.

Copyright 2007© Good Bird Inc. First appeared in PsittaScene Vol 19 Number 3. Cannot be reprinted without permission.

To learn more about products and services to help you train your parrot visit www.GoodbBirdInc.com

Barbara has been a professional in the field of animal training since 1990.
She owns and operates a company, Good Bird, Inc., (www.GoodBirdInc.com)) that provides behavior and training products to the companion parrot community. These products include Good Bird Magazine, books, videos, and training/behavior workshops. Barbara has provided behavior workshops and/or animal training presentations at the Association of Avian Veterinarians conference, The American Federation of Aviculture conference, The International Parrot Conference at Loro Parque, Parrot Festival, The International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators conference, American Association of Zoo Keepers conference, Association of Zoos and Aquariums conference, The Parrot Society of Australia conference and many more. She is a  past president of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (www.IAATE.org) and served  on the Board of Directors from 1997-2009. Her expertise has been utilized by the
US Dept. of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous international professional organizations.

She is the author of “Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots” by Avian Publications and also “The Parrot Problem Solver. Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behavior” by TFH Publications. She is also the producer of the Good Bird Parrot Behavior and Training DVD series.

Barbara’s experience also includes consulting on animal training in zoos and other animal related facilities. She has been a part of the development and production of more than 15 different free flight education programs. Barbara continues to provide consulting services to zoos, nature centers and other animal facilities through her other company Animal Training and Consulting Services. In her career she has trained animals, trained staff, and/or presented shows at facilities around the world.

An Introduction to Positive Reinforcement Training and its Benefits

November 11, 2009 2 comments

Webmaster’s note: I’ve been pretty busy lately and haven’t had much time to update. However, for the next few days, I’ll be posting some very educational articles about parrot care and training that were written by Barbara Heidenreich.

Knowing how to train animals using positive reinforcement isn’t just for the folks who train zoo animals for shows or people who train show dogs or horses. Pet owners can train their animals to do plenty of practical things. What’s even better is that training need not be based on coercion or force and the process of training an animal to give a behavior on cue can be enjoyable for both the animal and the trainer. As a bonus, it’s also not a difficult skill to learn!


An Introduction to Positive Reinforcement Training and its Benefits

By

Barbara Heidenreich

Good Bird Inc

www.GoodBirdInc.com

Macaws on bicycles, cockatoos raising flags, conures snatching dollar notes from audience members. These are images that often come to mind when the word “training” is mentioned in conjunction with parrots. While it is true that training is responsible for those resulting entertaining tricks, this short list of behaviors is a gross understatement of the endless potential training with positive reinforcement affords avian species in our care.

Training is simply teaching. When we train an animal with positive reinforcement we give it information on what it can do to earn desired outcomes. What behaviors we choose to teach are limitless. In addition to training birds for entertainment, we can use this form of communication to address behavior problems, to manage birds on exhibit, to teach birds to cooperate in their own medical care and/or to allow us to facilitate captive breeding practices.

 

Training is Science Based


Although training birds in general is not a new concept to avian enthusiasts, understanding the science behind training is just recently gaining momentum. The science behind training is called behavior analysis. This science focuses on how organisms learn. And truly we are all students of this science on a daily basis whether we are conscious of our application of its principles or not. Current trends in animal training choose to focus on using elements of this science that focus on kind and gentle strategies to create desired behavior and reduce undesired behavior. This includes avoiding the use of positive punishment and negative reinforcement. In its place, trainers learn the art and skill of applying positive reinforcement to gain cooperation.

 

(See definition of terms in side bar)


Side bar


Positive Reinforcement: The presentation of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior. Another name for positive reinforcement is reward training. Positive reinforcers tend to be valued or pleasant stimuli. To get positive reinforcers, learners often enthusiastically exceed the minimum effort necessary to gain them. Recommended!

Negative Reinforcement: The removal of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior. Another name for negative reinforcement is escape/avoidance training. Negative reinforcers tend to be aversive or unpleasant stimuli. To avoid negative reinforcers, learners often only work to the level necessary to avoid them.  Not recommended!

Punishment: The presentation of an aversive stimulus, or removal of a positive reinforcer, that serves to decrease or suppress the frequency of the behavior. The use of punishment tends to produce detrimental side effects such as counter aggression, escape behavior, apathy and fear. Also, punishment doesn’t teach the learner what to do to earn positive reinforcement. Not Recommended!

One of the benefits of viewing behavior and learning from a scientific approach is that we can avoid the pitfalls of relying on anecdotal information and/or anthropomorphic interpretations of behavior. In addition as a recognized science, the information belongs to everyone. No single individual has ownership of the methods or principles. They are available for each and everyone one of us to learn and apply. By understanding the science we are able to remove misconceptions and erroneous interpretations of behavior. The science also teaches us that even innate behaviors are modifiable. And most importantly we learn to create and modify behavior with kinder and gentler methods. This allows reduction in stress, trust building bonds with caretakers, the avoidance of learned aggressive behaviors and the many other drawbacks often associated when aversive strategies are used to influence behavior.

 

The Potential of Positive Reinforcement Training


In many ways the parrot community is still in its infancy as it identifies the potential formalized training programs have to vastly improve avian care and management practices. Positive reinforcement training has long been a part of the management and care of species such as captive whales and dolphins. Dog training has made tremendous changes in the last ten years towards focusing on positive reinforcement training. While this highly effective and far kinder method of influencing animal behavior is ready and waiting to be exploited to its fullest in the avian community, a movement of positive reinforcement training devotees has been working hard to spread the word to parrot enthusiasts around the world.

What these supporters have learned is that positive reinforcement training dispels many common misconceptions that currently exist about parrots. No longer do they believe that getting bit by their parrot is inevitable, no longer do they worry if their bird is perched higher than chest level, no longer do they assume their parrot will misbehave with strangers, and so on. They have learned that by applying positive reinforcement training strategies, they can teach their bird to eagerly present almost any behavior they can imagine. Positive reinforcement trainers commonly teach their birds to voluntarily present the following practical and useful behaviors.

Step up onto the hand

Step up onto the hand of other people

Enter a kennel or other travel container

Play in a towel

Step onto a scale

Go back into the cage

Stay on desired play stands or cages

Interact without aggressive behavior with other birds

Positive reinforcement trainers often also train behaviors that may seem focused on entertainment. However they also serve a very real function of building trust and enriching their birds lives. These include the following

Touching a target

Wave with a foot

Wave with a wing

Stretch wings out

Nod “yes”

Shake head “no”

Turn around

Retrieve an object

Talk on cue


Many of these seemingly impractical behaviors are also easily shaped into medical behaviors such allowing nail trims or clipping feathers without restraint. Some zoological facilities have trained parrots to allow the following medical behaviors without restraint (Video of which can be seen at Parrot Behavior and Training Workshops presented by the author)

All over tactile exam

Cloacal sampling

Choanal sampling

Ultrasound

Radiograph

Cloacal temperature reading

Nebulization

Masking for anesthesia

Blood draws

In addition to providing the tools to train novel behaviors, understanding the principles of behavior analysis gives parrot enthusiasts the foundation needed to address behavior problems. Behavior problems such as biting, screaming, bonding to one person, fear of leaving the cage and feather destructive behavior are many times the result of a parrot learning what to do to create an environment that works for the bird. Unfortunately humans often inadvertently reinforce or create the undesired behavioral response the parrot is presenting. By understanding the function of the behavior and identifying the antecedents and consequences that serve to maintain the behavior, owners can proceed to develop strategies based on applied behavior analysis principles to address problem behavior.

 

Learning How to Train


Surprising to most, training with positive reinforcement is relatively simple. As with any skill it can be practiced. The more it is practiced, typically the better one becomes at its application. Many behaviors can be trained in one or two twenty minute training sessions. The following are a few terms that are helpful to know prior to delving further into the nuances of training with positive reinforcement.

Cue: A signal that tells the animal what to do. Many trainers use verbal and/or hand cues.

Bridge or bridging stimulus: A signal or marker that indicates when an animal has done something correct. It bridges the gap in time between when the animal did something correct and when it will receive positive reinforcement. Some examples of bridges are clickers, whistles, the word “good” or a touch.

Shaping a behavior with approximations: Once a desired behavior is identified, it is possible to look at that behavior as a series of small steps. The first step must be learned before moving on to the next step. Eventually all the steps when joined together lead up to the final desired behavior. Approximations are used quite often to train behaviors. This strategy can be used to train a bird to step up onto the hand, go onto a scale, step onto strangers, enter a kennel, wave and much more.

Training with approximations is like a dance between the trainer and the bird. The bird may take a few steps or approximations forward, but if the bird is hesitant to move forward more, the trainers may choose to accept a step that had been mastered previously. The training may remain at this step for a few repetitions as the bird gains confidence before a more challenging step is attempted again. There is a constant shifting and adjusting to meet the capabilities of the bird, but eventually more steps are taken forward then backward and the bird learns what the trainer is trying to teach. It is an intricate dance and one that makes training such an interesting activity. It challenges a trainer’s skills. Very rarely does training become boring. Each species, each individual, each behavior brings a new set of criteria to the table.

Using the terms described above and positive reinforcement as a training strategy we can explore the process of training a behavior. The first step is to identify a behavior to train. When training by shaping with approximations, it is helpful to describe in writing what each step might be. This can help a trainer visualize the process. In addition it is important to identify a cue for the behavior, a bridge and the type of positive reinforcement preferred by the training subject.

At first the bird will not understand the cue. Therefore the first step is to try to create the situation in which the bird will perform a small part of the behavior. For example to teach a bird to step up on the hand for positive reinforcement, sunflower seeds may be used to lure the bird towards the hand. If the bird takes a step towards the hand, the bird is “bridged” (the bridge signal is given) and offered a seed. While the bird is making the step towards the hand, a cue can be offered, such as the verbal cue “step up”. This associates the cue with the action of moving towards the hand. Over time the bird will make the connection that the verbal cue “step up” means to go to the hand. Eventually the goal is to phase out showing the sunflower seeds to encourage the performance of the behavior and only offer the cue.

When training a new behavior the sequence is as follows:

  1. Presentation of cue by the trainer
  2. Bird performs behavior or approximation towards desired behavior
  3. Bridge is given by the trainer for correct performance of behavior or approximation
  4. Positive reinforcer is offered by the trainer
  5. This process repeats itself as each approximation is added, until the final goal behavior is achieved.

Once a bird has gone through the approximations and clearly understands that the cue means to perform a particular behavior, the use of the bridge can be phased out for that behavior. The bridge is a good tool to help clearly communicate what is desired. However, once the behavior is learned it is not necessary. If the bird has problems with the behavior or is learning a new behavior, the bridge can always be reintroduced.

Although the bridge can eventually be removed, it is not recommended to phase out the positive reinforcer. Over time the bird will lose its motivation to perform the behavior. Reinforcement increases the likelihood the bird will perform a behavior; aversive or no consequences can decrease that likelihood.

 

Training a Retrieve


Learning new behaviors is mentally and physically stimulating for companion parrots. It is no secret that parrots are some of the most intelligent animals on earth. Having the opportunity to exercise their brain power is highly enriching. The following example describes the approximations one can take to teach a simple retrieve. It is also a great exercise for new trainers to use to practice applying the principles of training.

  1. Set the bird on a small perch (approximately one foot long). This will limit where the bird might choose to go.
  2. Offer from your hand a small toy, such as a plastic bead, or other small but heavy object. Usually birds will pick it up with their beaks out of curiosity. If the bird will not pick it up, try hiding a piece of food behind the bead so the bird must touch the bead with its beak. In this training scenario, the presentation of the bead may act as a visual cue, but you can also use a verbal cue such as “pick it up”. (Later this will be useful if you want the bird to retrieve other objects.)Bridge and reinforce when the bird touches the bead with its beak. Continue shaping touching the bead until the bird picks it up.
  3. Hold a small bowl under the bird’s beak.  Eventually the bird will tire of the bead and drop it. Catch the bead in the bowl. Give the bridging stimulus you have chosen when the bead hits the bowl bottom. This can be clicking a clicker one time, or saying the word “good”. Decide the type of bridging stimulus you will use before you begin the session. After the bridging stimulus is given, offer the bird a positive reinforcer. The positive reinforcer can be a sunflower seed or other food treat. Other types of positive reinforcers can be offered such a head scratches or attention. Just be sure the bird finds these things positively reinforcing.
  4. Repeat this process several times.
  5. After several repetitions, move the bowl over to the side slightly. The bird will probably not drop the bead in the bowl. If this happens, do not bridge or reinforce. Offer the bead again. Allow the bird to miss and not get reinforced one or two times.
  6. Then go back to trying to catch the bead in the bowl. Bridge and reinforce.
  7. Try moving the bowl to the side again. If the bird gets the bead in the bowl offer a larger or more desired reinforcer. If he misses, go back to step 3 and work up to step 5 again. Keep repeating this process until the bird understands the bead must go into the bowl in order to get the reinforcer.
  8. Once the bird gets the concept of the bead going into the bowl, start moving the bowl a little farther away. You will find you may have to go through steps 3-7 again. But eventually, you will be able to hold the bead on one end of the perch and the bowl on the other.
  9. Once this concept is understood by the bird, you can try switching the object to something else. When you do this, go back to holding the bowl under the bird’s beak and catching the object. Gradually approximate the bowl farther away. This should go quickly this time. Once the concept is well understood, try placing the bird and bowl on another surface such as a table. Again, you may need to repeat steps 3-7 to get on track. But eventually the bird will learn to generalize and perform the behavior in different environments and with different objects.

 

Conclusion


The good news about training is that it is not that hard to do. Understanding a few simple concepts can get parrot enthusiasts started on a path of discovery. Not only can training with positive reinforcement provide entertaining diversions, but it can also create well behaved parrots, reduce stress, avoid aggressive responses, and create an eager and enthusiastic participant. Most importantly it fosters the human animal bond that draws us to these fascinating creatures.

Freidman, S.G. (2005). “He Said, She Said, Science Says.” Good Bird Magazine. Volume 1 issue 1.

Friedman, S.G. (2005) “Straight Talk about Parrot Behavior” Good Bird Magazine Volume 1 Issue 3.

Friedman, S.G. and Heidenreich, B. (2005) “Pick a Principle” Good Bird Magazine. Volume 1 Issue 4.

Heidenreich, B. (2004) “Clicking with your Bird!” http://www.ParrotChronicles.com. Nov-Dec.  Issue 19.

Heidenreich, B.E. (2004). Training Birds for Medical and Husbandry Behaviors. Proceedings Association of Avian Veterinarians annual conference.

Copyright 2006 Good Bird Inc. First Appeared in Bird Keeper Magazine. http://www.BirdKeeper.com.au. Cannot be reprinted without permission.

To learn more about products and services to help you train your parrot visit www.GoodbBirdInc.com

Barbara has been a professional in the field of animal training since 1990.
She owns and operates a company, Good Bird, Inc., (www.GoodBirdInc.com)) that provides behavior and training products to the companion parrot community. These products include Good Bird Magazine, books, videos, and training/behavior workshops. Barbara has provided behavior workshops and/or animal training presentations at the Association of Avian Veterinarians conference, The American Federation of Aviculture conference, The International Parrot Conference at Loro Parque, Parrot Festival, The International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators conference, American Association of Zoo Keepers conference, Association of Zoos and Aquariums conference, The Parrot Society of Australia conference and many more. She is a  past president of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (www.IAATE.org) and served  on the Board of Directors from 1997-2009. Her expertise has been utilized by the
US Dept. of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous international professional organizations.

She is the author of “Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots” by Avian Publications and also “The Parrot Problem Solver. Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behavior” by TFH Publications. She is also the producer of the Good Bird Parrot Behavior and Training DVD series.

Barbara’s experience also includes consulting on animal training in zoos and other animal related facilities. She has been a part of the development and production of more than 15 different free flight education programs. Barbara continues to provide consulting services to zoos, nature centers and other animal facilities through her other company Animal Training and Consulting Services. In her career she has trained animals, trained staff, and/or presented shows at facilities around the world.

Blue and Gold Macaw Videos

November 9, 2009 1 comment

Last winter, I birdy-sat a beautiful Blue and Gold Macaw named Jo.  I think she was about 20 years old, so she knew a lot of words.  She also seemed to use a lot of words in appropriate contexts.  For example, at sometime in her past, she lived with someone who had a dog, although her current owner didn’t have a dog.  The poor dog must have been scolded a lot, since Jo would sometimes scold our dog when he appeared.  I doubt she knew what “Bad Dog! Stop that! No!” meant, but she knew that people sometimes said that when a dog was around.  So, she’d say that when my dog, Pharaoh, came by.  I don’t scold Pharaoh, so he wasn’t sure what “Bad dog! No!” meant and would just hang around while Jo told him he was bad.

She could say, “Bad Cats!” as well (and sometimes said this at Pharaoh and the other dogs).  The dogs barely noticed the huge, talking bird, while the cats were utterly spooked out by her.

Jo would also say, “Mmmmm,” while eating food which was quite cute. She loved to sing as well. I got a lot of this on tape, so here are a few short clips:

Jo scolds Pharaoh the dog (although she’s saying “Bad Cats!” here).

Jo the Macaw sings to herself.

Jo eats and comments on the food

%d bloggers like this: