If you have a parrot in Pennsylvania, bird training is very important for maintaining a strong relationship with your pet. While all animals benefit from training, birds in particular have high behavioral needs due to their high intelligence. They can frequently resort to screaming, biting, or other undesirable behaviors in order to get what they want. A good training program can help curb those behaviors, create positive bonds with humans, and give them something to do with those big brains of theirs.
1. Build a Trust Account
Birds of all shapes and sizes build relationships with humans based on trust. A trusting parrot will approach their human and solicit positive interactions while a non-trusting one may shy away or bite out of fear. We can look at trust like a bank account; if we want to build trust, we need to make deposits. Every time we have a positive interaction with the bird, like giving it a loved treat or a head scratch, we increase the trust account. Every time we have a negative interaction, like forcing it to step up against it’s will or creating a loud scary noise, we withdraw from that account. This process is extremely well detailed in Steve Martin and Susan Friedman’s articles on the site behavior works.
2. Train a Targeting Behavior
With bird training, it’s best to start with behaviors that are easy and fun. One of the best behaviors is to start with is called a target, where you train a bird to grab onto something. This can be a fun game, as you can ask your parrot to move around their enclosure, spin in a circle, or reach high or low in order to get to the target. We will use the principles laid out in my blog post the ABCs of Behavior. Start by presenting a chopstick (or something similar) towards your bird. Most parrots are naturally curious and will bite onto it experimentally. As soon as it does, tell it what a good bird it is and give it one of it’s favorite treats, taking the stick away as it eats its treat. Once it gets used to this, make it so that your feathery friend has to move just a little in order to get to the stick. Increase the distance it needs to move to get to the target just a little until your bird will happily move around in order to bite the stick, and get their tasty treat reward.
3. Keep Training Fun
After you’ve mastered the target, it’s important to move on to other behaviors. Birds are incredibly intelligent and love to learn new things, so repeating target over and over will get boring quickly. Check out guides to train your bird to lift it’s foot and wave, say a fun phrase, or any other number of great behaviors (Parrot Wizard is a great resource). Mix up the treats that you use and try training in different locations. You want to make sure it is always a good experience and that you end on a positive note so that your bird will excited to train in the future. With time and practice, you can even train your bird to sit still for scary things like nail trims and vet visits to help turn negative interactions into positive ones!