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Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

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Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Michael » Wed Oct 13, 2010 1:41 pm

Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

In response to several recent discussions, I wrote this article to explain the concept of punishment and why it is most often ineffective with parrots. After defining punishment, I explain that it is not meant as a way of seeking justice by getting back at the parrot but rather a training concept of reducing behavior. However, the majority of the article goes into details and examples of why attempting to punish your parrot is ineffective, counter productive, or even harmful to the purpose of eliminating problematic behavior. I end by explaining some alternative training methods that are more effective.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby jonperry » Wed Oct 13, 2010 2:34 pm

This is one of the best parrot articles I've ever read. Good work my friend. Thanks for putting this together!
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby entrancedbymyGCC » Wed Oct 13, 2010 3:21 pm

I think that was a very good article.

I'll just point out that some of the issues you raise can also cause problems with other forms of training -- confusion about what behavior is being rewarded can be just as problematic. I taught my horse to bob his head up and down unintentionally while trying to bridge condition head lowering for a grooming procedure... timing is everything!

I guess I'll take the bait and suggest that if your main goal is to eradicate a behavior and there is some urgency to the situation, unless it is obvious how to substitute a desired behavior that can be rewarded, punishment by the textbook definition is what you really want. Preferably in a form that is non-harmful and non-personal so that the behavior appears to automatically trigger an undesirable consequence for the parrot. But mild deterrents DID work for me for teaching Scooter boundaries of how hard to preen/explore. Paired with effusive reward for "doing it right" my impression is that the undesired behavior went away faster than if I just used praise.

Biting, I think, is a particularly tricky case. If the bird is a pirhana, I think you have no choice put to use positive reinforcement from a distance to at least introduce some positive behaviors. I think you can't eradicate the only behavior you've got to work with! You sort of have to establish some sort of relationship first, and you aren't going to do that with punishment -- by definition you can only get rid of behaviors that way, not build them. OTOH, If the bird is your best buddy but is being overly enthusiastic or nipping for attention, I think a combination of methods may be more effective. A no that has come to have some meeting, a wobble, a put-away, a gentle burst of breath, may discourage this bird without damaging the relationship.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Michael » Wed Oct 13, 2010 3:32 pm

This is absolutely true. However, it is much more likely that you are prepared to train or even capture desired behavior. Undesired behavior just happens. Secondly, it's not the end of the world if you capture or reward the wrong behavior with positive reinforcement. So the trick won't be learned or you'll try again. However, with punishment, the risk of punishing the wrong behavior can have more dire consequences. If putting the parrot away into the cage is meant to punish biting but instead punishes step up, you have a much more serious problem. Not only will the parrot continue the biting unpunished, but also will not want to step up!

I do not think anyone can safely/effectively apply punishment without first understanding all the potential problems that can result from using it. I think the best way to train any parrot is to seek positive reinforcement methods for doing things, establishing a good relationship, ignore bad behavior, and then over time if there still remains any highly undesirable behavior, consider a punishment strategy to reduce the behavior. Punishment is not something anyone should be using on a parrot they just bought, received, or had neglected.

Thanks for the good feedback though :thumbsup:
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby pchela » Wed Oct 13, 2010 4:42 pm

So, I'm reading one of Heidenreichs books right now and she says to never punish or use negative reinforcement. I'm not sure because I haven't read everything you've written, so forgive me if you already do this but this is her suggestion which I found very interesting. She suggest putting the negative behavior on cue and then never again ask for the behavior. That's how she eradicates negative behaviors such as biting etc. What are your thoughts on that?
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Michael » Wed Oct 13, 2010 5:02 pm

:lol: YEAH RIGHT!

Have your parrots ever offered learned behaviors without the preceding cue? My parrots will do their tricks just for the heck of it or to get attention.

She's one of the so called experts I mention in my article and explain that I disagree with the absolute position that punishment should not be used. First of all it happens whether we intend it or not. Second of all, there are circumstances in which it could be used effectively. It's just that it's really hard to use it properly and very easy to use it incorrectly and ruin your relationship. She either doesn't know what she is doing or is withholding information because she thinks her readers are too stupid to handle the truth, not sure which. The purpose of my article is to explain all the reasons why punishment can be problematic and not that it should never under any circumstances be used. Some "experts" will go so far as to suggest that punishment is immoral. They have never reduced a single one of their parrot's behaviors?

Perhaps some day I will write an article about some of the uses and merits of punishment. But I must present all of my warnings first so that it is not misunderstood. I don't think punishment is the solution to most problems and it is important to realize this and the potential consequences before even considering it.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby pchela » Wed Oct 13, 2010 5:17 pm

She is very well respected and an excellent trainer but I don't know if I could cue a bad behavior and then eradicate it. I'm still working on very basic positive cued behaviors. She did say in the book that she condones the use of time outs which is negative reinforcement right? Anyway, just wondered if you'd ever tried to cue a bad behavior.
"I bet the sparrow looks at the parrot and thinks, yes, you can talk, but LISTEN TO YOURSELF!" ~ Jack Handy ~ Deep Thoughts
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Michael » Wed Oct 13, 2010 5:31 pm

A time out could be negative reinforcement or negative punishment. It all depends on if it reduces or increases behavior. I could imagine it going both ways. Let's say a parrot really enjoys being out and bites for an unknown reason. This parrot is put in the cage for a timeout. Next time it doesn't bite to avoid getting put away. This would be an example of negative punishment. If you read my article, you'll see why it's not so simple and why it wouldn't work but just to demonstrate my point.

On the other hand, if the owner is playing with the bird but the parrot is tired and wants to go back to the cage so it starts biting the owner and the owner puts the parrot away in cage as timeout... this can be seen as negative reinforcement. Where the removal of the attention which was bothering the parrot actually encourages the parrot to bite again in the future when it does want to be put away in the cage.

You see this is why behavior can be complicated and two sided. This is why most parrot owners should just stick to the positive reinforcement cause then there's less ways to go wrong. Trying to juggle in your mind what could be seen as reinforcing vs punishing, etc is quite advanced. It's much easier to just say "only use treats/praise as positive reinforcement." Barabara Heindrich is either a sell out, liar, or demeaning to her readers (or perhaps any combination of these). Any trainer that completely denounces punishment and negative reinforcement is discarding valid training methods. I think there is a new fad going on to say "use positive reinforcement only" because it helps sell their new books, videos, and junk as it contradicts the previous trend based on flooding and force.

While for the very vast most part I agree with positive reinforcement, I do not believe punishment is bad or should be overlooked. My article is mainly meant to show how complicated punishment is and how easily it can be misused. Nonetheless I do not believe there is something wrong with using punishment (under the definition of reducing behavior). I have used punishment successfully in a few cases although I have also had some major failures through using it as well. After all my experiments with the use of punishment as a training technique, I can honestly tell you that 99% similar results can be achieved on using positive/negative reinforcement and extinction alone in parrots. The punishment only helps (in some cases) to eliminate the last bits of unwanted behavior. More often than not, punishment has failed in my training and therefore I have great difficulty in recommending it be used. If there is greater interest in the use of punishment, I may consider writing about things I've tried and which ones worked.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby ginger » Wed Oct 13, 2010 5:57 pm

Very interesting read, Michael. Thanks so much for the in depth information. It really makes me rethink some of what I am doing with my parrots.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby meowingaround » Wed Oct 13, 2010 5:58 pm

I'm not sure how to do nothing when it comes to being bit. Depending on how hard/often the biting is it's reflex to move the hand away from the bird. So in fact conditioning him that I'm afraid of his bite and he can have his way.

I've already been told what might work best with cage aggression, not keeping his door open and only allowing him out when he cooperates and steps up without biting.

But what if he's on me?

Let me point out what usually happens: Windy is sitting on my chest, I'm scratching his neck,face. Suddenly he decides he's had enough and instead of simply moving away he bites. I try to get him to step up to put him back in his cage and he's still biting,this is not a graceful situation, he moves towards my face with his beak in high gear. I use a piece of clothing and shuffle him back to his cage and ponder my stupidity in buying a bird in the first place. He sits in his cage and screams if I leave his sight.

I said yesterday I would prefer to not use negative punishment, I have been using a gloved until calm hold only because well it worked. But I do realize it only works for a short time and we have to do it again. What I'm wondering is this: If this has worked and does work for short periods of time and Windy shows no fear with me, he really doesn't at least not yet, is he not learning to associate the gloved handling which he hates, to his biting which I hate?
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