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Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby entrancedbymyGCC » Tue Oct 26, 2010 3:56 pm

Actually, it might deter him from landing on your plate. If he's doing it less often, then you may be effectively reducing the behavior.

However, I have heard over and over that sharing mealtime is a flock behavior. Some people make a point of feeding their parrots at their own mealtimes and even sharing some of the same food. The trick there would be to give him his own place to be during the meal and to positively reinforce him for being there. Alternatively, just put him in his cage before mealtime.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Michael » Tue Oct 26, 2010 4:42 pm

Jenny wrote:My cockatiel Aaron, is a rescued adult bird. He's flighted, & I've had him about 3 months now. Aaron is my first bird, & the first animal I've ever attempted to seriously train. He's becoming more & more comfortable w/me & his surroundings. My current issue w/Aaron is that when I'm eating dinner, he's started flying to my plate & landing on it/my food. He doesn't always take a bite of whatever is there, but I think it's obvious that if it interests him, he intends to do so. My reaction has been to put him in his cage until I finish my meal. I'm realizing that this is laziness on my part, & having read this article, I'm realizing that I'm conditioning Aaron to behave in some manner that won't solve the problem.

I always make sure to feed Aaron before I feed myself - my thought process being that he can eat his own food while I'm eating & participate in meal time w/me in that way. But as that is no longer working, it obviously reflects my inexperience. I have not yelled at Aaron when he lands on my plate, but I'm probably saying "no" or something totally worthless in a different tone than he's used to. I immediately ask him to step up, which he does, & then I've been putting him in his cage. Now I realize that I shouldn't be doing this. I understand that I need to engage him in some activity that I can positively reinforce to deter him from flying to my plate, but I don't know what the activity would be that would reduce the unwanted plate behaviour. Can you give me some suggestions?


This is a great question and one I've had to deal with myself. For the vast most part my way of dealing it is caging parrots during my meal time and only letting them out afterward. However, I will eat with them out from time to time. There are several things that can be done.

First of all try to give them good things for staying on their perch. Definitely provide a comfortable perch with a good view of you while you eat. Cause otherwise the parrot will seek a better one. You can give him toys, food, and things to keep him busy on his perch. Now I, being a real parrot owner (not one of those wishy washy theorists who write books), I understand that this doesn't work all of the time. It is super tempting to punish your parrot when this fails. Don't. It won't work.

Here's a few more solutions. Fact is, the parrot will eventually fly to you. You can either use a carrier/small cage to keep the bird in while you're eating but in sight. This is the method to use if it bothers you/others too much to have the parrot in your vicinity. What I do though, is I use this as an opportunity to positively reinforce flight recall with my parrot. The parrots are highly motivated to fly over and check things out so I recall one of them and reward by letting it sit on my shoulder and watch me eat. Sometimes I'll put a parrot on the chairback next to me to watch. It's look but don't touch. Food may be hot so that is not an option. I'll keep the parrots out of my food with my hands. So I don't really have many problems. And I only do this occasionally so it's a special treat to get to watch.

CAUTION: DO NOT reward your parrot with food from the table or it will keep bothering you and not stay off. Reward it with attention and a chance to watch, such as from your shoulder or a chair. If I really do want to reward with food (like I have something tasty that I just havta get rid of), I'll walk away from the table, recall the parrot, reward it, and then send it back to the perch. The parrots never get to eat anything at the table or that will only encourage them to pester me more.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Jenny » Tue Oct 26, 2010 5:22 pm

Michael wrote:I'll keep the parrots out of my food with my hands.


do you mean that you just cover the plate w/your hands so the parrot can't get to the food?

& I gotcha on not feeding treats from the dinner table. I understand how that could reinforce visits to my plate.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Michael » Tue Oct 26, 2010 6:04 pm

I mean the parrot is not in or near the plate the majority of the time. If I were to see the parrot flying toward my plate, I would cover it with my hands to deny the opportunity to land there. Usually if I put my hand out like a recall, the parrots prefer to land there anyway.

It's important to prevent the parrot from getting to the plate because it is self-reinforcing for going there. Don't even let it get to the plate or it will always want more. There is no need to punish but it's very important to prevent it from happening before it is reinforced.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby entrancedbymyGCC » Tue Oct 26, 2010 7:35 pm

Michael wrote:It's important to prevent the parrot from getting to the vet because it is self-reinforcing for going there.


<Scratches head> I think there is a typo there!

Seriously, I wouldn't advocate yelling at the bird or anything, but putting it away when it's flown to the plate doesn't seem like a bad thing particularly... what's your opinion on that?
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Michael » Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:52 pm

Dunno what that was about. Putting the parrot away specifically as punishment for landing on the plate is anywhere from ineffective to bad. However, putting it away cause you don't want it getting burned taking a bath in your soup is common sense. The best thing in that case is prevention which would mean keeping your parrot away during cooking/meals in the first place.

Now that I think about it, the only meal I ever really have parrots out is the occasional at home lunch. No dangerous cooking goes into making a sandwich or something like that so I'm not worried about them being out. If I'm making a real meal, they are already put away during cooking and there's no point in letting them out just while I eat (especially cause pots/pans/stove may still be hot).

However, anyone with a flighted parrot will realize that any excessive use of punishment (the amount considered excessive is arbitrary and depends on the situation, since it is hard to tell how much is, it is too risky to try) will result in the parrot distrusting and flying away from the owner. The risk of making the parrot flee from you outweighs the benefit of solving these kinds of problems. Thus it is important to find methods of prevention and alternative positive reinforcement.

You can cue a flight recall or trick from your parrot as you sit down to eat and provide a reward that takes a long time to consume. For instance I can give Kili an entire grape or almond and it will take 5-10 minutes to enjoy it. This can buy you peaceful time to eat while the parrot also benefits from staying on its perch.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby entrancedbymyGCC » Tue Oct 26, 2010 9:15 pm

But if you aren't acting in anger, aren't yelling, aren't being mean about it, why would the parrot be any more upset about being put away while you are eating than being put away any other time? If it connects the dots (as Scooter did with pooping on me) and realizes, hmm, when I go over there I get put away and I'd rather stay out, then the act of putting the bird away has technically acted as a punishment in the sense of reducing the behavior, but I don't see it as having been anything trust eroding. What am I missing?
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Michael » Tue Oct 26, 2010 9:24 pm

Depends how the parrot is put away. If the parrot is put away to treats, toys, and meal... then it helps reinforce going back into the cage which results in a parrot less resistant to being put away. If you put it away more maliciously with the intent of it serving as punishment (nothing good in the cage, taking away being out), then it is most likely to punish the preceding behavior. What was the last thing that happened? Stepping up to be carried over and put away.

Believe me, I have a whole thing right now with Truman constantly landing on the TV. Whether I try to swat him off or not seems to have no effect. Ignoring it didn't work cause he likes it up there and trying to punish the behavior hasn't lessened him going there. It's easy to teach parrots what to do but very very hard to teach them what not to.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby entrancedbymyGCC » Tue Oct 26, 2010 10:03 pm

Ah, there are always plenty of toys and dry food in the cages here. It never occurred to me that those would be taken away. Sure, the bird might prefer to be out, but actually stripping the cage to make it solitary confinement is a whole scenario I never considered.
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Re: Reasons Why Punishment Should Be Avoided With Parrots

Postby Michael » Tue Oct 26, 2010 10:30 pm

It wouldn't necessarily be stripped but at the minimum food taken away. Normally I ADD food to the cage when returning the parrots to reward going back. The food is not in the cage at other times.

This whole going back to the cage business can be seen as either positive reinforcement or negative punishment. This is why it is tricky and I say never use it as a punishment because that will hurt the good side of going back.

This morning I called my parrot's names one at a time and they each responded by flying to me in order to get rewarded by being put away to a nice meal. I keep going back in the cage very rewarding and do not want to hurt that by every using it as punishment. Like hell my parrots would fly to me in order to accept their punishment, right? That's why I always treat going back as a good thing.
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