Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Parrot Training for Safety

Most people envision life with a parrot as a life of mess and destruction, along with all the charming moments of singing tunes, dancing to music and other fun scenes as depicted in videos circulating via social media. While parrots are definitely capable of getting into major trouble when unsupervised and allowed to just follow natural instincts, it is actually good sense to give parrots safe environments, along with supervision and some guidance.  Human environments hold many interesting and colorful items that are tempting to chew or explore, such as electrical cords, outlet, computer keyboards, knives, scissors, and, in my case especially, glues, paints and other art supplies.  In addition to being costly when damaged, all of these items are dangerous for parrots to "play" with...but many people do not know how to curb their bird's natural instinct to explore.  Or don't realize that helping your bird to learn impulse control is actually for their own safety.

Did you know you can teach your supervised parrot the concept "leave it"?  It is done by using a training method called "capturing behavior".  When the bird touches an object you want them to touch or chew, praise them and use a word like "good bird touch" or "that's it" When they don't touch an object you want them to leave alone, also praise them but use a different phrase like "good boy, leave it" or "uh uh!"  You can also name objects /or associations the bird might already have learned like "uh uh knife ow!". Reinforce the good behavior with a small, high value treat....or immediately offer them an acceptable item to play with. 

When you praise, really ham it up so it is clear they did a good thing. And always be consistent.  If you don't want your parrot to be playing with knives, scissors, the tv remote or computer keyboard, don't allow them to play with them one day and the next try to tell them to leave it. 

Ollie can spend hours with me in my art room while I'm working on creative projects.  While he can't fly, he can certainly climb, walk and grab to get into major trouble if allowed the opportunity.  However, he has learned that when I say "uh uh...sharp" or "Ollie, hot", that means it will hurt him if he advances closer and/or touches that item.  In fact, if I tell him to leave it and then then bring that item close to him, he will actually back off to prevent it from touching him.  Obviously, it takes dedication and consistent repetition to teach this concept of "leave it" but it can save your bird from being injured or poisoned, as well as ending up with chewed up cell phones or cords, keyboards missing keypads and a whole host of items I'm always reading about from people whose birds have not learned this important skill.

Conversely, it is also important to give your parrot lots of safe items to explore and involve them in as much of your activities as practical.  Ollie is happiest when he is part of the crafting action and loves when I hand him bits of paper or other safe items to "beak" and chew.  Or give him a brand new soft dog toy complete with squeakers!  And, of course, a nut to nibble on is always welcome!

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