Taming and Training
Dealing With Unwanted Behavior
How do you get rid of problem behaviors? Well first of all, here's how you DON'T do it: you don't get rid of unwanted behavior by trying to punish or dominate the bird. Birds respond poorly to these techniques because they don't understand them, and these methods cause more problems than they solve. Special warning: NEVER use physical punishment with a bird. They have delicate bodies and even a seemingly harmless flick to the beak can break their neck or cause other serious injuries. And that's quite aside from the emotional damage that a physical strike will cause. It may have taken you weeks or even months to gain your bird's trust, and this can vanish almost immediately after a physical strike.
We usually can't directly teach a bird to stop doing unwanted behaviors, but in many cases there are ways to make the behavior fade away. The general principle is to reward desired behavior and ignore unwanted behavior, with one major exception: some behaviors are intrinsically rewarding (fun, in other words), and you won't stop those behaviors by ignoring them. If you ignore a bird that's chewing up your furniture, you're likely to end up with a pile of toothpicks where your chair used to be.
The only way to stop an activity that is fun for the bird is to make it impossible for the activity to take place, because you can't make the bird stop wanting to do it. If you have something that you don't want the bird to chew, then keep it where the bird can't get it. If the bird has already gotten hold of it, you might be able to distract him with something more interesting. You can also calmly take the item using the least amount of force necessary, since birds do squabble amongst themselves over desirable items. Just don't be upset if the bird puts up a fight, because this is a natural reaction.
Ignoring works well on behaviors that the bird is using to get something that it wants - for example excessive screaming to get your attention. The way to reduce this kind of behavior is to figure out what kind of reward the bird is getting from it and then remove that reward. In the case of the screaming bird, you would ignore the bird when it's screaming and pay attention to it when it's being quiet or making sounds that you like.
When you change your response to unwanted behavior, the problem is likely to get worse at first. This is called an extinction burst. The behavior doesn't get the reaction that the bird expects, so the bird tries harder and harder for a while before finally giving up. Extinction bursts usually last for about three days if you are consistent about ignoring the behavior. Do not give in and pay attention even once, because that will make the problem much worse. This is called intermittent reinforcement, and it encourages the bird to keep on doing it the same way that hitting the jackpot on a slot machine encourages a person to keep on gambling.
Ignoring helps reduce unwanted behavior by making all the fun stop immediately after the unwanted behavior occurs, so keep that in mind when you're using this technique. It's best if the ignoring starts within 2 seconds, and it shouldn't last too long - less than a minute is enough. Look away from the bird. Put it down in a non-fun place if this is practical, and/or turn your back on it. This method is especially effective for single-pet birds. Since birds are highly social and you are her only social partner, the temporary withdrawal of your company has a big impact.
Another tactic is to get the bird involved in something that is incompatible with the unwanted behavior. For example, a bird that is busy playing with a toy can't chew up the furniture at the same time. A bird can't talk and scream simultaneously.
Copyright 2014 Carolyn Tielfan all rights reserved