What Behavior Issues Did You Notice During Thanksgiving Weekend?

How does your bird do with visitors?
How does your bird do with visitors?

How was your Thanksgiving? Holiday celebrations are probably still happening throughout the weekend. Did you see any behavior issues or concerns with your parrots over the weekend? If so, you have time to continue working on them until the next holiday.

I did get contacted over the weekend from people asking “How do I handle this tomorrow?” This short of time notice limits our options. For example, when we know our birds need to go to the veterinarian, we don’t start the crate training the morning of the vet visit. We start that crate training a month in advance. Once we have the bird trained to go into the crate, we keep that training consistent so our bird is ready for the following vet visit.

A few things to keep in mind while modifying behavior issues with your parrot for the next holiday is pay attention to the reinforcers of your bird’s behavior. By definition, a reinforcer is something that happens after a behavior that maintains or increases the rate of that behavior. Let me give you two examples. Your bird says “Hello”. Someone turns and walks near your bird’s cage and says “Hello” back to your bird. Your bird continues to say “Hello”. The reinforcer could be the person saying “Hello” and the person walking up to the cage. Reinforcers aren’t always food. In regards to behavior issues, most of the time the reinforcers aren’t food.

Let me give you another example. Your Thanksgiving gathering is in motion. Your bird is in the front room and you are in the kitchen preparing dinner. Your bird can hear you but can only catch a glimpse of you once in a while. He is saying “Hello” but you are occupied with company and dinner preparations. The “Hello’s” are no longer getting your attention so your bird begins screaming. He begins screaming once every five seconds. He has your attention now! Every minute or so he sees you pass his line of sight. If he’s screaming just to see you, you are reinforcing that scream every minute or so. He’s learning that he has to scream for a minute or more for the opportunity to see you. After about five minutes you walk in and say “It’s all right Boomer. We’ll be done in a few minutes.” Now he could very easily have been taught every five minutes he screams, you’ll come walking into the room.

Are there things you could do if you begin training on Thanksgiving day? Yes, sure there are but it is going to take so much of your time trying to be consistent and paying attention and you’ll have a lot of distractions from preparing dinner, entertaining guests and visiting with family that it can be very hard.

Before the next holiday gathering, start training your bird to say things that will get attention while extinguishing the screaming. Extinguishing meaning ignoring. Ignoring a scream alone can be hard, frustrating and extremely confusing for both you and your bird. Instead pick something you want to hear from your bird and reinforce those sounds while ignoring the scream, if it is attention that your bird wants. After your bird starts giving the desired vocalizations, then begin reinforcing every other time they give that vocalization. Then every third, fifth, eighth and so on. Then begin reinforcing every one minute, every minute and a half, every three minutes, every ten. Now you’re on your way to having a very talkative and singing bird during the Christmas gatherings.

What other behavior issues did you see happening during Thanksgiving gatherings? Let us know and we may address one of your behavior concerns for our next blog post.

Is Your Birds Ready For The Holidays?

Suki our blue-fronted amazon known to dive-bomb the heads of visitors.
Suki our blue-fronted amazon known to dive-bomb the heads of visitors.

The holidays are right around the corner. If you have behavior concerns or issues you want to change, you should be actively putting them into motion right now. If our animals can see, hear or smell us, we are training them. The key question is “What are we training them?”

So many times I see or hear people waiting until the issue is likely to occur to begin training. So much opportunity to set your bird up for success has already been missed. For example, last winter I heard of people saying they wanted to wait until warmer weather to begin teaching their dog to walk loosely on a leash? They didn’t realize they missed a whole winter of training opportunity that could have happened inside the house to set their dog up for success before the front door even opens.

We have two weeks until Thanksgiving. Identify the behavior you want to change. What is it specifically? Identify exactly what you are wanting the new behavior to be. Now put a behavior modification plan into place. Many times you have to start backwards and work your way toward the target (identified) behavior.

Keep your training sessions short but frequent. Many times my training sessions last anywhere from fifteen seconds to a minute and a half. Sometimes desired behavior happens when I’m not in a planned training session. If beginning to work on the behavior concern, I would take these opportunities to let the parrot begin the training session. This is something called “capturing”. Capturing is when the desired behavior happens at any random time and you reinforce it. Pending on the behavior, I will reinforce as I see the desired behavior happening.

It is hard to change a behavior by extinction alone. Extinction is also identified as ignoring or identifying the reinforcer and trying our best to not deliver it. Using extinction alone can be very hard, very confusing, and very frustrating for you and your bird. I suggest not using it alone.

What I do use to change many behaviors is a procedure called differential reinforcement. Differential reinforcement involves two things. Those two things are delivering a reinforcer for an alternate behavior (this is easier if it is a behavior the bird already knows how to do) while placing the undesired behavior on a schedule of extinction, ignoring it or withholding the reinforcer from the undesired behavior.

For example, screaming. I’ve identified Rocky’s

When Rocky first came to us from a shelter at the age of eight, he used to scream once every three seconds accompanied by a repetitive flip for hours at a time.
When Rocky first came to us from a shelter at the age of eight, he used to scream once every three seconds accompanied by a repetitive flip for hours at a time.

reinforcer for screaming. It is attention. I picked another behavior Rocky already knew how to do. I picked a verbal behavior so I can hear the behavior happening. If I can hear the behavior happening I can reinforce it from another room as I hear it happening. Rocky already knows how to say “Peek-A-Boo.” My immediate target behavior is to replace the screaming with the “Peek-A-Boo”. Here is where the differential reinforcement comes into play. Rocky screams and screams and screams. I don’t turn and look at him. I don’t say a word. I know he says “Peek-A-Boo” so I wait to hear it. When I hear him say it I tell him “Good” and then deliver the reinforcer. The word good can be a reinforcer to Rocky but I know close proximity and interaction is a higher valued reinforcer so after I say the word “Good” I walk to his room or closer to him and deliver the highly valued reinforcer of petting him. If I can’t pet him, I’ll stay close to his cage and talk to him.

Another important point is to make it so easy for the bird to give you the desired behavior in the first place. Waiting for the bird to stop screaming can be frustrating for both. Create situations where the desired behavior is likely to happen and deliver the reinforcer. This way when the situation happens where the undesired behavior is likely to happen, the bird will resort to what he has already learned works… the Peek-A-Boo. You have to keep your eyes and ears open at all times for the desired behavior. You have to or your bird is likely to get confused because it works once in a while. Remember me saying “Training is always happening whether you realize it or not. What are you training?”

Happy Holidays and get that behavior modification plan written out and begin implementing it now. You have two weeks to train before Thanksgiving and six weeks before Christmas. Enjoy your holidays. This can happen.