Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Memorable Moments with and for Animals in 2014


The year is not quite over yet, but it is hard to resist taking a trip down memory lane.  I usually like to reflect on my top three animal training related moments. This year, conservation initiatives took the top spots.


1. Working with Kakapo Chicks
Coming in it at number one has to be the opportunity to work with the Kakapo Recovery Program and this year’s chicks. Certainly training these youngsters was a thrill, but the real reward is being able to help merge science based training technology with conservation. These two fields are rarely intentionally overlapped, but the truth is there is a growing need for what trainers can contribute to conservation. One of our main goals is to reduce stress related to capture and restraint for kakapo health care. With today’s technology there are a number of ways we can accomplish this goal without impacting natural behavior adversely. Not only did we get started on this type of training with the hand raised chicks, we also developed a plan for parent raised chicks in the future.  I love that this dedicated team thinks about and explores such options. Check out these blogs to read more about the training we did with these amazing rare parrots.Why Train Kakapo?  and Powerful Parrot Training 

2. Blue Hair for Blue Throated Macaws
You gotta love viral internet campaigns. That ALS ice bucket challenge was my inspiration for the Go Blue for Blue Throated Macaws idea. Yes, I was challenged to dump ice on my head. And while I thought it was a worthy campaign, it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. As I pondered what to do I found myself thinking about the charities I love and support. Of course my blue throated macaw Blu Lu and the Bird Endowment immediately came to mind. In jest, I texted a friend I should dye my hair blue and start a viral campaign to raise money and awareness for blue throated macaw conservation. As I was writing the text I thought “Hmmmm, I could be on to something here”. Next thing you know we have people all over the world dying their hair blue and donating to the Bird Endowment.  I never did actually find out how many people dyed their hair. But it was A LOT! And it was a blast watching people video challenge each other on social media. Some people really ended up with some amazing hair. The best news was that enough money was raised to support a bunch more nest boxes for blue throated macaws in the wild in Bolivia. The nest boxes have proven to be the most successful method of increasing the wild population to date.

3. Shaking Things Up in the Bird Training World
After 24 years as a professional bird trainer (plus another 8 years in animal care prior to that) you would hope one would learn a few things along the way. And I guess I did. I realized my current training practices were vastly different from what I had been doing for a good chunk of my career. This led me to explore the reasons why my training had changed.  Conversations with other trainers also made me realize those old practices I had left behind were a still a problem out there and they needed to be addressed.  Inspired by others I decided it was time to challenge some of the commonly accepted practices in bird training and asked the professional community to do the same.  In particular my concerns were about methods people have used for many years to create motivation for food.  I definitely ruffled a few feathers. I may have even lost a few friends over it. But I also gained new ones. Questioning some old practices started bringing amazing new people into my life. Ones who expanded my thinking about animal welfare and taught me there is so much more to learn. Some people openly attacked me in a professional setting and some hugged me with tears in their eyes, thanking me for saying what needed to be said. While it has been a bittersweet journey, (and an ongoing one) it counts as a very memorable moment for me in 2014. I am looking forward to a symposium some colleagues and I have put together on the ethics of creating motivation in animal training to further advance people’s knowledge on this important topic.

Bonus: Spending Time with Amazing People and Animals
2014 was the year of extensive travel. This meant meeting amazing animals and people from all around the world. They all have been the best teachers, mentors and inspiration. This year I had a walrus suck my thumb, a goat decide I was the object of his affection, a kakapo sit on my lap, and a giraffe give birth an hour after feeding her a biscuit to name a few fun animal moments. From people I learned about the evolution of animal emotions, had deep discussions about the use of time outs, LRS and no reward markers, discovered there are things trainers do that don’t exactly fit neatly into a category defined by behavior analysis and realized some kindred spirits live 1000’s of miles away in other countries, but are kindred spirits none the less.

I get to spend the rest of 2014 home with my animal family and friends.  I am enjoying spending my mornings training and caring for my companion animals and spending my afternoons developing new resources for those interested in training.  2015 is already shaping up to be an interesting year as well. Can it beat 2014? I can’t wait to find out. 

Barbara Heidenreich
www.BarbarasFFAT.com
www.GoodBirdInc.com
www.BunnyTraining.com 
Copyright 2014

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provide animal training DVDs, books, webinars and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in over twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.



Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lessons Learned from the Loss of a Trained Companion Animal



Are you one of those people deeply affected by another's suffering, especially if it is an animal?  Now imagine it is your companion animal. Add on to that, an animal that you have spent hours and hours building trust and training with positive reinforcement.  An animal with whom you have made such a deep connection and bond you feel there is a special understanding and communication between the two of you. Imagine if you couldn’t relieve that animal’s suffering? How deep is that pain?

This is the beauty and the tragedy of force free animal training.  On the one hand you create such a deep bond of trust, even friendship, that your emotional connection is almost indescribable. On the other hand when that animal is suffering or breathes his or her last breath the pain is that much deeper.

Not too long ago I lost one of my trained guinea pigs, Caledonia, to a tumor behind her heart. When I mentioned to someone that I cried for two days, it was clear they thought it was astonishing that anyone would feel such emotion for a rodent.

Caledonia (and Lucille) were only supposed to be temporary visitors at my house. I was going to film their training process and they were then supposed to become a part of an education program.  But after a few months of training them to do a number of behaviors, I found myself dreading the day I would have to give them up. Fortunately the new “owners to be” were understanding and accepted my offer to train two other girls for them. I promised not to get so attached. 


My two girls went on to learn a number of fun behaviors that I shared on YouTube. Their big hit was the clip of them playing basketball. I was quite proud when they were mentioned in Dr Marc Bekoff’s blog on the PsychologyToday website.  But mostly I hoped showing how intelligent these creatures are would inspire people to take a second look at their guinea pigs. Maybe they would be more inclined to provide enrichment and activities to keep them stimulated, maybe they would be a little more apt to invest in a nice habitat, and maybe they would even get their feet wet with some training.

When Cale didn’t run out for breakfast one morning I knew something was wrong. Based on her symptoms the vet thought the best course of action was to treat for a respitory infection. (We didn;t find out about the tumor until after she passed) This meant giving her oral medication with a syringe. This part was fairly easy. The hard part was that she wasn’t eating and had no appetite. This meant trying to get nourishment into her in the form of thick liquidy concoction designed for sick guinea pigs. This is what hurt the most for me. Several times a day I had to try to get her to eat the goo from a syringe. She wasn’t feeling well, and she didn’t want it.

I found a way to make handling low stress. I placed a soft fleece in front of her and covered it with a hiding place. She voluntarily moved to the fleece. (A sick guinea pig knows it is important to stay hidden.) I lifted the hiding place and replaced it with the flaps of the fleece. Tucked in cozy, it was easy to gently pick her up.

Offering the food proved to be harder. This is the part that broke my heart. While she needed the food to survive, delivering it was not pleasant to her. This meant my last interactions with her were the opposite of what she had known from me all her life. I always meant good things were about to happen. And now I was being associated with something she found unpleasant. I felt as if I betrayed her and her trust. And sadly she didn’t recover. I didn’t get the chance to make up for those last few days. Although my vet assured me it would have also lead to death had she not had the feedings, the experience still stings.

Like many of us who care deeply for animals, I am trying to mostly recall all the wonderful interactions I had with Caledonia. But this experience once again reminded how very important it is for us to train our companion animals to be comfortable with some very basic medical care. Fortunately Cale was a champ at getting on a scale, loading into a crate, being wrapped in a soft towel, and taking oral meds. Taking the food supplement was something we had never practiced, and maybe something to add to my list of behaviors to train. To make the vet visit less stressful, I brought familiar items from home, like the yoga mat upon which the girls practiced their trained behaviors. This was a familiar scent, texture and always had been associated with favorite foods and activities.  I also brought Cale’s guinea pig companion Lucille. Thankfully these things seemed to keep her relatively relaxed while at the veterinary hospital, despite not feeling well.

There is a new movement to help make vet exams fear free. I am proud to be a part of a group of professionals asked to facilitate this initiative.  Losing a companion animal is painful, knowing you could have done more to reduce stress to care for them when they were sick, can be even more heartbreaking.  I hope Caledonia’s story will inspire you to work on training behaviors that will make veterinary care for your animals stress free.  There is an animal you love that will one day appreciate it.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2014

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provide animal training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in over twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Is What You Heard True?

It was recently brought to my attention, that a few people had some misconceptions about my work and my objectives in the animal world.  I realized that those who made the statements are likely not very familiar with what I do or teach.  I thought I would take this opportunity to help clarify my position for those people, and any others on the items that were mentioned, as I am happy to address such concerns.

Misconception #1: What Barbara Teaches Doesn’t Work in “Real Life”

This statement caused me to think that perhaps I should explain how I came to work with the companion parrot community. I learned about force free training techniques doing free flight bird shows in zoological parks over 24 years ago now. I also have lived with large and small parrots for almost 30 years now. My inspiration to work with companion parrots came from seeing how what I learned in zoos helped teach any bird I was working with to be well behaved, compliant and a joy to be around, including my own pets. People would chat with me after shows and share the problems they were having with their parrots. I realized the information we were using in zoos was not out there for pet owners. I wrote my first book solely as a way to give people a comprehensive resource to help them with their parrot behavior problems. I had no intentions of turning it into a business. I had a job as a zoo animal trainer already and considered myself primarily a zoo professional.

But things snowballed. People kept asking for more and more help and more resources. I started teaching workshops and making DVDs so that I could help as many people and parrots as I could. I practiced force free training with parrots at rescues, sanctuaries, zoos, veterinary teaching hospitals, etc. Almost every parrot that came to a workshop had behavior problems. And I would demonstrate how to use force free training to address those problems in front of the audience. (I can’t even count the number of birds that feared hands or showed aggressive behavior towards hands that learned to eagerly step up during workshops!) I have now personally worked hands-on with 1000’s of parrots using force free training technology to solve behavior problems and gain compliance. Not only do I have my own experiences that show the information works, but I get countless emails from parrot owners thanking me for providing resources that helped them finally connect with their parrot. (I actually have several of those emails in my inbox now.) Real life successes have been a strong part of my motivation to keep sharing. Knowing birds are being helped by the information has been a very strong reinforcer for me. There is no point to this work for me if it isn’t helping animals. Thankfully the evidence shows that it does.

Misconception #2: Barbara Won’t Help Me!
I certainly understand and appreciate that sometimes applying the information may require more guidance. Getting direct feedback on application can make a big difference in a person’s success with a bird. This is exactly the kind of work I do in my zoo consultations. However at the moment I don’t offer private consultations to the companion parrot community. Let me explain why. As one can imagine I do get thousands of emails asking for advice. They often start with “I have a quick question…” but the answer is not a quick answer if real help is going to be provided. It is a tall order to meet those demands. Many don’t know this, but my company is just me. I am the only employee. So I don’t have staff to answer all those emails.  Most of the time, I am on the road teaching workshops or working with zoos. When on the road, time for emails is very limited due to my obligations to those who have hired me to be there, but I do want those who email to get the help they need.

To address this conundrum, several years ago I prepared a page of frequently asked questions about parrot behavior problems.  Each question has a brief answer but also a reference to a more comprehensive resource. This may be a free video or article but yes it may also be a product I have created specifically to help with that issue. I dedicated a lot of time, thought, and money to create comprehensive resources to help people. I am proud of these tools and by all means know they have the power to help people.  It makes sense that I would want to refer people to them. They are the tool they need! I also know these resources are backed by my many years of experience and study. I really have dedicated my life to this…..just ask my friends back home who would like to see me once in a while or talk about something other than animal training.

Some have expressed concern over the fact that not all of my services, information or products are provided for free, but I believe it is appropriate to expect professionals to earn a living by sharing their expertise. Whether one is a plumber, tax consultant, teacher, lawyer, musician, artist or doctor; we expect to pay for their services/products/skills. And I think people in animal related professions also deserve the same respect for their professional contribution. So while I do offer tons of free videos, free articles, an extensive free blog with lots of information, I do also believe I should be permitted to make a living from my expertise and life’s work just as any other person in this world.

The products and services I offer are limited to DVDS, live workshops, ebooks, webinars and books. As mentioned I don’t offer private consultations (email, phone or in person) to the companion parrot community at this point in time. I have made the decision that for me, spending the time to make a comprehensive resource that can help thousands is a better contribution than meeting with one person at a time. Knowing this, I have provided a list of consultants whose work I know very well on my FAQ page. I always include this in the response people get when they ask for behavior problem help.  So when asking for help people get a combo of free resources, references to comprehensive products that address their questions, and recommended behavioral consultants. They are not left without help, but they are not given a free private email consultation either, as that is not a service I offer.

Misconception #3: Barbara Says you Need to Starve Birds!
This was quite interesting to hear as in the professional community I am currently regarded as one of the biggest advocates for moving away from practices that cause animals to be overly concerned about food and have taken quite a bit of flak from some other professionals for taking that position. The ethics of creating motivation for getting behavior is of special interest to me and one that I have researched greatly. I am actually co-hosting a symposium in Sweden to help people understand how to create motivation in a responsible, welfare conscientious way for many species of animals. It is a very deep, complex topic and there is much to discuss. I realize the companion parrot community may not have knowledge of this personal mission of mine as it has been targeted to professional trainers. But even so, my materials I have put out on parrot training certainly reflect this position. In a nutshell what I teach for the parrot community is primarily to save treats for training and leave the less interesting parts of the diet in the bowl. I am also a big advocate of using many types of nonfood reinforcers and have an entire section of my workshop devoted to this. Compromising a bird to get a response to food is definitely not something I teach. And my DVDs and written materials do reflect this.  Here are a few of my free resources that have been on the internet for years that explain a bit more.
The Parrot Training Diet?
Tips to Motivate Your Parrot
Expanding Your List of Reinforcers
Training Your Parrot with Toys

 
Misconception #4: Barbara Thinks “Her” Way is the Only Way
The information I teach is based in the science of behavior analysis. A science with a lot of excellent data that demonstrates force free approaches are the way to go.  So while some people refer to “Barbara’s techniques” you will find that I actually tend to refer to the science. I see this information as something that is available to everyone, not “my” special method. What I do well is act as a good facilitator for helping people understand how to use that science to influence animal behavior focusing on the principles that are kind, gentle and have been proven to be successful, while maintaining a great relationship with the animal. When people refer to “other methods” it puzzles me, as there is no method that falls outside of the science of behavior analysis. The science helps us identify what principles are being used to influence behavior in whatever “technique” someone is using. Some principles have been shown by research to have detrimental effects on animals, and others produce cooperative animals that enjoy our company and participating.  When I do speak out about a technique it is usually because it falls into the detrimental category. This is because I believe my role is to help animals by sharing my knowledge about the drawbacks of these methods and help people learn they have kinder alternatives. I also openly support other professionals with whom I have had first-hand experience and who demonstrate integrity, are ethical in their business practices and teach a force free approach based in the science of behavior analysis. There is a growing community of force free trainers and I am proud to be one of many out there using science based training technology to do good things for animals.

I hope this answers a few questions that were brought to my attention. I understand that in this age of social media communication it is easy for misunderstandings to occur. Have you heard something that needs clarification? Don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks in advance for your critical thinking, open and honest communication, and inquisitive mind.

Copyright 2014 Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provides pet training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in eighteen countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Connecting with a New Parrot

I spend a great deal of time on the road teaching parrot training workshops, meeting new parrots, making a connection with them, and then training behaviors such as step up, take medication from a syringe, interact with towels and so on. Sometimes because I spend so much time talking about and studying these topics I assume many others are familiar with this information as well.

However it became clear this is not the case when reading a thread on a chat group.  A woman had inherited a macaw and was very unsure about how to interact with her new charge and was most troubled by how to train the parrot to step up.

Here are some of the misguided tips she received from well-meaning members of the group:

  • Make him step up by using a stick
  • Expect to get bit
  • If he bites, ignore it and just take the bite, so he learns not to bite
  • Just sit by the cage and talk to him softly
  • He will grow out of the biting
  • Don’t show fear
  • Just put your finger near him and talk to him like he is human
  • Keep him below eye level
  • Just be patient and love him
  • Sing songs to him
  • Parrots are just bad pets and shouldn’t be in our homes
I think it is wonderful that people want to help and are willing to share information. However the tips listed here are not what this bird or woman needs. And it saddens me that the information that will truly help this person is not reaching enough people.

Here is what will make a difference…straight forward force free training with positive reinforcement. This means identifying something this bird finds of value. Singing and talking to the bird may be of value to some birds, but not all and in reality is usually not the most powerful reinforcer for a bird that has no relationship with the human in question. Fortunately it was mentioned the bird like walnuts. Awesome! Now there is a treat she can use to get started pairing something good with her presence. The nuts can be broken up into small pieces to offer lots of teaching moments throughout the day.

The next step is to identify steps or approximations she can use to train the bird to step up. These are outlined in great detail in my DVD Parrot Behavior and Training, my eBook Train Your Parrot to Step Up and you can see examples on my YouTube page. Each step or approximation is reinforced with the pieces of walnut.



While going at the birds pace is important, it does not necessarily mean you have to wait weeks or years to train this behavior. It literally usually only takes one to two training sessions for me to train this behavior. It is one I repeat over and over again with new birds I have just met at parrot training workshops. There are always birds present at these workshops that show fear responses or aggressive behavior towards hands. This is the result of hands being used in coercive ways. It is not inherent to parrots. It is the result of learning and can be changed with force free approaches. Biting never had to be in these birds’ repertoire and nor does it need to be in the future. “Taking the bite” is not the way to go. Teaching the bird you will respect his or her body language and not push her to the point of biting will make biting irrelevant and not necessary. The result will be a much more trusting relationship between human and bird.

Biting is not a phase to grow out of, nor is it solved by keeping birds low. It is also not the result of parrots being bad pets; it is the result of how people interact with parrots in coercive ways.  A pleasant bite free relationship with parrots it completely possible when you use a force free training strategy.  I hope by sharing this information here, we can get more people talking about kind, gentle and most importantly, effective ways of building trust with companion parrots.

Barbara Heidenreich
www.BarbarasFFAT.com
www.GoodBirdInc.com
Copyright 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 Myths about Parrot Behavior



When you are learning about parrots, it is often quite natural to turn to the internet for information. Chat groups in particular often have people who are very happy to talk about parrots and offer advice.  Sometimes the advice can be based on old information or even old wives tales. Try to be a critical thinker when obtaining advice from the internet. Check with experts you trust to make sure what you are reading is accurate. Here are a few myths that I often see pop up on the internet frequently.

Myth #1: Your parrot needs to obey you.
This concept has been around for a long time. While it is understandable we would all like a well behaved parrot that does what we ask, the word “obey” seems to imply something a bit more forceful. Most people tend to interpret this to mean that they must make the bird comply, especially when he or she is refusing to cooperate. This often leads to people doing things like forcing birds to step up onto hands or go back into cages. Over time what can happen is the bird learns to be afraid of people or may start to show aggressive behavior. The good news is you can train your parrot using positive reinforcement to do whatever you ask when you want. This approach leads to a bird that eagerly cooperates and is very well-behaved. You don’t have to be his boss, you can be his buddy.

Myth #2: Your parrot thinks he is dominant if he is higher than your shoulder.
This idea probably started because someone could not get a bird to step up or cooperate when the parrot was sitting up on a high perch. Believe or not Myth #1 probably helped cause Myth #2. Parrots like sitting on high perches. If you try to force them down, they often move away or try to bite. This may seem like the bird thinks he is dominant, but in reality he just likes his high perch much better than he likes the hand that is coming at him in a forceful way. If your bird is trained to voluntarily come to your hand for a treat or reward he will step up or fly right down to your hand even when he is on a high perch. That is because he learned many wonderful things happen, like treats, toys and attention when he gets on a hand.

Myth #3: Parrots are competing with you when you talk on the phone or have company over.
Many people know that parrots tend to scream for attention when left alone. But what about the bird that screams when you are on the phone or have friends over? I have heard many people say the bird is seeking attention or competing with the owner when this happens. What happens next? People talk louder….and the bird gets louder! What is actually going on is that the bird is being a good flock mate. The loud talking humans means it is time for the flock to make some noise and the parrot is just joining in on the fun. That is why when people get louder, the bird gets louder. Once everyone gets quiet the bird will too.  If you need your parrot to be quiet when people are talking you can offer him a super fun toy right before you intend to have a conversation or spend time training him that quiet activities will get reinforced when people are talking.

Myth #4: A parrot behavior problem is just a phase.
Many people have young parrots that are cuddly and easy to handle. Then around 1 to 2 years old the birds starts to show aggressive behavior. People often label this time as the terrible twos and hope the bird will just grow out of it. Unfortunately that is not the case. Young birds are easy to handle because they are in a phase of development that makes them open and receptive to new experiences. We can often get away with being forceful with young birds. But as they mature and that window of openness goes away and they start objecting to the same type of handling they would allow as youngsters. The best strategy is to never use force to begin with. Even if a parrot will allow it, it doesn’t mean you should. Always let your bird choose to participate and reward with desired goodies when he does. This should be carried on throughout the lifetime of the bird. Do this and you will have good behavior from your parrot for his entire life.


Myth #5: You just have to accept that parrots will be “hormonal” certain times of the year.
Hormonal typically means the parrot is in the mood to breed and have babies. This state means the bird has extra reproductive hormones in its body. Besides wanting to make babies this can cause other problems like aggressive behavior, or egg binding. Unless your want your bird to breed, your parrot does not need to be “hormonal.” Most parrots are not ready to breed all year long. Certain environmental triggers cause them to produce more reproductive hormones. These include extra daylight hours, an over abundant diet rich in fats, sugars and carbohydrates, having  a mate like bond with another bird or human, and having access to a nest like cavity. So to avoid an increase in reproductive hormones we can make sure the amount of daylight the bird experiences stays the same throughout the year. We can also monitor the diet and make sure the content and amount is appropriate. We can avoid reinforcing courtship behaviors like regurgitation. Instead we can interact with our parrots in healthier ways, like training fun tricks. And we can take out any toys that look like nest boxes and also block off access to any similar hiding places in the house. These tips will help prevent your bird from going “hormonal.”

These are just a few myths about parrots. If you ever read something about parrots that sounds a bit strange to you, do a little extra research and you’ll discover the truth about our feathered friends.

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Good Bird Inc (www.GoodBirdInc.com) provides parrot training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in eighteen countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.

Monday, August 18, 2014

3 Common Training Mistakes People Make that Cause Behavior Problems

Many people have learned a lot about training. However sometimes it can be hard to apply the information in real life. In this article I will share three common mistakes people make when trying to teach their parrot or other pet to be well behaved.

Mistake #1: Forgetting to reinforce good behavior

It is very easy to fall into the habit of forgetting to tell your parrot, other pet, even your friends and family when they have done something right, especially after they have learned the desired behavior. We usually just expect good behavior to happen and stay that way forever. But the truth is we have to reinforce that good behavior if we want it to keep happening. So when you parrot steps up onto your hand, goes back in his cage, steps off your shoulder and so on, you should always offer him something he likes for being such a good parrot and cooperating.  Many people think saying “good boy” is enough. But for some animals the words aren’t really that meaningful to them. You want to make sure whatever you use to reward your pet is something you know he really loves. This will help guarantee your animal will continue to do things when you ask.

Mistake #2: Repeating the cue over and over
I always cringe a little when I hear someone repeating a cue over and over to an animal. The next thing that happens is the cue gets louder! Repeating the cue is a big red flag that the training process needs some attention. That is why my gut reaction is so strong. There is a big problem going on, but fortunately it is easily fixed. When the cue is presented over and over the animal can learn to respond whenever he feels like it. He can also learn the cue is actually “step up, step up, step up” or “sit, sit, sit, sit” instead of just “step up” or “sit.” The key to fixing this is to go back in your training process a little bit. For example if I am training a parrot to fly to me, I may keep the distance short instead of asking for a big flight. I then wait for the bird to look like he is 99.9% ready to fly to me.  Then I offer my cue. By doing this I will get a quick response to my cue that I will present one time. When the parrot responds, I will offer lots of goodies. Overtime I will gradually add more distance and difficulty. But my first goal is to teach the animal to respond right away to the cue presented one time.  If you ever find yourself repeating the cue a lot, stop and do a little retraining to get things back on track.

Mistake #3: Accidentally reinforcing bad behavior
The most common example of this with parrots is screaming for attention. Most people don’t like it when a parrot vocalizes for our attention. We usually respond with “Be quiet!” or running into the room to shut the door or cover the cage. We think these actions will cause the parrot to see that we are upset and stop the screaming. But instead the parrot learns screaming gets us to call back or come running into the room. In other words screaming results in exactly what the parrot wants. Therefore he will use screaming more often to get attention. Another example is when a dog jumps up on people. Usually people try to push the dog down, or give in and pet the dog while he is jumping up. Both of these actions teach the dog jumping up on people results in desired attention. In both examples it is better to teach the parrot and the dog that a different acceptable behavior will work to get attention. For the parrot it could be talking or singing. For the dog, it could be four paws on the floor or sitting. Once your pet starts getting reinforced for the correct behavior and no longer is rewarded for the bad behavior, you will go back to having a well behaved pet.

Now it is your turn. Try to get in the habit of reinforcing your pet for good behaviors, avoiding reinforcing behaviors you don’t want, and paying attention to how many times you cue for a behavior. Your good training will result in good behavior from your parrot and other pets.

Copyright 2014 Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provides pet training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in eighteen countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.