Rebecca K. O'Connor
Chances are that you will be living with your parrot for years to come. This is one of the many reasons that sharing your home with a parrot can be especially rewarding. I have lived my African grey parrot for 20 years now and am very much looking forward to another 20. However, the one thing about a long life is that nothing every stays the same. People come and go in our lives, we move to new places, and even those who remain around us evolve and change. This is true of parrots as well. There may come a time when your angelic parrot starts acting like a little devil. What do you do?
The good news is, you really can teach an old parrot new tricks. No matter what the challenging behavior in your home, the same training tools can help you. Every behavior has an antecedent and a consequence. The antecedent is something that happens immediately before the behavior and makes the behavior more likely to occur. This means that before a parrot screams or bites, there is probably something that occurred and made it more likely to happen. Perhaps the phone rings and then the parrot begins to scream. Maybe you shove your hand against your parrot’s chest and then it leans down and bites.
The consequence is what happens after the behavior. If the consequence is rewarding, the behavior will repeat itself. If your parrot bites you and then your husband (who is a favorite person) picks her up and cuddles her, the parrot has been rewarded. If the parrot screams after the phone rings and you walk over and give it a treat to quiet her down, you have just rewarded her. If the parrot keeps getting rewarded, the behavior is going to continue.
If you can figure out the antecedent and the consequence of a behavior, you can work on changing it. If the phone ringing triggers the parrot to scream, you could turn off the ringer. Antecedent eliminated and Wa-la! No more screaming parrot (and no more annoying phone calls). However, changing the antecedent is often realistically not the best solution. Changing the consequence is usually the better choice. Don’t give your parrot treats or even come into the room to quiet her down. No reinforcement for screaming will make a parrot less likely to scream.
In fact, any time your parrot has started to display undesirable behavior, it is time to start thinking about what you are rewarding. Don’t just think about the things you are accidentally rewarding, but about being mindful of rewarding things you do appreciate. If you consistently remind your parrot with positive reinforcement that you enjoy it when he says, "hello”, she is likely to start offering "hello” more than a scream. The sooner you address the beginnings of a behavior you don’t appreciate, the easier it will be to get your parrot back to behaviors you enjoy. Everyone has to go back to the basics from time to time. A little bit of consistent communication and your wonderfully behaved parrot can be wonderful for a lifetime!
Want to learn more?
3 Tips To Train A Well-Behaved Parrot
2 Easy Tricks Every Well-Behaved Parrot Should Know