3 Ways to Lose Your Parrot's Trust

3 Ways to Lose Your Parrot’s Trust

 July 6th, 2009
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I’ve said it before, and will probably say it again: parrots don’t give unconditional love.  A dog will rest his head on your lap and say: “It’s okay that you forgot to feed me before you left this morning.  My tummy is full now.  You’re the greatest.”  A parrot will turn his back to you and give you the cold shoulder for a week for the same infraction.  Trust is a hard-won commodity.  It sure is in this house.  It only takes one incident to break apart all that you’ve established.  While there are several way to lose your parrot’s trust, here are three sure-fire bets:

Hit or punish your bird

First, let me state the obvious: if you hit your bird, not only do run the risk of injuring him, but violence attracts violence.  Remember that he is born equipped with weaponry on his face, and he’s not afraid to use it.  Secondly, it is a huge breach of trust when you assault someone and it carries the message that if you don’t see things my way I will harm you.  You will have earned that missing finger.

Punishing a bird is pointless because the message is never clear to him.  It is almost always the case that by the time you’ve figured out what the punishment will be and administered it,  the bird no longer will relate it to the crime.  From the bird’s perspective you are just being mean.  A time out, when you stop and disconnect from the bird by turning your back or walking away for several seconds, does work because it is immediate and easily associated with the behavior.  It has a low impact and does not teach your bird that you mean to harm or bully him.  Instead, your bird will quickly learn that when he does something unacceptable, he will lose your attention.

Force your parrot to do something he doesn’t want to do

Applying force to your parrot is counterproductive.  Sure, you may get what you want at that moment, but the long term loss of trust is not worth it.   We have all had times when we have had to whisk our birds away from a dangerous situation, like just when the beak is about to close down on the electrical cord.  I am not referring to these situations.  Somehow our parrots are able to discern that we are not doing this out of anger or frustration, but out of concern for their well being.  We might get bitten, but it is out of their shock at the abruptness of our behavior rather than anger.  These transgressions, if handled correctly, seem to be forgiven.

Here’s an example:  Theo, my goffins cockatoo, needs a nail trim.  Bad.  Her nickname has become Needle-toes.  She doesn’t like her toes being touched and I am working with her on that so that I might eventually be able to trim her nails myself.  I have a vet appointment  for my cat next week at which time they will do her nails, but I don’t know if I can make it that long.  She is usually on my shoulder when I am on the computer, which is often.  I have scratches all over my right shoulder which have scabbed over.  Being the wonderful friend that she is, she preens the scabs and it’s an ongoing cycle.  If I were to towel her and force a nail trim on her, my shoulder would get some needed relief, but  I would lose my little buddy for sure.  Since she has come to live with me, I have given her the time to adapt slowly to all of the changes in her life.  She has come to know that I will not be pushy with her.  If I were to aggressively hold her down and force her to do what I wanted, she would no longer give me the benefit of the doubt when I asked her to do something she was skeptical about.  All of our hard work would be lost.  Needle-toes and I are working on the toe phobia.

Lose trust by “lying” to your bird

Your parrot loves to go bye-bye in the car.  He will drop everything and come running to you at the mere mention of the possibility of a ride.  You are late to work and can’t get him to step up so you can secure him in his cage.  I know, you think,  if I tell him we are going for a ride he’ll cooperate.  Then I’ll hurry him to his cage and lock the door before he knows what hit him.  You can expect that in the future you will receive no such cooperation from him. You might want to allow an extra 20 minutes or so to get him into his cage tomorrow.  And good luck with that.  A parrot never forgets.

Something that we often forget is that parrots understand what we are saying.  They may not repeat the words back to us, or they may only understand vaguely from our tone of voice, but they understand.  I had a conversation the other day with a friend and fellow cockatoo owner on this subject.  He told me that if his bird sees a hawk outside the window, and she gets unnerved and aggitated as they all do when they see a preditor, he doesn’t say “it’s okay” to her to soothe her.  Instead, he says “uh oh, danger!” and takes her away from the window.  He pointed out that he can tell her that it’s okay all he wants, but she knows that it is not okay at all and that there is a very real danger present.  She trusts him all the more for his honesty and calling it like it is.  Now when she sees a rabbit outside the window and becomes upset, he can say it’s okay to her and mean it.  She understands.  Just food for thought…

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18 Comments on “3 Ways to Lose Your Parrot’s Trust”

Annette Smith  07/11/2009 2:12 pm

I have a very difficult parrot. I don’t always do as you saying. But he is a brat and wants everything his way. I don’t always know what to do. For and example the other day he was out of his cage. I did’nt have the cage position correctly and he went down the outside of the cage and reached over to the stool that the humitifier was on. The humidifier was off. but he was trying to pull on the stool so the humidifier would fall. I walk over calmly and said hello and grabed the cage and started pushing the cage over a little bit. he ran up the cage to where my hand was and tried to bite me. I told him to step up in a firm voice. He ran away. I had to get a towel and put him in his cage. He was very mad at me the rest of the day. I don’t feel that what I did was very good for our relationship. Maybe I should lure him with a banana chip to the top of the cage and then make the attempt to move his cage out of harms way. We both would have had a better day and maybe he would trust me more. Or is he going to learn that doing bad behavior is going to get him a banana chip. I’d love to here your feed back. Annette

Patty  07/12/2009 1:02 am

Hey Annette,
I understand how frustrating it is to manage a willful and manipulative parrot. I imagine it was a combination of things that led him to try to bite you, starting with the fact that you ruined his fun with the humidifier. Also, if he is territorial about his cage, he probably doesn’t appreciate you moving it at all. The moving cage may have even alarmed him. although you had no choice to avoid an accident.
It’s hard to give you advice from where I sit because I didn’t observe what happened, but I will say that it sounds to me like he is playing controlling games with you. I recognize the signs from one of my own parrots, who will do something he shouldn’t and stare at me the whole time to make sure that I am watching, challenging me to do something about it. He’s trying to get a response from me, which I don’t give him.
When he ran up the cage to bite you, what did you do? Did you snatch your hand away, did you jump back, did you vocalize in some way? These are all natural reactions to a potential bite, but they also make an amusing spectacle to your parrot who will continue to do it just to get that reaction from you, even when it ultimately leads to him being caged. Next time, just walk calmly away. The lack of your attention will make it no fun, and if there’s no benefit in it, the behavior will stop. Even if you are bitten, just walk away. Don’t let him get that reaction from you.
When you tried to step him up afterwards, especially in a firm voice, the only way he could maintain his control over you and the situation was by running away, making you chase after him. Again he has your attention, and he is in control. The banana chip lure might have worked with certain birds, and you do run the risk of it rewarding an unwanted behavior, but I think yours might be a bit too clever to have fallen for it anyways.
I doubt that this exact scenario will present itself again in the future, but try to let it play out like this: He is trying to tip over the humidifier, you calmly walk to the cage, greet him and move it. He runs over to bite you and, having finished what you set out to do, you just walk away from him, disregarding his bad behavior. One of two things is likely to happen next: he will just stay the on the side of the cage wondering why this game isn’t going as planned, or he’ll climb to the top and scream at you for not playing along. Either way, you do nothing. When he settles down or starts looking for his next activity, that’s when the banana chips come out. If you don’t play, there’s no game. I ignore the bad behaviors (unless danger is present) and reward the good. There are little tricks you can use to redirect the attentions of a misbehaving bird that can keep you from having a confrontation. If you think about it, you can come up with a million ideas. If he is getting into something and you think it’s going to cause problems trying to remove him from that situation, come up with something better for him to do. Sit on the floor with the newspaper and start tearing it into strips and tossing them on the floor. That will probably get his attention. I pulled the silverware caddy out of my kitchen drawer and emptied it onto the table one day. He definitely had to be a part of that and came running. Moving his attention away from something unwanted is just a much more positive way of interacting with him. It will also build a foundation for a better relationship between the two of you based on mutual respect.
Try not to think of him as difficult or bratty, it just puts a negative spin on things in your mind. Think of him as smart and interactive. Neither one of you has to be in “control” in this relationship. It’s all about give and take. This approach has worked miracles with my challenging cockatoo.

May  07/12/2009 6:37 am

Something that might help you with Needle-toes is an Easy Ride Shoulder Perch. You can check it out (and buy it if interested) at http://www.shoulderperch.com/. 🙂

Patty  07/12/2009 2:25 pm

Hi May,
Thanks for the link! I have a friend who uses this product with her handicapped birds and it works great. Ideally, I want to be able to trim the nails and eliminate the problem. Then I can go back to calling her Theo again!

Annette Smith  07/13/2009 10:36 am

Thank you Patty,
I think you really hit it on the nail with my parrot. He is very smart. I’ve had many parrots in my life but none of them have ever been like him. I love him very much. I think your right about walking away and not giving any attention for the behavior when he lunged at my hand. I did react by yanking my hand away. Now that I read you comment I realize that I could have pulled the humidifier out of the way and left his cage alone. But I think that your right that this situation will not play out again. but it will in another form. I will try to not react. That may be the best. I have already had several times been bitten and I’m able to not react. I will work on doing that everytime. He is very territorial about his cage. I have a metal guard around his cage so he can’t climb off is cage but the jungle gym is on top of his cage. Maybe it would be good to build a play tree for him. I have Madrone branches and manzanita as well I get working on that. I never know what to do with him once he is out of the cage and on my hand. After hugging and kissing him we both look at each other and then he finds something to do that not good like chew on the couch or climb up the front of me. when I stop him he bites then I pick him up and put his in he cage or on top of the cage and he growls and hisses at me. Should I return him to his cage or should I set his on the ground and walk away but keep an eye on him? Thank again for you advice. I will check back and see if you or anyone eles has any thoughts about my trying to put his back on his cage or leaving him in nutral terratory. Thanks Annette

Patty  07/13/2009 6:31 pm

Hi Annette,
I am assuming that we are talking about a large parrot if he is able to tip over a stool. You also mentioned lunging, a macaw maybe? Painful bites! It’s okay to pull your hand from the bite. It’s human nature and in some cases it’s smart. But when you do, everything else about your body language has to remain in control. Don’t make eye contact, don’t change your expression, certainly don’t make any sounds. Try to make him wonder if it weren’t a weird coincidence that you happened to move the very hand he was thinking about biting. The point is to avoid a situation where the parrot might find the event amusing enough to do it again. Whatever works.
The best approach to what to do after the hugs and kisses are over is for you to immediately direct his attention to something acceptable. Since you know that his next move will be one that will get him into trouble, avoid that step for him. The play tree idea is PERFECT. That will be the place to put him BEFORE the trouble starts. It won’t be long before he finds better things to do besides the usual. If he is territorial about his cage, respect that and keep away from it. (My umbrella cockatoo is that way, and for the longest time I had remove him from the room altogether when I was servicing his cage. He is much more relaxed about it now.) Given the two choices of putting him in his cage or leaving him on the floor, I would leave him on the floor and simply disconnect from him for several seconds. While you are away from him, find something fun for him to do and introduce that when you reconnect. Dropping a spoon “accidentally” and laughing and yelling OOOPS!! can be all that’s needed to change his direction from plotting to playful. I feel that putting him back in his cage, given how he reacts, is too dramatic because it’s how you assert yourself and he doesn’t like it when you do that.
Try to change things up in your household to try to see what he responds well to. I definitely get the sense that you know what to do. Try to think objectively about your situation. I asked for help from a friend a year ago, and when she gave me her thoughts, I was in complete disbelief that I couldn’t see the answer for myself. Sometimes we are too close to see what’s in front of us, especially when it involves someone or something that we love. I feel good about this working itself out.

Annette Smith  07/14/2009 7:19 pm

Thank Patty,
What you say make a lot of sense. My bird is a Soloman Island eclectus. Male. He was raise as a baby with my step father. My step father had him for nine years. He lived in a little condo at that time. My step father met a woman and moved in with her. Paco (my eclectus) was very upset at the move and took to screaming and lunging at my stepfathers new girlfriend. My step father begged me took take Paco. He wasn’t comfortable with just anyone owning his baby. I have two other Amazon parrots. and they are very happy well adjusted parrots. Easy going. I’ve had Paco 4 months now. He no longer screams for attention. But I can’t say he is easy going. When people talk about problems with macaws I alway think of Paco. He is very active and very smart. My amazons don’t seem as smart and they are easily entertained. I’ll keep everything you say in mind and I’ll try to always apply it. Can you believe my stepfather said when he tries to bite me all I need to do is give him a tap on the beak. He said it’s always worked for him. Paco never gave him any of the problems I’m having. I tried it tap him on the beak and to Paco it was war. I never tried that again. Thanks Annette

Patty  07/14/2009 11:21 pm

Good luck Annette. If you run into a jam, or just need an outside viewpoint, feel free to ask.

Annette Smith  07/15/2009 3:01 pm

Thank you Patty. Yesterday I put him on his training perch in the kitchen. The first thing he did was hiss. I whet along cleaning the dishes and when he was quiet for a while I turned around and played a game that we sometimes play. He was so happy and When I finally put him back in his cage he let me do it and didn’t fuss. He was happy all day. Thank you. If I have anymore questions I’ll ask. Annette

Patty  07/16/2009 10:58 pm

Annette, Sounds like you’re off to a great start. Good work!! Patty

Dian hamadyk  07/16/2013 1:13 pm

Everything stated is so true! We adopted Harley our amazon several years ago and somethings I learned thru painful experience, others are just plain common sense. I’m showing this to some people who really need to read this and understand why their not getting the relationship they expect from their parrots. Well said!

sharon  01/13/2014 2:31 pm

i just got a umbarella cockatoo yesterday and he screems and kept me up most of the night and when I let him out he trys to bite me what do I do?

T  03/09/2014 2:44 am

All these people with problems…. Take your bird to a vet, they will give you the only advice you should listen to!

Missy Pinson  05/26/2014 10:23 pm

My husband and I rescued an umbrella cockatoo. He was completely defeat here’d in his chest. We promised him he’d never have another home and this we vow to keep. We got him October 7, 2012 ; brought I’m home and placed him in his cage with ample toys and perches. We found locking him in his cage provided the same security as a dog in a kennel/crate. He needed the boundaries of his own “home”. After about two weeks, we’d open the cage when we’d come in from work and slowly, he would venture out. In mid March, within a three week time frame, he’d bitten five people. We learned we were not listening to his body language. He would pace and get nervous with large crowds in our home or strangers present. Iknow this is hard to believe, but if you set boundaries without anger, you CAN have a lovable parrot that does learn to trust YOU. You can’t undo the memory of damage someone did prior to bringing them home, but you can gain their trust and love with patience, time and understanding. He now comes when we call him and goes to his cage when we tell him.

Brittney  03/16/2015 3:09 pm

Hello. I just got a goffins cockatoo about 2 weeks ago. When my husband first saw him, he immediately stepped up for him and loved on him. When he brought him home he took to me and started being fearful of my husband. I am subscribed to your emails and follow your every post on facebook. So, I thought I would contact you and birdtricks.com for help. I am in desperate need of help. Okay, desperate may seem a bit dramatic, but it feels that way to me. He was such a sweet boy. I could scritch him, pet him, kiss him, and snuggle with him. He would run away (and i literally mean run) from my husband and children. I just assumed that he had chosen me. Well, 4 days ago he decided he is scared of me as well. He will run to me for safety from anyone else and will step on and run up my arm to my shoulder. But I cannot get him to let me kiss and pet him anymore. Every time I lift my hand (even to scratch my face) he will fly away and run from me. What could I do to strengthen our bond and stop this behavior? His last owner said he did the same thing to her. Which is why she got rid of him. She rescued him and he immediately took to her. Then one day when she awoke, he decided to never let her touch him again. Same situation with me. I woke up to give him some morning love and he just ran from me. It hurts my feelings and I just want him to know he has a safe forever home here. It bothers me that he is now a just a beautiful caged bird. Could you help me? Thank you kindly for your consideration on this matter.

Name (required)  10/08/2016 2:04 pm

What about shouting? its hard not to when he`s screeching so loud! he now copies me, i feel soooo cruel, he defanately isn`t short of attentiion …. help

Terry  12/02/2016 7:09 am

Thanks a lot. That is good info and ca be used quite often. Although I do follow some of these, it is interesting to hear that there may be small things I am not doing all the time. Keep it up and know it does help.