Why punishment does not work with parrots

Why Punishment Does Not Work With Parrots

 October 22nd, 2012
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why punishment does not work with parrots

It wasn’t all that long ago that people used absolutely detrimental training techniques on their puppies. When the inevitable housetraining accident occured, people were advised to rub the puppy’s nose in it. When it got too rambunctious, you rapped it on the snout with a rolled up newspaper. When it barked, you squirted it in the face with water. Ughh!

How could any dog EVER learn to stop pooping in the house with this sequence of events…

  1. puppy poops on floor (probably because the owner neglected to walk it)
  2. owner eventually finds the poop (the dog has long since left the scene)
  3. owner curses at dog and smears poop on its nose.

How is it even possible that a dog might be able to connect the vague dots tying the punishment to the crime? Wouldn’t it perceive that there was objection to the poop itself rather than its location? Wouldn’t it see its owner’s actions as aggressive and random?

It is nothing short of a miracle that most people were not mauled to death by the family dog as a result of their barbaric treatment. However, the dogs always forgot the deed and forgave their owners for their sins.

Suffice to say, dogs are different beasts than parrots; a parrot might forgive you for such an atrocity (after a long period of probation) – but a parrot never forgets. He will tuck away for safe-keeping the idea that you might become untrustworthy again at any moment..and this may be used against you at any time.

Hyacinth macaw

It is safe to say that all animals learn in a similar fashion – they do something, and the repercussions determine whether or not they will do it again. But there are big differences in the personalities of dogs and parrots.

For one, dogs aim to please their owners. You can see suffering in their eyes when we disapprove their actions and they go to great lengths to make amends with us.

A parrot doesn’t much care if we approve of their behavior or not. They are very busy tending to those things that are important to parrots and it is merely unfortunate if our wants are overlooked in the process.

It’s not that your parrot is bad or doesn’t like you, its that parrots are self-serving by nature. They are thinkers, they have goals and priorities which they are inclined, sometimes instinctively, to carry out. Everything your parrot does has a purpose, even when we don’t see an end to their means. This is the reason punishment is not only ineffective, but detrimental to a parrot.


Rosebreasted cockatoo

Someone on facebook was bitten by their parrot recently. A friend linked her to an article in which the reader was advised to: “Verbally tell your parrot ‘no’ and place the bird back in its cage as a form of punishment. Cover the cage and leave it alone for some time. The parrot, being an intelligent bird, will sense that it is being disciplined.”

This could not be further from the truth and it’s terrible advice. You can’t discipline an animal that has no sense of right or wrong. Parrots only do what they do – in the way that birds do things. They are free of conscience when it comes to their behaviors.

When your bird destroys your favorite book, it is carrying out an instinctive need to chew and shred. It does not weigh up its actions beforehand, or consider the consequences of getting caught.

If your parrot bites and screams it is trying desperately to communicate that something is wrong in the only way it has found to be effective. It certainly does get our attention.

Is your bird bad for doing these things? NO! It is being a bird, doing what comes naturally and handling matters in ways that seem to work. If you were to punish it, your actions would be perceived as aggressive because, to their way of thinking, they have done nothing to elicit YOUR behavior. Covering your bird or placing it in a dark room is counter-productive. It will be percieved as cruel – and it is!

As intelligent creatures they do come to understand that their actions may meet with disapproval, but as they are simply carrying out the duties that nature has assigned to them, your objections may seem unreasonable.

This makes the word “no” absoluely pointless. In most cases, when a bird on a mission hears this, he knows you intend to reroute him away from his intended target and will actually race to acomplish the goal. Sometimes our hands become collateral damage. Bad bird? No. Just a determined bird.

In short, you can’t punish a bird for acting in accordance to its nature. You will find much more success in detering unwanted behaviors by using distraction and avoidance:

  • If your parrot is headed to somewhere its shouldn’t be, divert its attention with an unexpected act. The sound of tearing or wadding paper is enough to stop my birds in their tracks. Then when a paper ball lands at their feet they no longer remember the mischief they were about to get into. Distraction.
  • If your bird is being excessively noisy on a given day, sometimes an impromptu shower is all that is necessary to break the mood. Distraction.
  • If your bird can’t help but poke holes in the cover of your paperback, don’t leave it laying around for him to get at. Likewise, don’t wear jewelry that is precious to you if your bird is attracted to it. Avoidance.

Should your bird damage things that you love – it is YOUR fault for letting him near something that is important to you. Remember, he is just being a bird – often that means destruction.

The best form of distraction is training which lets you use their self-serving nature to your mutual benefit. One of the reasons birds respond so well to positive reinforcement training is because it gets something of value out of it.

Treats are earned and therefore it serves your bird to collaborate with you to get something it values. Birds, being very social animals, will also work for rewards like physical attention or praise – that serves them too.

Over the years, we have seen many, many behavioral problems magically disappear when an owner begins training. Birds that are viewed as uncooperative or aggressive find a way to connect with their owners and turn their interests to this new means of getting things that are important to them.

As a result, these birds are all too willing to engage in activities other than the ones that landed them back in their cage prematurely. These happy and emotionally healthy birds have owners that allow them to be the birds that they are and avoid using unproductive measures of control like punishment.

Click here for free videos showing you how to achieve a productive relationship with your bird: http://www2.birdtricks.com/parrot-training/.

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12 Comments on “Why Punishment Does Not Work With Parrots”

Casey  10/30/2012 3:25 pm

My B&G says STOP when she gets done with a screaming fit!!

Bonnie  10/30/2012 5:59 pm

My CAG says “Bad Dog!” when my B&G screams.

Rob smith  10/12/2014 6:22 am

Havging sent many requests for help with my amazon bird screaming and waiting for a part of your program to help with it. alas the loving bird is now gone I miss her.

carry on the good work sorry I could not afford it at the time

Tricia T  04/08/2015 1:40 pm

Makes sense what you are saying. I have a macaw with a strong will. He doesn’t seem to care if he is squirt for squawking or isolated another room. Ive been wondering “why” these punishnents don’t seem to work. Thanks for the advise! I will try distraction next time.

Cyndy  04/08/2015 4:38 pm

A good shower does stop our U2 from screaming, but only for about 2 or 3 hours. The problem is that we have an Amazon that fuels it. Our U2, Casey, screams, and our Amazon, Happy yells, “Shut up!” or screams right back…behavior learned from his previous home! It’s a vicious cycle. I wish I could figure out how to stop it because our CAG, Pionus, and African Senegal don’t hardly vocalize anymore at all. 🙁

Scearas  04/08/2015 6:13 pm

actually, I feel there are some moments where mild discipline is good. getting onto a bird for chewing on a book is ridiculous. or for making a mess. it is just being a bird. but for example, if a cockatoo keeps attacking people (actually taking the time to approach them to attack instead of defending) you put them up (either to stop them from hurting friends, or to discipline). then after a few times, they realize, if I attack people, I get put back inside. they are MUCH smarter than we think they are. also, I didn’t make this up. several people do this, and it worked. the bird rarely bites people now. if they bite when approached, different story, because he/she could be scared, or not want to be messed with, etc.

Ann Marie Kulzer Spillan  04/08/2015 9:43 pm

Perfect day to read this. My parakeet chased my cockatiel all over the front room today. She wanted him off his play stand. She had the play tree with lots of toys. I think this was a territory/boredom act. I did put my parakeet in the cage (no cover). Not punishment but cockatiel preservation. Now they will have to have separate out of cage time. I hate to limit their free time. Any suggestions on how to stop aerial assaults?

Jennifer Harrison  04/09/2015 4:05 am

Yeah good advice but some of what you said doesn’t always work like in my case I have two Cockatiels a 8 year old female and a 10 year old male that are not hand tamed at all and they are afraid of hands and they will bite, they are a mated pair and don’t show any interest in humans mostly myself or anything else they have never played with toys even when I have buy them safe toys they either ignores or tries to get as far away from the toys as they can even if the toy has been in the cage for a few months. When my tiels are in their screaming moods I have tried talking to them calmly, whistling to them, checked their food and water dishes and misting them down and most of the time that stuff doesn’t help stopping the screaming but I have notice that some times putting them some where that is quieter then the living room helps the screaming cut down it is almost like they don’t like that the TV is loud like it’s hurting their ears so I move their cage to a quieter room and that seems to help I do sometimes have to cover the cage with blankets in the room is cool as with my den I do that because I don’t have a table to put them on so I have to put them on the carpeted floor which is why I cover them up to stop them from becoming I’ll since I am on a low income so I can’t afford to take them to the vets plus in my town their is no avian vet here the vets here only take care of pets like cat’s and dog’s and maybe rodents like hamster’s, so I try my best to make sure that my birds never ever get sick they get time out of their cage unless my female is laying eggs then she’s in time out until she ignores the eggs as it is hard to clean up her droppings yes I do look at my birds droppings a lot as I know that I can tell if they are sick from the droppings I do a over all check up every day even if I can’t hold them I can tell if they have lost weight or aren’t eating

Deanna  04/09/2015 4:52 am

Our rainbow lorikeets screams constantly at us when we try to talk or when we aren’t giving her attention. She is very very territorial of her cage and her bowls and lunges at me and bites me very hard. What can I do? I cover her up and she still screams, I try to ignore her and she still screams. O almost give up.

April G.  04/09/2015 2:54 pm

I don’t believe punishment should be used AT ALLLLLLLLL on any animal. they have instinctive behaviors we humans do not understand; if one does not have the common sense to know this, I would suggest you think again about owning any kind of animal !!!

If someone thinks that an animal can be intently cruel think again. The good book says “The Imagination of man’s heart is wicked above ALLLLLLLL things; who can know it.”

I’ve seen more than my share of how insanely cruel people can be.

Cynthia Harris  04/09/2015 5:39 pm

Very good advise! Thank you!

Kate  07/25/2015 9:23 pm

To Deanna with the Rainbow Lorikeet,

Try looking up snuggle huts causing territorial and aggressive behaviors (not sure if you use one, but they are also extremely dangerous for strangulation and choking hazards). Also, lack of necessary sleep (undisturbed sleep at least 10 hrs per night). Good luck.