The formation of your parrot: the difficulties of punishment
Punishing your parrot
Bad social habits
In our culture, inflicting punishment is such a deep-rooted habit, by the way, we train our animals, how we raise our children, and how our own parents have educated us, that it is sometimes difficult to give up the almost instinctive urge to resort to them. True, some punishments are lenient (diverting attention, putting the culprit aside), but others are rather severe (shouting, hitting, shaking the cage, pulling out feathers, watering the animal with water, etc.). This innate need to control the behavior of those around us by imposing sanctions has given way to a wide variety of “proven” methods of training parrots. While these methods aim to control bad behavior, many of them rather go against the foundations of the psychology of learning and cognition. In addition, these are in no way useful to the bird, which always ignores the importance of good behavior, and often causes the opposite effect to that desired. Gradually, these methods undermine trust and destroy the bonds between the master and his parrot, thus amplifying many bad behaviors. These quick and miraculous solutions only compromise the unique bonds we share with these very intuitive and intelligent little beasts.
Social Dominance Theory: Relationship between dominant and dominated
Our propensity to punish first and then ask questions comes from the hegemonic culture rooted in human genetic baggage. Human society has always faced dominant groups; this hierarchy is even observed in most primates, our closest ancestors. In a way, humans are fundamentally predisposed either to dominate others or to allow themselves to be dominated. This deep-seated reflex prevents us from paying attention to other animal species and considering how they do things. When we use dominance-based training methods with our pet birds, we need to ask ourselves, “Does my bird understand the dominant and dominated relationship?” In this regard, here’s what Steve Martin of Natural Encounters Inc. thinks about dominance in wild parrots: “I’ve talked to many local researchers who study parrots in the wild. None of them have been evidenced of any form of hierarchy among wild parrots… nor aggression directed to exercise their domination. »
In reality, in nature, parrots sometimes quarrel to obtain or protect resources, but not to reign supreme over the flight. So why persist in punishing and dominating our parrots when they “refuse to cooperate”? In other words, punishments are very profitable only for the person who inflicts them, because they are effective only if they manage to reduce the targeted behavior. However, a poorly applied punishment rarely leads to this result. Unfortunately, on rare occasions, punishments have the desired effect. Bird owners will claim that when they shake the cage, their bird stops screaming (for a while). Even if they do nothing to really stop the behavior (the bird continues to egotize frequently), this positive, but temporary, result encourages the owners to continue. The occasional reinforcement, coupled with the resentment provoked and the unconscious desire for revenge, makes them dangle a dangerously addictive practice to train their animal.
Sidelining, jumping technique, and other myths
It is clear from a closer look at the methods of training parrots that techniques that have been widely acclaimed are strangely akin to punishments. According to behavioral analysts, punishment is any consequence associated with behavior and causes the likelihood of its recurrence to decrease.
Let’s take a close look at some of the most popular recommendations when it comes to behavioral problems in domestic birds.
When it comes to parrot breeding, there are several forms of seclusion: putting the bird back in its cage, turning off the lights, covering the cage, and confining the bird to a remote room are all examples. However, such attempts at punishment assume that the bird’s only motivation is to spend time with its master out of its cage. Since parrots are emotionally complex beasts, it is impossible to assume anything about their emotional state or what motivates them. If the bird feels tired, hungry, or nervous, going to its cage may be all it wants. It may also be that the bird only wants the attention of its master and makes it’s own to get it. In this case, rushing to take the bird, even for a brief moment, and putting it back in its cage only teaches it to misbehave to attract attention.
Parrots live a lot in the present moment. As a result, each behavior is reinforced or mitigated by the consequence immediately imposed.
In order for sidelining to prove to be an effective strategy for training your bird, this technique should be carried out immediately after the occurrence of the behavior.
- Indeed, the time to take the bird and put it back in the cage or take it to a distant room, or rush to turn off the light or to cover the cage, is enough to prevent any association between the act and the consequence.
- In addition, sidelining must effectively counteract the cause of bad behavior. However, we have already established that it is almost impossible to determine the exact cause that caused the behavior at the very moment it occurs.
- In addition, the setting aside should be short-lived (between 30 seconds and a few minutes, at most) in order to elicit an emotional reaction in the bird. If the punishment is long-lasting, the bird may forget the reason why it was sidelined. Unfortunately, it is too often considered right to “impose a punishment commensurate with the crime” to confine the bird to a remote room for very long periods of time. The latter may have broken his master’s ears for more than an hour when he only wanted peace and calm or may have bitten him to the blood for the first time and the experience proved particularly painful. At the time, our actions probably seem quite justified given the circumstances, but after careful consideration, it is rather revenge that constitutes our unconscious motive.
- Fourth, the key step in successful sidelining is to return the bird to the original location and reward it for good behavior. This last step is the most decisive and the most likely to be overlooked or ignored when training parrots.
So much time is spent dramatizing the bad behaviors of our birds that the right behaviors to adopt are neglected. Teaching his bird to behave well to get rewards from us is a greater motivation for him to act well.
The basics of the mild aversive stimulus
The next category of training methods uses unpleasant stimuli, the application of which may undermine the bird’s confidence. These include: watering the bird’s head with a powerful jet of water, shouting or howling at the bird, hitting and shaking its cage, dropping the bird on the ground, and abusing the techniques of jumping, flapping the wings and earthquake. All these techniques consist in causing an unpleasant sensation in the bird so that it now tries to avoid it. Some of them are still considered good training methods, but these techniques are likely to have unhealthy repercussions.
Watering the head of its tropical bird may condition it to fear bath time, leading to serious health problems. Shouting at your bird often causes the opposite effect, that is, amplifying bad behavior. Indeed, let’s not forget that parrots are noisy, turbulent and extroverted beasts. Often, when the situation turns to drama, our excessive reactions are perceived as a funny “false punishment”. In addition, dropping the bird on the ground is an aggressive gesture that may cause the animal to fear climbing on the hand extended to it, or even causing serious injuries.
To train a bird, the techniques of jumping, flapping the wings and earthquake are all adequate, but no longer apply when it comes to disciplining the animal. The jumping technique consists of blowing the bird successively from one hand to the other, with the aim of obtaining from the animal an increasingly rapid adequate response and rewarding it for its good behavior. This technique is also used to punish inappropriate behavior, purportedly to “show the bird in command,” in the same way that a sergeant forces a soldier to do push-ups to compensate for his misconduct. In order for the bird to establish the link between the act and the punishment, it must be on the arm of its master at the moment when it behaves badly. There is no point in rushing to take the bird, because we have already seen the ineffectiveness of these “false punishments”. If the bird is in a febrile state when its master asks it to jump, the animal may easily get upset and become even more aggressive than it was, and not the other way around. If the master is upset or angry during the jumping technique, the bird will feel it, and his anxiety and frustration will be amplified.
The technique of flapping the wings is an extremely important exercise for all pet birds. As inactivity-related obesity is a serious problem for many parrots, encouraging exercise is essential for their health and well-being. Many birds are reluctant to engage in physical activity and therefore need a little help. First, exercise should always be associated with positive reinforcement and not punishment, otherwise the bird will not see any point in doing physical activity of its own free will. Moreover, forcing the bird to flap its wings until it is too exhausted to behave badly does not teach it anything about the behavior to adopt, will affect the relationship between the parrot and its master and may cause serious consequences on the physical and emotional health of the bird. The exercise of flapping the wings should always be carried out according to the tolerance level of the bird. In addition, the animal should always be rewarded in a diverse way and should repeat the exercise several times a day in order to promote optimal health.
A bird with enough exercise is filled, less prone to stress and less likely to behave in an undesirable way than an inactive bird.
The earthquake technique is designed to discipline a baby parrot that takes a liking to use its beak when it is on the arm or hand of its master. It consists of shaking the arm slightly in order to unbalance the bird and temporarily deconcentrate it, thus making it forget to bite. As punishment, this technique is often misused; the bird is then violently unbalanced (and usually receives reprimands), and is sometimes even thrown to the ground. Let us not forget that most punishments are inflicted by an unconscious desire for revenge; so it is easy to punish a good bite on the arm by throwing the bird to the ground. This gesture lasts only a fraction of a second, but the lost confidence may have long-term repercussions.
It is clear that we must never use pain to push our pet birds to behave well!
Misuse of the aversive stimulus
These techniques do more than inconvenience the animal and may even prove painful. Giving chiquenaudes on the beak of a bird, taking the animal by the beak and shaking it, tearing off feathers or even hitting it is a sign of a deteriorated relationship devoid of any rationality. These cruel techniques trap the animal and its master in a vicious circle of aggression and fear, rather than teaching the bird the appropriate behaviors to adopt to live in the home. Given our knowledge of these remarkable creatures, it is hard to believe that some abusive techniques are presented in publications barely fifteen years old. Since parrots have only been domesticated for two or three generations, these fierce beasts of nature have retained their wild bird instincts. We know that parrots are capable of great trust and they do us great honor when they show loyalty to us. Intentionally inflicting suffering on them violates the very essence of this bond of trust. In short, one should simply never use pain to motivate a bird!
Abandoning your bird, an illusory solution
Unfortunately, this solution is too often the ultimate decision of many pet owners. Every year, thousands of parrots land in shelters and pounds or are returned to the breeder under the pretext that they will be better off in another home. These owners justify their action by telling themselves that they could not do anything more for their bird, whose very uncertain future promises many emotionally and psychologically trying years. Indeed, these birds will repeat the bad behaviors adopted in their first home every time a new situation arises. Veterinarians frequently see birds with their third, fourth, or even fifth owner. If these eternal adoptees breed and raise their young, they risk passing on the undesirable behaviors to their offspring, thus condemning the next generation of parrots to potential failure. Parrots are too sensitive and intelligent to buy, sell and trade on a whim. It is important to recognize our share of responsibility for the problems our parrots are experiencing and to seek lenient and proven solutions to restore the bonds that unite us to our feathered companion.
The truth about punishments!
For punishment to succeed in changing behavior, it must meet specific criteria. Indeed, according to Steve Martin: “The moment when the punishment is given is essential for the behavior to be modified”. In order for the bird to understand the link between the act and the consequence, it must be taken “on the fact” from the first occurrence of the undesirable behavior. Unfortunately, we often discover the nonsense of our animals after the fact, or only after the nth time they get away with it neither seen nor known. Any punishment inflicted in these circumstances only confuses the animal, which does not understand the nature of the reprimands it undergoes. If the bird is caught with its beak in the bag, the punishment should be severe enough to deter the animal from doing so, thereby decreasing the likelihood of the occurrence of the undesirable behavior. Too often, reprimands are mild at first, but as frustration grows, the penalties become more and more severe. From one reprimand to another, the bird becomes insensitive to punishment. This vicious circle does not give the parrot the chance to learn the appropriate behaviors to adopt. Eventually, constant frustration gives way to hostilities, thus destroying all the trust that the bird has in us, which is now perceived as a burden.
These training methods and punishments are inconsistent and difficult to apply due to our lack of knowledge and misuse, in addition to causing many serious repercussions. According to Susan Friedman, who holds a Ph.D. in the field: “Research on the effects of aversive punishment is not new, but has not been rigorously studied either. On the other hand, one of the research carried out, spanning several decades, was conducted on many animal species, including humans.”
The researchers identified the four main effects of using the aversive stimulus as a behavioral modification tool:
- Flight and avoidance behaviors
- Decreased overall response (indifference)
- Widespread fear (phobias) (Azrin and Holtz, 1966)
Our once favorite companion will likely avoid any interaction, run away or fly away as soon as we approach, or even attack us to prevent any negative stimuli. These unfortunate beasts live in a constant state of anxiety and high stress that, in the long run, may cause feather pecking, mutilation, and obsessions (excessively repetitive gestures, such as tigers taking a hundred steps at the zoo), and behaviors that show sickly insecurity or aggressiveness.
Consolidate or destroy trust
Before establishing a training program, you have to ask yourself the following question: will the action I am about to do strengthen the trust between my bird and me, or will it destroy it? This simple criterion is enough to grasp the havoc that the explicit techniques are likely to cause. The good news is that there are other solutions!
Applied Behavior Analysis (AAFC)
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a technique of assessing behavior based on the environmental factors underlying the occurrence of behavior (history), as well as targeting the response to be modified (behavior) and the immediate outcome attributed to that response (consequence). No behavior occurs in isolation; rather, the latter is the result of external influences and previous reinforcements.
These simple components (antecedent, behavior, and consequence) constitute the rudiments of behavioral analysis. In order to change a behavior, one must:
- identify and control the stimulus causing the behavior, and
- adjust the consequence associated with the behavior to increase or decrease the probability of the behavior occurring.
When identifying environmental history, the importance of the immediate effect should not be forgotten.
- What happened before the targeted behaviour occurred?
- Did the bird’s body language predict this behaviour?
- What external factor triggered the first sign of reaction?
When choosing the consequences to be applied, it is necessary to identify the reinforcer at the origin of the repeated behavior and eliminate it, while rewarding the appropriate behaviors to adopt. Many people are obsessed with what they don’t want their bird to do, and forget that the bird can’t stand by and do nothing. Owners need to give their bird something to do so that it does not get upset. To eliminate undesirable behaviours, the behaviours to be adopted must be associated with a greater reward than that from the initial bad behaviour.