The benefits of training a pet parrot extend well beyond the entertainment value of owning a talking bird who can do entertaining tricks. Training strengthens the bond between owner and parrot, provides companionship, and increases the health and well-being of the parrot.
Connie Woodman is a bird enthusiast and a graduate student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. She studies animal welfare as part of the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps and AIR-TT programs. Woodman believes the training parrots should be enjoyed by both the parrot and the owner.
“If the training session is uncomfortable or coercive then the training is being done improperly,” Woodman said. “A good training session should be a mix of behaviors the animal already knows and behaviors that challenge their abilities.”
A common misconception is that outcome of training should be a ‘well-behaved’ parrot. However, the goal of training is actually to keep your bird mentally and physically active. Most parrots do not need to be taught manners; in fact, Woodman said that the natural behaviors of a healthy parrot are pretty compatible with the human lifestyle.
“The less compatible behaviors of parrots, such as chewing on wood or making loud noises, really can’t be avoided,” Woodman explained. “However, if your bird does have a behavioral problem, such as fighting or repetitive screaming, then behavioral modification training can help improve the bird’s behavior.”
One frequently practiced form of behavioral-modification training is operant conditioning, in which the bird develops an association between their behavior and a punishment or a reward. Operant conditioning can be used on all kinds of birds including parrots, finches, doves or chickens.
However, there is a crucial step to take before training your parrot. Woodman said parrot owners should begin with socialization because it is the most important and beneficial step in training. Parrot socialization must begin when the bird is young and continue throughout their life.
“A well-socialized baby bird will readily step up onto the hand, go in and out of the pet carrier, try new foods, play with a new toy, and will sit quietly and happily while accepting petting,” Woodman said.
However, some pet stores and breeders socialize parrots before they go to their forever home. In this case, Woodman said to expect a price increase for adoption. This price increase is worth it, Woodman said.
For bird owners looking to train their pet, Woodman believes the best place to start is an internet search for videos so new trainers can observe the process. Woodman also recommends training books.
Like most companion animals, parrots require a large amount of attention and affection. Socializing and training a pet parrot requires time, energy and effort. However, in the end, the benefits of socializing and training your parrot will outweigh the demands.