Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Convincing a reluctant parrot to get in their enclosure is a cinch using positive reinforcement

One of the things that people ask when they find out that I'm a caregiver to so many animals is, "What's your favorite animal to care for?". 

That's a hard question to answer as I really have no "favorite", but I do love the variety of animals that I might be responsible for.  Since I care for so many species — mainly dogs, cats, avians and some reptiles — there is always something different and knowing how to keep each animal happy and agreeable is paramount, not to mention keeping things on track. 

Parrots, by their nature, are social creatures and in captivity that trait is magnified. It's important to be sensitive to that, and in doing so helps one understand why the following scenario plays out: you're preparing to leave the house for work (or in my case to my next appointment) and your feathered friend, who you have let out of their enclosure, is reluctant to go back in.

This is the scenario in many homes and I often experience this dilemma. I find it curiously funny and mischievous most the time because with some coaxing, the bird will usually hop on their stick (if they are stick trained) to be taken back into their enclosure or go in on their own.

On rare occasions, they'll continue to be resistant. One can't blame the bird — they know we'll be heading out to do goodness-knows-how-many-interesting-things while they're left alone in their comparatively small world. 

Forcing a bird to do anything is futile, if not harmful (the relationship is all about trust), and behavioral problems are bound to ignite. In order to get them back inside, they have to want to do it. And with positive reinforcement, that can happen. 

Positive reinforcement training isn't just for dogs — it's a great way to communicate nonverbally with your bird too, and with lasting results. 

The main thing is to convey that when the bird is inside the enclosure, good things happen for them. 

Birds are intelligent animals, and they love to stay busy. If there aren't things to keep their minds and bodies occupied when left alone and inside their enclosure, there's no motivation to go in — so enticing a bird to go into their safe space comes down to conveying to them that what goes on inside is far more exciting than what is outside. 

Here are tricks that I employ with my charges:

-- Consider what your bird's favorite foods are and include a couple of those in her breakfast bowl. Maybe it's warm food, or a high value treat. 

--Birds are ardent foragers. In the wild, it's how they spend much of their time. You can create bird-friendly foraging toys entirely out of fresh veggies and fruit, or by using empty boxes from the pantry, waxed paper and other bird-friendly objects. Baby bell peppers that have been cleaned and filled with chunks of roasted chile/sweet potato are a favorite of one client. Click here for more ideas.

--Keep your pal guessing! By rotating which toys, foods and foraging toys that you put in their enclosure, you'll keep their interest and thusly, foster cooperation when you need it. 

Regardless of what you choose to entice your bird, be sure put it inside their enclosure just prior to you needing them to go in. After some time, they will associate being inside their safe space as something to look forward to.

Watch the video below for an example of a fun foraging toy for an exotic bird.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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