Monday, March 8, 2010

Arranging a successful environment

One of the most important realizations Thomas and I had when dealing with our parrots incorporated a change in our thought process. We're still working on doing this, as we're certainly not perfect, but I thought I'd blog about it in case it might be helpful to anyone else dealing with a parrot with behavioral issues.

Arrange the environment for success.

This certainly won't solve all issues -- these are wild animals living in our houses -- but it went a long way in creating harmony in our house.

In the beginning, when Max would do something unpleasant, we'd ask ourselves how we could change her behavior so that she'd do what we wanted/expected. This didn't pop up too frequently since Max was about the most perfect bird anyone could ask for. She rarely made unpleasant noises, was happy destroying her toys instead of our house, didn't bite, etc. Of course, she was still a baby, couldn't fly to cause mayhem in unexpected places, and was outnumbered 2 to 1 by the humans in the house, so we could keep an eye on her. If I'd had a blog in 2002, it would have been extremely boring.

After we started adding more parrots to the house, especially those who'd learned inappropriate behavior in a previous home, this became more of an issue. We're now outnumbered 6 to 2.

Somewhere along the way, we made the realization that it is so much easier to change our own behavior than our parrot's (or parrots') behavior. By watching our parrots, knowing what interests them, and trying to stay one step ahead of them, we'd be able to avoid many issues before they became problems! Also, we are asking them to make so many accommodations to us (living in captivity), so we can make a few accommodations of our own.

Let me give a few examples.

1. Beeps attacks us if we're on the couch and reading a magazine or catalog. He does not attack if we are on the couch reading a book or reading a magazine elsewhere. It is a very peculiar trigger! Instead of trying to figure out a way to get Beeps to accept magazine reading on the couch (I likely could have used clicker training to accomplish this), we no longer read magazines on the couch. We read them in the kitchen, or upstairs, but why upset Beeps unnecessarily? Plus, I'd rather use our clicker training time to teach him fun tricks!

2. When Stella first came to us, she was fascinated by the stove. Her favorite perch was a burner. Obviously this was something we needed to work on (and have -- she no longer views the stove as a play gym). However, until we knew that she wouldn't go to the stove, we put her in her cage whenever we were cooking. I didn't want to risk her going up in flames.

3. Sometimes Max likes to eat the mini blinds covering the window next to her cage. Instead of figuring out a way to get her to stop, we moved her cage a fraction of an inch further into the living room so even when she stretches she can't get at the blinds.

I could list so many more. When faced with behavior by one of our parrots that we don't want to encourage, we try to first think, "what can we do to change this situation?" Can we keep the apples in the fridge instead of the counter so no one goes over and nibbles on every single one? Can we keep Rocky in his cage until after I change the parrots' food and water so that he doesn't sneak attack me while my hands are full? Can I put a bottle of shampoo at the edge where the top of the shower door meets the wall so the greys won't chew the wall? Can I close my bedroom door when I do yoga so Rocky doesn't sneak away from Thomas and ruin my peaceful time?

You get the idea. The more we got into this, and saw it working, the more we took it as a challenge to continue avoiding problems instead of reacting to them. Of course, this can't solve everything, but it's a good start, at least in my experience!


Anonymous said...

Great insights, Mary! Thank you for sharing. You've made a pretty happy home for your flock by following these ideas.

belovedparrot said...

I'm surprised it took you and Thomas so long to figure out that your role in life is to always make things easier for the parrots! Us humans are just pawns, you know. ;-)