How To Reward Your Parrot Without Really Trying!

I had a phone call not long ago from a very enthusiastic woman who wanted to know how to stop her budgie from following her children around the house. “Tell your kids to stop running!” was my straightforward response. The budgie was obviously having a great time because he would fly over, screeching his head off, and the youngsters would panic and flee. What a fantastic game!

Inexperienced parrot owners sometimes make the mistake of unknowingly praising their birds, which may clearly cause difficulties, particularly if the person believes he or she is disciplining the bird. The most typical method is to use what we call The Drama Reward.

Sally & Bongo Marie

Sally Blanchard offers a beautiful anecdote that exemplifies this principle well. Sally’s African grey parrot, Bongo Marie, had been gnawing on the wooden café doors adjacent to her cage for years, which Sally had rightly tried to dissuade. So, anytime she heard the sound of splintering wood, Sally would dash out, shrieking, “Bongo, BAD BIRD — Get back on your cage!” This practice carried on for many months, despite Sally’s best attempts to stop it. Then, one night, when Sally was in the same room, Bongo began producing the sound of splintered wood!

What is the story’s moral? Bongo found Sally’s dashing in and shrieking to be more entertaining than eating on the wood (and parrots LOVE to chew on wood)! Bongo enjoyed the drama of her pet person shouting, and she also enjoyed summoning Sally whenever she pleased. Sally may have believed she was chastising Bongo for his destructive behavior, but she was really praising him!

Rewards for Screaming

I often do phone consultations, and one of the most prevalent issues I see is loud shouting. When I ask the owners what they do to stop the bird from making a noise, they frequently say they run back into the bird’s room and shout at it, let it out of the cage, or give it something to eat to hush it up.

The individual then has no idea why the horrifying sounds continue! Obviously, the conduct will persist and perhaps worsen since the owner is praising the bird rather of penalizing it.

Fun & Games, Parrot Style: BITING

When parrot owners shout at their birds for biting, they make the same mistake: parrots LOVE it when people yell at them. Few things in the world are as entertaining to a parrot as making your human angry enough to shout at you. If you look carefully, you’ll see the small monster’s eyes light up with delight! And don’t be shocked if the next time the little man gets bored, he bites you simply for the pleasure of it!


The Foot Chasing Game is another entertaining parrot situation. The rules are straightforward. The parrot falls to the floor and sprints to the closest human’s feet. The human puts out a shout and dances about the room, flailing their arms and hollering, expecting the biting of fragile toes. Put yourself in the shoes of the parrot: how could any game be better than this?!!


Another entertaining game is “Catch Me If You Can.” It is often performed when the parrot is perched on top of its cage and the human is late for work and in a rush to get the bird back into its cage. The bird’s owner grabs for it. The parrot, realizing the fun of the game, ducks and rushes to the rear of the cage, well out of reach. In classic play manner, the human screams at the bird, then runs around to the other side of the cage and grabs it. The parrot, who is really into it now, faints to the left, dodges to the right, and flees once again. The human is now shouting and becoming bright red in the face, which tickles the parrot! I’ve seen some small feathery creatures happily shout, Bad-Bird-Bad-Bird!! while playing this game. What a blast!

Illogical Higher Life Form

In all of these instances, the bird is not attempting to be malicious; it believes the human is also playing. It doesn’t realize that the person’s screaming signifies anger; after all, parrots yell for pleasure, right? So it’s irrational for us humans (the “higher life form” we’re meant to be) to expect them to interpret our shouting as a punishment. We humans believe shouting to be negative feedback because we don’t like it when someone screams at us; thus, we incorrectly think that our parrots feel the same way – and we are completely wrong!

Negative feedback a lá Nurturing Dominance

Because parrots like drama, the aim is clearly to prevent drama while trying to stop a certain habit. If you have a loving dominance connection established, reprimanding a parrot in a way it understands is simple. If you are running late for work and need to put your parrot in its cage, just say Up and your well-trained parrot will step onto your hand, making putting him/her away a breeze. You do nothing if your parrot cries from another room. You should NEVER walk into the room to discipline them, because if you do, they will shout the next time they want you to arrive. If your parrot begs for attention while you’re in the same room, you give it the Evil Eye and say No in a forceful, unpleasant, but not loud voice. If your parrot bites you, say No gently and firmly, then move the tiny creature from one hand to the other many times, using the Up command in connection with the Evil Eye. (Until I found a customer laddering her parrot 35-40 times as a punishment, I never felt the need to define the term “many.” As a result, several is defined as five or six.)

NOT a fun game….

Because parrots dislike these disciplinary measures, they serve as negative rather than positive feedback. As a consequence, if you use them consistently (and that is the crucial word), your parrot will learn not to engage in the activities that result in them. This way, you won’t unintentionally reward your parrot for habits that you want to eradicate rather than promote.

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