How Not to Tame a Bird

Posted by Raz on Dec 3rd, 2008
Dec 3

Sid Price just posted on his blog about the practice of “flooding” as a training technique. It is is response to the Birdtricks people posting recently about the so-called success of the method (which they call “perching”) with a blue and gold macaw. In this instance, the person put the bird on a chair back in between a wall and a refrigerator, so it could not escape, and forced it to be petted with a stick until it complied. This is a classic case of teaching by force, and through learned helplessness. They claim this method is good because it can be done by beginners who are not good at reading parrot body language. They also fall into the old, old trap of thinking that parrots must be dominated, and not allowed to make their own choices. In this antiquated training philosophy — utterly discredited by behavioral scientists — the birds are viewed as trying to “intimidate” people by biting.

Perhaps we should be teaching beginners how to read parrot body language instead, and earn their trust, and not how to just force them into submission? Birds learn to bite because it gets a message across — namely “NO!” to whatever you are doing. The Birdtricks method essentially says to the bird, your wishes do not matter, what matters is that I want to pet you whether you like it or not.

Submission is not the same as trust. It works not by building trust, but by breaking spirit. The result — at best — is a compliant, passive bird (likely with other behavior issues) not an active, trusting companion.

Sid’s post here: The Real Secrets of Training Success and Where to Find Them.

There are many articles by Dr. Susan Friedman and others on how real behavioral scientists and reputable trainers address these issues. See listings in the Training Directory (Most of this information is also free — not only free of charge, but also free of hard-sell marketing tactics that treat consumers like 2-year-olds.)