My, how times have changed. When I started working with parrots in the 90’s, most parrot training involved control. Time and again I was told that I must approach parrots as the “Alpha” member of the flock, or they would walk and squawk all over me. From forced “step-ups”, grabbing and shaking the beak, and periods of cage confinement titled “time-outs”, everything pointed us in the direction of punishing unwanted behaviour. And yet, where in this culture of dominance does our parrot find out what constitutes good behaviour?
Our pet parrots are only a few generations removed from their wild counterparts. When we examine wild parrot behaviour, we see creatures that have the option to choose a mate, to search for favourite food sources, to fly far and wide, and the power to flee in the face of danger. How incredibly empowered these parrots must feel. Nowhere in this wild existence, according to wildlife researchers, is an “Alpha” bird restricting the rights and freedoms of the flock. How then can we expect our parrots to understand us as the “boss”?
The answer is not to punish, but to teach our parrots good, acceptable replacement behaviours, and make the reward for these behaviours so high, that your parrot would not want to choose to be bad. If your parrot shows reluctance to engage in an activity, never apply force. Give them the same power they have in the wild, and you will foster a life-long relationship based on respect and trust.