Mattie Sue Athan
As with other behavioral programs, our goal is to replace unwanted behavior with wanted behavior. A typical behavioral program consists of three parts: Evaluate: Assess the problem.
Adjust: Generate different responses by using different stimuli. Sometimes elements are adjusted in one direction, sometimes the other.
Reinforce: Reward new behaviors so that they become habitual.
Most programs require readjustment - gradually establishing small changes to achieve long-range goals. Several cycles of evaluation, adjustment and reinforcement may be necessary to bring about improvement. However, in many cases, fearful behaviors can be successfully replaced with other behaviors.
Early Patterning = Cooperative Interactions
In addition to a safe, stimulating environment, companion parrots benefit from early patterning and socialization, which induces cooperative interactions, such as step-ups and towel play. If your parrot learns early that the towel is a cozy, safe haven, then the towel is always available to return a sense of security if your bird becomes frightened.
Some parrots don't tolerate physical contact with humans. Pattern these birds with eye games, body language games and other types of passive play. Redundant silliness is important here.
Eye games include: mimicking each other's blinks, peek-a-boo or always keeping one eye closed. Body language games include: crouching low or covering your head; hiding hands; hiding face; never looking directly at your bird; freezing absolutely still at an unexpected moment; or mimicking your bird's body language. Sound games include: mimicking, tapping from across the room or calling softly around corners.
Other interactive games include drop-the-toy-and-pick-it-up or letting your bird steal toys (such as specially designed bird-safe buttons or jewelry) from you. If your bird will take food from humans, give him as much warm food - a parrot's equivalent of comfort food - as possible.
Find a cooperative human, pet or bird that loves to be hugged, touched and petted and demonstrate these joys for your bird. This stimulates competition for human attention.
New Experiences = Less Fearful Bird
Outings can stimulate attitude changes toward familiar humans in unfamiliar territory. Sometimes just taking your bird for a ride generates noticeable improvement-even if your bird never leaves his carrier. Your bird will enjoy new, enhanced experiences and - when he comes home safely -his sense of security will improve.
The development of a confident relationship with even one human can be a breakthrough for a fearful bird because he might then develop more confidence in all areas of behavior.
Fearfulness in companion parrots can be so troubling that blame and guilt plague human relationships around the bird. Sometimes humans blame themselves. Sometimes they blame their children, their parents or their in-laws. Sometimes, they blame the source from which they got their bird. Guilt and blame don't contribute to your bird's successful adjustment but rather adversely affect human caretakers' abilities to respond successfully. These emotions are best replaced in the human behavioral environment with attention, forethought and consistency.
You can resolve to respect your bird's sense of self, even if he's shy and has a cautious sense of self. You can sensitively work to include your bird in as many side-by-side, passive activities as possible. It is possible to love a shy bird because this special gift is a necessary component in the survival of all parrots.