How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys

In this blog post Barbara Heidenreich talks about How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys and the different techniques you can use to encourage the acceptance of new toys in the cage or playstand.

How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys

I have been inspired by a question posted to my yahoo group. The question was asked how do you get a parrot used to a new toy? I think that is a marvelous question. All too often we assume because it is a toy, our parrots should automatically be eagerly interacting with it. In general parrots tend to show hesitancy around new items or situations. As positive reinforcement enthusiasts, most of us know that we can train our birds to be calm and confident with change. But it does take some investment on our part. Not a financial investment, but a commitment to teaching your bird via positive reinforcement training strategies. But if in this moment your bird has clearly demonstrated new toys create a fear response, what can you do?

How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys

I usually start with systematic desensitization. This means I place the toy a distance away from the parrot. I also make sure the bird is presenting calm relaxed body language. I then leave the toy there for a period of time, maybe even days. Over time I gradually place the toy closer and closer to the cage. Again making sure the parrot is relaxed and comfortable. Eventually I may hang the toy on the outside of the cage, but near the bottom of the cage. I can gradually move it higher. When the parrot is ready, I can try moving the toy to inside the cage. I usually put it away from food and water bowls and preferred perches. This is because if the bird has any concerns with the toy that I failed to notice, it will not be a hindrance to his physical needs and comfort.
Once the parrot is comfortable with the toy in his cage, now I can consider some of my other positive reinforcement tools of the trade. I can use a target to help encourage the parrot to move closer to the toy. I could pair positive reinforcers with the toy, by placing them near or on the toy. I could also “free shape” the behavior.
How to Get Your Parrot to Play with ToysTo free shape, rather than use a target or a food prompt, I would just wait until the bird presents an approximation I can reinforce. For example if the bird looks at the toy I can reinforce that. After several repetitions the bird may move in the direction he has been looking. I can reinforce that. Eventually the parrot may move closer, and over time try to touch the toy. This is all shaped by looking for the slightest approximation towards the desired goal behavior of interacting with the toy.
I recently used this strategy to help my puppy get past a fear response he had with a new vacuum cleaner. First I reinforced him for looking at the vacuum from far away and then reinforced him for approximations he took moving closer to the thing. He then sniffed it and eventually touched it with his nose and paws, and even moved it. The entire process took about twenty minutes. I have promised my yahoo group http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/GoodBirdGroup/ I would get the video clip on my YouTube site. http://www.youtube.com/GoodBirdInc I will notify everyone once it is up!

Hope this gives readers some ideas for ways to get your parrots playing!

This article was first published in Good Bird Inc Blog

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Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provides animal training DVDs, books, webinars and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in over twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara works with the companion animal community and also consults on animal training in zoos.

Simple Tips for Parrot Safety During Fireworks

parrot safety during fireworksOur simple tips for parrot safety during fireworks.

Fireworks can present a challenge for pet owners, with them desperately trying to calm and sooth their beloved birds by offering them favourite toys or treats as fireworks thunder in the sky.

That’s why we’ve put together some top tips on keeping your parrot safe and relaxed this November. 

  • Put them in a comfortable place

It’s wise to keep your parrots in a safe, cosy place on Bonfire Night, so they can find comfort there when the fireworks begin.

Make sure you close the curtains to block out flashing lights, unless you find your inquisitive bird prefers to know where the lights are coming from, then it may be worth opening them slightly.

  • Distract them with toys

There may be a lot of noise, bangs and flashes going on outside, but you can distract them from this by giving them some of their favourite toys. You might even want to buy something new to play with to really keep them entertained during the evening.

  • Drown out the noise

Fireworks displays can be very noisy, particularly if you live near to large public events. So it’s wise to drown out the uproar with your own noises.

Turn up the volume on the TV or play some music, especially tunes you know your pet loves and finds soothing.

Fireworks events can be a bit unsettling to your parrot, but if you follow these few tips you should be able to ride through this time of the year without any problems. If you do find your bird to be really distressed by the displays, get in touch with the RSPA for more advice.

3 Top Parrot Care Tips

If you’re new to owning a parrot, you need to do your research so you know how best to care for your new pet. Here are three of our most essential tips for keeping your bird happy and well looked after.

Parrot toys

There are a huge number of toys available but some of the best on the market are those made from natural materials like hemp rope and wood. You need to give your parrot lots of toys to play with and chew, so you can also use everyday objects such as old cardboard tubes and boxes. Keep your parrot on its toes by placing big pieces of fruit on the top of the cage so it has to climb to reach them – great exercise for both body and mind.

Parrot food

Feed your parrot at least once a day and give them bits and bobs as and when you like. Invest in a big bag of parrot pellets but supplement this with fresh vegetables and fruit to ensure they maintain a healthy diet. Peanuts are often a favourite treat, as is cooked fish and cheese. Avoid giving them chocolate or avocado, however, as these are poisonous to birds.

Bird cage

Of course, the first thing you should buy is a bird cage so make sure you choose the right one for the kind of parrot you have. Buy one as big as you can afford so your bird has lots of space and cover the bottom with something like wood shavings or shredded newspaper so you can change it easily.

Parrots can be quite sensitive so place the cage somewhere with good ventilation. Avoid putting it in the kitchen as cooking smells can harm the bird.