The “ABCs” of Behavior
In the last post, I talked about the dominance fallacy and how labelling your parrot as “dominant” does a great disservice to both your bird and yourself. Today, I’d like to talk about what’s really going on when your parrot refuses to step up off her cage top, chases and bites toes, and does other things you wish she wouldn’t do.
What are the “ABCs”?
“ABC” stands for Antecedent – Behavior – Consequence, and it is the basis for all behavior that our pets (and ourselves) perform on a daily basis. It is how animals (including humans) learn how to behave in any given scenario or context on a daily basis, just by interacting with their environment and the people in it.
An antecedent (A) is what happens immediately before any given behavior (B) occurs, and the consequence (C) immediately follows the behavior, either increasing (“reinforcing”) the behavior or decreasing (“punishing”) that behavior.
So, for example, if you ask your parrot to step up from his play stand only to place him directly in his cage, there are very strong odds that, over time, your parrot will learn that being picked up off of his play stand means going back into his cage, and he will likely begin displaying behavior like lunging and biting in order to avoid being put back in his cage. The problem (getting bitten) is a result of the consequence (going back to the cage) you provide for stepping up off of the playstand. To remedy the situation, you need to make it worthwhile for your bird to step up from the play stand for you.
Initially, you may need to give your parrot a reason to do as you ask. Offering a tasty treat to your parrot by showing him something he desires before asking him to step up will help you prevent a bite. When he complies with your request, he gets the food reward, but should also be randomly put back on the play stand (this is called a “double” reward) so that the association between stepping up off the play stand and being put back in his cage is broken.
Though it is generally more complicated than this, these rules apply to every scenario that boggles and frustrates parrot owners, and that makes it much easier to work with and reverse undesirable behaviors than does labelling a bird a “dominant” – and therefore “bad” – and leaving it to be someone else’s problem.
We play a major role in our companions’ behavior, but that’s a topic for my next post!