Click-train a screaming bird
by Shira Coffee

Yes, a bird may stop screaming if he is consistently ignored when screaming. As you’ve mentioned, ignoring him is very difficult, especially with two people involved. Some birds also learn to enjoy screaming for its own sake — it becomes, in the jargon, “self-reinforcing.”

There is another approach to the problem, but it is less direct. You can teach Hayden non-screaming behavior is much more fun than screaming. This is how I would do it:

1) Manage the screaming. Put Hayden somewhere as far away as possible and perhaps cover his cage during cooking and dinner. This is a *temporary* procedure, designed to give you time to work on the real solution without fraying your nerves in the meantime.

2) Acquire a clicker — either a party type or a box-clicker. The clicker serves two purposes.  First, it signifies a promise on your part to give the bird a treat. The treat could be a favorite bit of food, a head-scritch, or anything else the bird really wants at a given moment. Second, the clicker “marks” the behavior that earned the treat. The bird quickly learns — within 5-10 minutes in my experience — to work out what he was doing when he heard the click and repeat it.

The reason you will need a clicker is that when you begin working on the screaming, you will want to catch any *moment* that he is quiet or making inoffensive noises. You can’t easily communicate that those quiet moments earned a reward without an event marker such as a clicker, whistle, or other unique sound. In addition, the clicker “bridges” the time between the good behavior and the delivery of the treat, so if you have to cross the room to give Hayden his treat, he won’t forget why he got it.

3) Now, here’s the backwards part. You can’t begin working on the screaming problem immediately, because he needs to learn the “game”. So, you work on some other behavior. My suggestion is targeting.

Choose an object — a chopstick is great, but it could be lots of things — margarine lid, piece of dowel, spoon… Bring the target, clicker, and a supply of treats somewhere that you can work with Hayden. Put the end of the target just in front of his beak, holding the clicker in the other hand. Click *just as* he makes contact with the target. As quickly as possible, get a treat to him. Repeat this as many times as possible in a five minute session. Try to do two five minute sessions per day. You’l find that he will get the idea really quickly. As he gets quicker to touch the stick, begin holding it out so he has to stretch a bit. Gradually hold it just to each side of his beak. Make him take a step for it. Within a pretty short time, (couple of days?) he’ll probably be willing to follow the target for several steps for a c/t.

4)  OK, once he clearly has the hang of targeting, begin working on your problem. But don’t attack the dinner thing quite yet. Instead, begin noticing when he is making inoffensive noises during the day. Click and treat whenever you hear this, and offer lots of quiet interaction when giving these treats. You want to make being quiet very rewarding for Hayden.

Once Hayden has caught on and begun “offering” quiet noises when you come near, begin working on the dinner problem. You may want to start when you’re eating alone, continuing to manage the problem to save Randy’s ears and temper.

So, bring Hayden within walking distance while cooking — not too close. Go about your business, but have a clicker and treats at hand. If he stops screaming for an instant, even just to catch his breath, click and walk over with a treat. It is important that you click *during* the moment of silence, not during a scream. Repeat this as often as you can, and gradually continue this when you are having dinner by yourself. (As a bonus, it is a little easier to wait out screaming when you are waiting *for* a quiet moment to reward as opposed to trying to ignore the behavior.) Gradually delay clicking for a brief moment so that he has to be quiet just an instant longer to get his click. Moment by moment, increase the length of time. The progress in keeping quiet longer may seem ratherjerky, but keep with it. Hayden may also sometimes make “backward progress”– especially as you add a new twist to the situation — i.e., Randy is home for the first few times. Just keep at it.

This method will work, and will be both quicker and a bit less nerve-wracking than trying to wait him out. The “clicker game” can also provide you and your bird with lots of other fun ways to interact. Shira Coffee, APDT # 5252P owner, ChiClick! ( email list on for Chicago-area Positive pet trainers Pet Training DaCapo “Train brain-to-brain!”
Thoughts on Bird Behavior:

by Melinda Johnson

We don’t have to be Alpha or control our birds, there’s better ways!We’ve got three choices.  We can: 1.) Control (dominate) — Lots of work and responsibility! 2.) Reward and be Alpha (dominate) –  Still lots of work and responsibility! 3.) Teach and Reward (motivate) – Lots of fun!

We’ve had #1 for the last 2,000+ years.   #1 gave us the world we have today.  It’s a world where way too many birds are tortured and abusedsometimes to death), and where many more languish in back rooms, basements and even dark closets.  Some of you probably do rescue, so you know!

#2 is a more modern invention.  It’s an improvement, but it’s still based on domination and we’re still working against our goals (we sacrifice speed and creativity).

#3 works much better and is more fun for everybody.  We can teach our animals (150 species so far — tested over 60+ years including thousands ofindividual animals) to do anything they’re capable of doing.  We can do allthis without being alpha, dominating, pushing, insisting, forcing or coercing in any way.

Melinda Johnson