Dangerous Conure!

May 12, 2009
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Washington State, US
Parrots
Red-Throated Conure: Holly
I really hope this is the right place to put this; I joined this forum because my family needs some serious help with our bird, and I haven't looked around the forum excessively much, but this seemed to be the right place.

So, I just finished yet another argument (Of the "raised voices" variety) with my mother about our bird's behaviour.

The background:
Let me give you some background information about this bird, since I am very serious about needing help, and I want to do the most on my part to lay out all the facts, as it were.
We got this bird (originally for me, as I was obsessed with birds when I was little) at a pet shop when she was a chick, about twelve years ago. She's a female Red-Throated Conure named Holly. We often just call her "Bird" or "Squawk-box"--it's only Holly when she's in trouble.
She was raised well, as far as I can tell. She's outside her cage almost constantly, only locked in at night around 7 or 8pm, and let out again in the morning around 10am, when most of the family wakes up. She eats a variety of fresh and high quality food three times a day with the family.
Her flight feathers aren't trimmed, because then she'll just walk around on the floor (usually in pursuit of my mother). There are no other birds in the house, of any kind. The interaction with people that she gets is somewhat limited-my father works from 6am to about 3 or 4pm, my brother goes to school from about noon to 3pm, then 5:30 to 7 in the evenings some days. I have classes in the evenings three days a week but am otherwise free, and my mom is home all the time and has the most time to spend with the bird, which is the beginning of the problem.

The problems:
Aside from normal parrot problems like ripping up things, screaming, and crapping all over the house, our parrot is extremely territorial and jealous. She considers my mom to be her soul-mate and is all over her almost all the time. She climbs on her and grooms her for hours, which often hurts her, since she yanks at any skin that's differently shaped. But that's not the problem. The problem is that she'll attack anyone that gets close to my mom. She perches on her shoulder or head, and leaaaaans way out whenever someone gets close, and lunges and bites at them if they come within her range.
She's not friendly to strangers either. If anyone has their friends visit the house, we have to lock her up, because if we don't she'll fly on their heads, climb down to their shoulder and start attacking their face (And then their hands when they try to shield themselves). My best friend was sent to the hospital this way when Holly ripped open her ear.
My mom tries to rationalize her aggressive and jealous behaviour by saying that it's the bird's hormones that are acting up (Constantly??), and we should just stay away from her when Holly is on her (which I see as reinforcing the bird's behaviour).
But...I really don't think that's the solution. What I see when I look at Holly is a spoiled, angry brat of a parrot that gets her way whenever she wants because mom doesn't want us to try and change her dangerous behaviour. (She says parrots can't be trained to act differently) If she bites the wrong person, she could even be taken away and euthanized, and our family sued (which we can't afford at all right now).
Please help.
I can even deal with pooping on furniture and people, and ripping up wallpaper, books, and the sides of cabinets, but she is DANGEROUS, and -that- is what is not acceptable.
Please, I've even had dreams about "accidentally leaving a window open". Mom may be content with the bird's horrible mentality, but the rest of us are miserable, and eleven/twelve years is too long to have put up with this already-I'm not willing to watch my parents suffer through thirty.
Anything will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
 

Cici

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May 2, 2009
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Brevard County FL
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2 Nanday Conures- Fred,Gracie
1 yellow ring neck female-Sunday
1 Mustache Parakeet female- Juliette
Wow, thats a bit of an issue... lol, i dont mean to laugh it just sounds like a bird that was once in my family tree.. a macaw to be exact.. and if anyone were to go into my mothers cousins house... the bird would attact unless told it was okay... I'm not sure what to tell you about the ordeal.. I feel bad i truely do.. b/c i've never delt with an issue like this.. Maybe someone else on here will have an answer for you... I will pray for you though. Seems like the bird Holly is really being a pain in the butt! LoL.. Dont let the bird out the window though... lol thats not very nice... It just needs a bit of training.. and i think your mother should be the one to do it.
 

Auggie's Dad

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My mom tries to rationalize her aggressive and jealous behaviour by saying that it's the bird's hormones that are acting up (Constantly??), and we should just stay away from her when Holly is on her (which I see as reinforcing the bird's behaviour).
.... (She says parrots can't be trained to act differently)

While I generally try to couch my views in some form of diplomacy I simply cannot do that here; Your mother is an idiot.

Holly is a spoiled, angry brat of a parrot that gets her way whenever she wants because mom doesn't want us to try and change her dangerous behaviour.

You on the other hand seem to understand the situation quite well. Holly can absolutely be trained to behave differently; this comes from a career's experience of behavior modification in animals. I'd be happy to do what I can to guide you through it online, though this level of situation would be best addressed by working one on one (or one on family) with a qualified trainer.

I think you have one very powerful thing that will help Holly's training, and one very powerful thing that will hinder, or completely derail it. The good thing is that you and the rest of the family must be sufficiently patient - far more patient than most families - this patience is key in training. The bad thing is your mother, if she doesn't agree to get Holly trained then there is nothing that could be done.

I have, in many years of training, never encountered an animal that couldn't be trained quite well. I have however encountered many pet owners who refuse to allow their pets to be trained. This is the one time I encourage shock collars for training; not for the pets, but rather for the foolish owners. I cannot advise you on how to convince your mother that Holly needs to be trained, but if you can accomplish that much I will certainly do my best to help you train her (the bird that is.)

I can say, without hesitation, that Holly could be trained. It's up to you as a family to decide if that's what you are going to do.

Do let me know the verdict.
 
OP
M
May 12, 2009
5
0
Washington State, US
Parrots
Red-Throated Conure: Holly
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Cici: Thanks! You never think a little bird can cause so much grief until she does! :52: Drives us bonkers. She was great when she was a baby.

Auggie's Dad: Thank you so much for your offer. I'm glad I'm not crazy (For a while, I thought I might have been comparing Holly to dogs too much, even. I watch "It's Me Or The Dog" all the time on Animal Planet :p It's inspiring. )
Do you have AIM or MSN messenger? I'd -love- any help you'd like to offer. (Heck, I'd love to hire an animal behaviorist too, but even if we did find one in our area that does parrots, we're going through a rough patch financially, with the economy and various health problems.)
I'll talk to mom about working with Holly... I realize it probably won't work unless she agrees, so that part is important. Do you have any kind of vague estimate regarding the kinds of things it would take to make Holly better? Even though Holly is mom's "baby", I don't think she would complain if I said I wanted to work with her to make Holly get along with people better (Most of when the fur flies is when we do something that sets Holly off, like walking too close to mom, and Holly lunges at us or makes that "I hate what you're doing!" screechy old compression-brake sound, and mom yells at us for provoking her. So it's mostly when we aren't actively trying to work with Holly, just when stuff happens that Holly reacts to. )
Thanks again. :green1:
 

Auggie's Dad

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The first thing I would recommend would take your mother's cooperation, and that is a new rule: Holly is not allowed on ANYONE's head or shoulder's EVER.

This is a point that many parrot owners disagree on, and there are certainly many parrots who can be on shoulders without causing problems - this would be fine - but from what you have described Holly is not one of these birds. If/when she learns that the general rule is that heads and shoulders are off limits then, if you mother still wants her on her shoulders sometime, you can teach Holly some exceptions to that general rule. But at first the rule has to be no heads or shoulders at all.

Now, who should work with her to train her? Everyone, but at first not all at the same time. How does Holly behave with you if your mom is not around? Will she step up or do anything else for you or other members of the family? If so that's a start; if not she should learn to do this. Whether this means just some practice with her, or going back to stick training (where she steps up on to sticks/perches on command) is a matter of her current behavior.

If and when she will behave for each of you individually I would recommend having two people present and having her move from one person to the other (still with sticks if it helps) - kind of a birdy hand off. Af first neither of these people should be your mother, but work up to that so that when Holly is with your mom you can approach and tell her to step up and she will.

Of course if and when she does you will reward her (any treats she likes) and then let her go back to your mom right away.


This is all a very rough outline. If you can tell me a bit more about her behavior - particularly how she behaves with other family members when your mother is not around I will be able to describe some methods in more detail.

I suspect oven mitts and sticks will be everyone's best friend for a while. With these you can interact with Holly without fear of getting bitten which will allow you to approach her more confidently (which in itself will partially prevent Holly from reacting so negatively) and it will prevent Holly from "winning." If she attacks and you run away in pain she has got what she wants.

Also remember not to go into any situation with Holly unprepared. Before you start any training session you should have a plan for any contingency. Some people are too quick to just 'try something out' without much forethought, when it doesn't work they end up further encouraging a bad behavior. So pick you battles... and be sure you win them.

Again, please describe Holly's behavior without your mother, and also talk to your mother about what must be done. I hope this doesn't sound to abrupt but the fact of the matter is if your mother doesn't fully cooperate we'd be wasting our time in trying to change anything about Holly's behavior.
 
OP
M
May 12, 2009
5
0
Washington State, US
Parrots
Red-Throated Conure: Holly
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I talked to mom last night about training Holly, and she said she would cooperate/participate with trying to make bird more socially acceptable (Which is great! ).
She's on a shopping trip at the moment, so I can't tell her about your suggestions yet, but I can reply re: how Holly acts when mom isn't here.
The first few minutes after mom walks out the door, Holly screams a lot (She does this when mom walks into a different room or upstairs too). But after that, she settles down on the back of a chair or on her cage and stays quiet for the most part.
When I approach Holly after mom's gone, she is mostly calm, but a little...strange... I'm not sure what the right word to describe it is. She's calm, and sometimes she lets me pet her, and she acts like she likes it, but if you let her tilt her head so much that your fingers get a little close to her mouth, she'll whip her head around and bite. She also doesn't like being petted anywhere but on her head.
Her stepping-up is much the same as her petting. She'll step up if she wants to step-up, but if she doesn't hold out her foot before your finger gets there (Indicating she doesn't want to step-up), she'll bite it and screech instead. But once she's on the finger, there's still no guarantee that she won't still bite anyway (Especially if you go a direction she doesn't like, or make a movement with your hand ((Not necessarily a fast movement)) that she doesn't like, and sometimes she just bites for no reason at all-those instances usually are very hard and draw blood).
I haven't asked about it, but I've seen my dad be able to pet Holly as well when mom isn't around, but he usually doesn't ask her to step-up or do anything else. My brother generally doesn't interact with Holly (Except rare occassions when we're on the couch and she flies on his knee to sit there), she bit him a lot when he was little, and I think he's afraid of her biting him.
As for sticks and other things like that.... she violently attacks inanimate objects if we hold them near her. For instance, if I were to wear gloves and ask her to step-up, she would bite my hand for about 30 seconds, then retreat to the back of the cage (Or if she was on the top of her cage, she would retreat and start climbing down backwards in that narrow space between her cage and the wall) and continue to bite if I persisted.
Hope that's useful :54: I'd really like her to be able to do things on our terms and not hers anymore.
 

Auggie's Dad

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If everyone in the family is going to cooperate I'd be happy to advise you as much as I can, though there are a couple limitations to be aware of: I suspect Holly could be trained quite well and the situation really turned around, but it'll will take a good bit of work and I can't overstate how helpful working in person with an experienced trainer would be - if ever the opportunity arises where your family can manage such an arrangement then do it. Trainers do have different going rates they charge, but just think of the money you'll save on bandaids and neosporin :D

Since working with a trainer sounds like it may not be possible I'll do my best to help out and hopefully some others here will chime in as well. I do have a strong background in animal behavior and training much of that with fearful and/or aggressive animals, but to be upfront about it very little of that work has been with parrots. There are many common themes in training that I can utilize to help out, but an experienced bird trainer might be more familiar with some tricks of the trade specific for parrots.

Anyhow, on to the work.

While imprecise, I think your description of Holly as a spoiled brat sounds like its right on the mark. Any training that will get Holly used to obeying and doing things on your terms rather than hers will be quite useful. The simplest such activity is the step-up command. She will do it now, but 'only if she wants to.' I put that in quotes because, frankly, any animal will only do what they want to - the key is to change what they 'want.'

In addition to the step-up command some general impulse control is in order. Holly has no restraint, she simply does whatever comes to her mind - she is, you could say, impulsive. But she has no reason to change as her impulsivity 'works'. It gets her whatever she wants. She needs to learn that she can get better things by (again somewhat imprecisely) thinking before she acts.

The step-up command can serve this purpose as well, and here is how:

First, there should only be one person in the room with Holly during the activity. If practical this could be done in a room away from her cage so it is not too easy for her to escape to there.

Wherever it is done you are essentially just give her the step up command repeatedly, but she will get LOTS of reward for doing it right. Hopefully you have some sort of small treat she really likes (examples for some birds include: cheerios, dried blueberries, chunks of bread, etc). You will 1) tell her to step up, 2) GET her to step up, 3) offer a great reward and lots of praise, 4) set her down and let her do her own thing for a bit. These steps are elaborated below:

1) is pretty self explanatory

2) has some variants: Despite her reaction to sticks or oven mitts I'd recommend using these - otherwise she will bite, and in so doing she will "win" and again be reinforced for biting. You can start using a perch she is comfortable with from her cage. If she doesn't have any that are appropriate for this in her cage already the first step would be to put one in there and let her get used to it for a while (days to weeks). (For an example see http://www.bird.com/ProdImages/P53405.jpg though there are countless other varieties which would work well.)

Once you have a perch she is comfortable with bring it to her chest from in front of her so she can see it coming. It should be kept low, relative to her, and brought up a bit as you come in. You can give the command "step-up" as it comes to her chest if you wish, but for me most verbal commands are somewhat incidental and could be added at anytime later - getting her to DO the behavior is the main thing.

3) If/when she steps up give a great treat, praise, then let her go do what she wants for a while (a couple minutes). Too often birds learn that every time they step up they are being taken away from something good or fun (we often get them to step up to take them away from somewhere or something). Let Holly learn that when she steps up she looses nothing, but rather she gets a treat, then she can go back to whatever she was doing before. If Holly attacks the perch... let her. It won't be injured :) Do not react at all. Let her panic if she wants, then calmly begin again. Yes I know you may repeat this MANY times in the early stages, but patience is key. When she attacks the perch and screams don't wrestle with her, just slowly and gently pull the perch away for a moment then begin again. In the first session she may attack the perch several dozen times before she steps up, but in the second session she'll attack only a couple dozen before stepping up ... and after many sessions she will rarely attack and regularly step up right away.

4) I've mixed this in with the above portion, but it is worth restating. If/When she steps up, you reward her, then you LET HER GO BACK TO WHAT SHE WAS DOING. I know I'm beating a dead horse, but this is the part that is most often messed up. Imagine Holly is playing with something or chewing on something and having a grand old time - you tell her to step up, she does, then you give her a little treat and take her away. While it may SEEM that you rewarded her, she is actually being punished for obeying. So again, give the treat, praise, and let her go back to what she was doing - at least for a couple minutes.

After those couple minutes have passed repeat all of it again.

Do this sort of training session daily - or a couple times a day if you have the patience and motivation. But don't over do it. She will quickly come to anticipate all the above steps - you want her to look forward to training as a chance to get treats, not as a long grueling process.

The first time you try this she may not step up at all, she may attack the perch several times. That's fine, just stay calm and give her several tries in the first session, if after a dozen or so tries she has not stepped up at all end the session and come back latter that day or the next day.

This probably all sounds very basic and almost trivial - it is basic, but it is not trivial. If each member of the family can have success with this process so that Holly will reliably step up onto a perch every time she is asked the next stages in her training will go quickly and smoothly.

Do NOT try to jump ahead though - there are no short cuts to proper training. Eventually this will be done with multiple people - for example you coming up to Holly while she is with your mom and having Holly step up. Eventually we will also ween her off the perch and on to a hand, or more likely an arm. Eventually we will get to those steps - if you or anyone else tries to jump ahead to those steps however it will likely do much more harm than good. Work on this basic activity until it is solid, build a strong foundation for the training, then we can talk about the next stages.
 
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OP
M
May 12, 2009
5
0
Washington State, US
Parrots
Red-Throated Conure: Holly
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Thank you so much for the training steps!

I talked your methods over with mom, and she okays the perch-training. (Yay!)
I'll start on it first thing tomorrow. I think it would be good to use my room, since it's a room that bird never goes in (I keep the door closed), so she doesn't already consider it her territory. (Her territory is also the busiest rooms of the house, so there would be a lot of distractions and people if I did it there).
Her perches get switched out of her cage fairly often for mental stimulation (Her toys do too), and one of the perches that she's not using right now is a medium/small length one made of wood (About eight inches or so long). Would it be okay to use that one? I thought it might make it a bit easier, since she's already used to it being a perch in her cage that she steps on.

I'm excited at the prospect of bird being able to "reform" as it were :D But I won't rush things. I've been able to train my own animals pretty well (They never developed issues like Holly did though), and you have to be more patient with things like hamsters, rabbits, and goldfish too ;) (Though the rabbits were/are always significantly brighter than the other two. Flame, my current bunny, knows the bunny equivalent of "come", "leave it", and "beg" and can accept a leash/harness :09: I'm so proud of him.)
 

Auggie's Dad

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That perch sounds like it should work well. If/when you start having some success with the step up command you should encourage other members of the family to do the same activity with her. It is one thing for Holly to learn to step up for you, it is another to generalize it to everyone. It may be that you are the one most motivated to get Holly trained so it is okay if you do get things started and do a majority of the training - but at some point each family member needs to be involved.
 

Cici

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Wow. Long posts! lol my eyes hurt! I'm LEARNING WITH YOU!!! yay!! How's Holly doing? Any progress? GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!!!
 
OP
M
May 12, 2009
5
0
Washington State, US
Parrots
Red-Throated Conure: Holly
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Progress is ...pretty...slow. In a "one step forward two steps back" kind of way.

So I brought her into my room to start trying the step-up on the wooden perch. (Using cheese for bait, since cheese is her favourite thing )
She did scream and attack the perch, but I let her do that and calmly asked her to step up again. That's...where problems started happening.
She only screamed and attacked it a couple times before she just took off and flew up on top of my bookshelf (Which is about six inches from the ceiling), and the session then became "get bird down from high places".
Eventually she flew on the back of my recliner and I just sort of ...stayed and watched and let her settle. (I wanted to just let her leave the room when she was freaking out and flying all over the place, but I didn't do it because I thought that might make her associate training = horrible torture)
When she was about as calm as she was gonna get, I started to try something new, since the stick was obviously starting to traumatize her instead of train her, and I wanted her to accept the stick, not fly away when she saw it =( So I started by leaving the stick on the other side of the room, and saying "ready?" and then petting her. I didn't do anything with the stick for a couple minutes, just saying "ready?" and then giving her attention.
Eventually she calmed down enough to even want the cheese again , so I gave her some and continued with on with it. After a little while, I would say "ready?" and move the stick to a slightly closer location, then give her praise and attention when she stayed.
We got so that it could get pretty close to her, but she's not stepping on it any time soon *Sigh*
I also think she'll probably resent me for a while too =( I don't know if I should wait a couple days before trying again, or just let someone else work with her tomorrow, or what.
Honestly, I didn't think it would go great, but I didn't think it would be this terrible either. I feel like I'm doing it all wrong.
 

Auggie's Dad

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Actually it sounds like you did everything perfectly. This was only day one.

Progressively working closer with the stick was a great idea, and exactly the right thing to do.

Perhaps the next training session could just be getting closer and closer to her while holding the stick without asking her to step up. Just so you can get to the point of being able to approach her with the stick, and gradually work your way up to bringing it up to her chest.

Also use a bit of a 'lure' if and when you are trying to get her to step up: put the cheese a bit to high and far for her to reach so she has to step on the perch to get it.

Do be patient - day one is just the beginning.

But again it sounds like you dealt with the situation perfectly.
 

TexDot33

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See, this is why I feel that I don't have to check in here this often ... AD has everything under control! Dishing out "sage-like" advice on a constant basis ...

Everything AD has suggested is almost "to the book" per se ... the only thing I want to add here is this one thing ... while you are working with Holly on this "resocialization/unfavored person (s)" behavior do not make it only YOUR project ... everyone in the family must be involved with it, everyone (in your family, and those who visit frequently) needs to be able to handle Holly in the same way. What could (and I say could) happen is that in the process of working with you Holly get's to thinking that you are her new mate and now you haven't retrained the behavior, you have merely changed the object of Holly's affection from your mom to you. Then you have done a lot of work and not gotten any reward ...
 
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Auggie's Dad

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I'm also curious. This type of training will take a bit of time - but hopefully there have been some small successes so far. If so we'd love to hear. If not we should figure out what's missing and reconsider the approach.
 

changogab

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May 17, 2009
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I didn't have time to read through everything but what I read from AD sounded like good advice. The one thing I didn't read and it doesn't sound like you will want to do this but it can have a remarkable difference in a birds attitude....CLIP THE WINGS! They will always grow back and my experience is that birds know they are more powerful when fully flighted....I use to settle my Timneh grey down when she started getting alittle to head strong just by showing her the clippers and towel. When I do clip her wings her attitude changes....she becomes much more manageable. Also as AD said....do the training EVERY DAY! That is very important....even if it's just for a few minutes. Birds will RULE THE ROOST if you allow them to! Just like a child....they will get away with everything you allow them to.
 
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TexDot33

Bird poop and baby poop
Dec 26, 2006
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... The one thing I didn't read and it doesn't sound like you will want to do this but it can have a remarkable difference in a birds attitude....CLIP THE WINGS!

This is another valid idea that we haven't talked about ... good mention!

Clipping wings could make your birdy more dependent on you for a few different things, and wil make them less independent ...

I tried this once on my GCC and it seemed to adjust her attitude for a while, then she went back to being herself again ... *shrug* ... I saw a change for like a two weeks or so, then she just became more demanding - she learned that if she wanted to be picked up all she had to do was flutter to the floor and either my wife or I would come running (clipped birdies on the floor are not as safe as we would want them to be) ...

Depending on the bird this is also another great possibility.
 

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