Scared Galah

Bluemoonlvr

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My one and a half year old rose breasted cockatoo started out as a well socialized, well handled, easy going baby when I brought him home. He was open to new things, so I kept introducing them. Somewhere near the one year mark, he started getting terrified of things he'd been around all his life. Sunflowers and other treats, toys, perches, and even hands! We'd taught him to come when called and as a reward, he'd get a treat. Now, you have to corner him if he's out of his cage for him to step up, cause he will run all around the house away from you yelling "come here! come here!" When he is afraid of something, he screams, bites, and tries to run/fly away. Usually, once out and on a stand or in a different room, he steps up just fine and lets you pet him - but only on his head. I've tried touching other places, but he just bites if you stray from his head. Before, he could be touched everywhere. Clipping wings and nails has become a two person job, when before he stayed still and didn't mind it. Before he started getting scared of everything, we used to take him places on a harness and he took everything in stride. We wanted him to be comfortable with his surroundings at all times, so we exposed him to as much as possible, and in a positive way. He used to come up to you if you came to his cage, but now he screams and flies around and if you manage to get near him to pick him up, he bites hard. I don't pull my hand away when he does this, I continue to ask to step up until he finally does. The biting is so bad though, that I usually get a perch to make him step up - after he's flown around screaming for a while. He's never been handled badly, hasn't had any traumatizing life events that I can think of, I don't know what is with the sudden change in behavior. Are there things that I can do to help him calm down? Things that will make him more accepting and docile again?

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SoCalWendy

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I'm sure the galah people on this forum can answer this better then I ever can, but he sounds hormonal. I don't know when Galahs become sexually mature, but to go from being one way, flip a switch to being the way he is now my guess would be hormones.

Edited: I had to come back to my post to ask some questions:

How long has he been acting this way?
When it started did anything change, routine, hairstyle, etc?
 
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Bluemoonlvr

Bluemoonlvr

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I'm sure the galah people on this forum can answer this better then I ever can, but he sounds hormonal. I don't know when Galahs become sexually mature, but to go from being one way, flip a switch to being the way he is now my guess would be hormones.

Edited: I had to come back to my post to ask some questions:

How long has he been acting this way?
When it started did anything change, routine, hairstyle, etc?

Nothing changed. We've gotten another cockatoo since - a Goffin female, but the behavior was like this before she came. Same cage, same birds, same toys. We first started noticing it when he destroyed a little toy shoe of his, so we brought home the same one only new, and he wouldn't go near it. He won't play with any of his toys anymore, doesn't like coming out of the cage, and all the things I've listed above. Routine is the same as always - we leave early in the morning and come home early in the afternoon. He's been acting like this for almost 5 months, progressively getting worse with stepping up in the cage, but staying the same bad behavior with everything else.

Some things remind me of the old Taz, though. For example, right now I'm in an upstairs room away from the cage and I put him on the bed while I did some work on the laptop. At first, he was standoffish as usual, but I had my cockatiel, Pikachu, on my shoulder and he got curious. He slowly crept over and now he's on my back chewing on my shorts. This is a first in a long time. (It's as though he knew I was complaining about him LOL)
 

Featheredsamurai

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Have you ever tried clicker trick training with him? And touch training? I advised a girl with a highly phobic three year old galah to try those training methods. He was very afraid of the target stick at first, rather than wait for him to touch it she clicked and rewarded when he relaxed/or took a step towards the target stick, eventually he was able to touch it with his beak. From there she started simple trick training and after a few months he was much less phobic and mentally healthy bird.
 
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Bluemoonlvr

Bluemoonlvr

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Have you ever tried clicker trick training with him? And touch training? I advised a girl with a highly phobic three year old galah to try those training methods. He was very afraid of the target stick at first, rather than wait for him to touch it she clicked and rewarded when he relaxed/or took a step towards the target stick, eventually he was able to touch it with his beak. From there she started simple trick training and after a few months he was much less phobic and mentally healthy bird.

Yes. He learned how to wave with clicker training, and he used to go upside down, but I haven't done it in a while. I doubt he'd go upside down at this point, but target training might be do-able.
 

MonicaMc

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I see an issue here...

He used to come up to you if you came to his cage, but now he screams and flies around and if you manage to get near him to pick him up, he bites hard. I don't pull my hand away when he does this, I continue to ask to step up until he finally does. The biting is so bad though, that I usually get a perch to make him step up - after he's flown around screaming for a while. He's never been handled badly, hasn't had any traumatizing life events that I can think of, I don't know what is with the sudden change in behavior. Are there things that I can do to help him calm down?

He's biting because he's uncomfortable and trying to tell you to "back off". You are forcing the issue of him stepping up, so he's finding this experience to be a terrible one. Please, stop ignoring the bites! Rather than ignore them, try to avoid getting bitten. Try to figure out what the triggers are to biting and give him space.

Ignoring a bite is not part of positive reinforcement training, it is a part of flooding or dominance training and *NOT* recommended. I'm sure, as you've already noticed, that he's learned avoidance behaviors. He's avoiding because he's finding a situation to be unpleasant. Barbara Heidenreich talks about this in one of her articles.

Good Bird Inc Parrot Training Talk: Help! My Parrot Wont Step Up!


I don't know if you are chasing him around the house or not trying to get him to step up, but one of the worst things to do when you have a freaked out parrot is to go and try to calm them down. Sometimes, this can backfire and the bird will associate the scary experience with the human and will thus be afraid of the human.


Barbara has some other good blogs, too...

Good Bird Inc Parrot Training Talk: Training a Scared or Aggressive Parrot To Step Up
Good Bird Inc Parrot Training Talk: Respecting the Bite



Lara Joseph also has some great information that goes further in-depth

A Question About an Issue with Nipping | Lara Joseph
Question on training a behavior; training a bird to trust me getting closer in proximity to him. | Lara Joseph
Training a Bird to Station & Its Importance | Lara Joseph
A ?Bird Attacking? Question | Lara Joseph
 

Pajarita

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I agree with Monica 100%. You are flooding him by pushing and making things worse. It sounds to me as if he is high-strung. When birds are stressed out as babies, they remain high-strung and very easy to become anxious for the rest of their lives. People talk about getting the bird used to change and take their babies everywhere and expose them to all kinds of new people but all they do is create a time-bomb. You do that with a puppy but you don't do that with a parrot. Parrots in the wild do not 'socialize' when they are babies. They don't even come out of the nest for months after they are born so 'socializing' them is an unnatural and dangerous thing to do to a baby. Babies will cling to their human(s) and would seem to be OK with all kinds of different situations but that's a defense mechanism (blend into the woodwork, don't even move so you don't call attention to yourself).

Don't ask the parrot to do anything for you (not stepping up, no training, no nothing), let him relax and wait for him to feel better (more secure) about things. Don't move his cage, don't change anything in it and don't bring the parrot to another room, you need to stay with him in his familiar environment keeping him company, talking to him, offering treats, etc. You also need to put him in a VERY strict schedule when it comes to routines (everything should be done in the same order, at the same time and for the same length of time EVERY SINGLE DAY!)

You need to create a feeling of continuity and you need to allow him to set the pace and to take the initiative in every single interaction. Follow his lead. If he stays on his cage, sit next to him and read out loud, stopping every now and then to address him personally, offer a treat, etc. If he goes down to the floor (and, please, let his wings grow, clipping a bird makes him VERY vulnerable and makes things worse with insecure birds), go down with him, sit on the floor, lay on it, put yourself at his level. If he goes up, allow him to do it, don't go trying to get him down, high perches make them feel more secure and he needs that feeling.

Basically, you need to start from scratch and undo the damage done to his self-reliance, you need to give him more confidence in himself and teach him to trust you by showing him that you won't force him to do anything he doesn't want to do.
 
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Bluemoonlvr

Bluemoonlvr

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Everytime I ask advice from somewhere, I get an answer that completely contradicts the answer I got before. I've been told back off if he bites, leave him alone, he'll come around when he's ready, and just now 'grow his wings out'. I've also been told to not let him think a bite means he gets away with a bad behavior, I've been told to try a 'hands on' approach, and that (and this was by his breeder and a vet) that a flighted bird is much more aggressive and pushy.

He learned to fly as a baby and then was clipped. He's since had his flight feathers grow in, but seems to like to run around, only flying if startled or if he wants off his cage.

And I'm sorry if I have the wrong bird training mentality - I'm a dog and horse trainer and you are never supposed to let them get away with a bad behavior and one of the worst behaviors is biting.
 

kq_fan

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Now im not a owner of a too or ever was but I know a parrot trainer and he said to not force him to step up but to let him come to you. Im not saying your a bad owner that's the last thing I want to do. I agree with So Cal Wendy, it seems to be a hormonal stage! Good luck!! :)
 

MonicaMc

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With positive reinforcement training, rather than allowing the bad behavior to happen, you are supposed to take steps to try and prevent the bad behavior from occurring then redirecting the birds attention to something else. That way, the behavior can't occur in the first place, and you are rewarding good behavior that does happen.

If you read articles, books and watch DVD's from positive reinforcement trainers, you'll see that a lot of information they have often contradicts everything that 'old timers' use.



Dominance and flooding go hand in hand. If a bird is biting, you are suppose to relentlessly have the bird step up until they stop biting. Supposedly, they bite to "try and get their way".

With positive reinforcement training, when a bird bites, you are supposed to take a step back. Why did the bird bite? Did you ask for too much? Does the bird understand what you are asking them to do? Did something startle the bird? What can I do to avoid bites in the future? It looks at biting as a form of communication, which is exactly what it is. Birds don't bite to "get their way", they bite as a 'last resort' of trying to tell you something when you don't pay attention to warning signals that they are saying "No" or "I'm not ready" or "I'm afraid".


Dominance/Flooding is anti-choice.

Positive reinforcement is pro-choice.


Clipping removes the choice for the bird to get away from you or from situations that it fears or is uncomfortable with. Flight gives the choice.



It's really no surprise that there are different views on training, just like there are different views on clipping vs flight and diet.


Except for my newest flock member, all of my birds are flighted! I have not found *any* of them to be any more aggressive or pushy for being flighted. In fact, I've noticed the opposite! My new flock member is not flighted only because she came to me that way, and I'm eagerly waiting for her flights to grow out! She's lost a total of 4 clipped flights since coming here and only two are grown out. It's going to be a while before she can actually fly, though...


I really do recommend looking at the blogs and media by the trainers I suggested... Barbara Heidenreich, Lara Joseph, Susan Friedman, Melinda Johnson, Karen Pryor and even Steve Martin of Natural Encounters.
 

Jayyj

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The thing that always weighs on me with the clipping thing is that the natural instinct of a frightened bird is to fly to safety, so a frightened bird that wants to escape but can't is likely to be significantly more stressed than one that can remove itself from danger. When Alice is startled by something she shoots a few feet up in the air, has a quick look round then settles on the nearest safe place - which is usually me, or if I was the guilty party she go to her cage. She always uses flight when she's scared, and her beak when she's annoyed.

I appreciate the frustration of getting conflicting advice, and I've been in the same position, but I always try to approach each new problem understanding that there may be conflicting opinions, and in some cases more than one correct answer, and that the more I research a question the better prepared I am to answer it.

In the case of positive reinforcement, the great thing is that even if you're not 100% sold on the idea to begin with it will do no harm whatsoever to try it for a month and see how you go with it. My bet is that you'll see significant results and want to continue with it, but even if it doesn't achieve anything you won't have done any damage through it. Monica's links make for some really good reading, and I sure it would be worth giving it a try.
 

Pajarita

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My dear, avian vets are not behaviorists, they are internists, they learn about physiology, pathogens, conditions, treatments, etc., they don't study behavior so, unless the avian vet has years of experience with multiple birds of his own, their advice is as good as anybody else who has no experience. Breeders are another story. I am not saying this holds true for all breeders but most of them really have no experience with pet birds. What they want out of a parrot is not the same as what you want out of it.

And you can't use training for dogs or horses with parrots... well, some stuff you can but not when it comes to aggression because both dogs and horses live in social groups which have a hierarchy and the top position is achieved through aggression. The genetic make-up is there for it and it means something completely different from what it means to a parrot. To a parrot, aggression is nothing more than defense. They will bite to protect themselves, their mates, their nest and their babies. Period. And that's why Monica says that when a parrot bites, you have to stop and think about what you did that made the parrot bite - because it's always directly related to our actions. It might be something as innocent as their mate liking you too much in their eyes but it's never to 'dominate' you.

You yourself said the parrot is scared and, for what you describe, high-strung and quite anxious because parrots that feel OK with the world certainly don't run away screaming... I am not scolding you or trying to make you feel bad, I am trying to make you look at things from a parrot's point of view so you can correct the problem.

And yes, you are 100%, there are contradictory information all over the place. But we are getting better and the worst 'mistakes' are slowly been corrected.
 
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Bluemoonlvr

Bluemoonlvr

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All day today, I've left his cage open and reached in only for pets. I got to the point where I'd scratch under his chin, then work my way towards his feet. He put a foot on my hand, but no stepping up. I didn't push anything, and talked to him the whole time. He even ventured out of the cage at one point (he hasn't done this in a while) and has been very talkative all night. Hopefully things keep going as well as today!
 

Pinkbirdy

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Sounds like your on the right track [let him call the shots] ;)
 

Pajarita

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Good job! That's the way to go, let him make the decisions so, if you ask and he doesn't want to do it, don't insist, just be patient and wait him out until he does.
 

MonicaMc

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I know it may feel as if you are going in reverse and that things are going very slow, but it really does sound like you are on the right track now!!!! Don't give up hope and keep doing what you are doing now!!!
 
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Bluemoonlvr

Bluemoonlvr

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Today we had some good scratching time. I offered sunflowers and he took them! ...but threw them down. lol I pet him and lowered my hand asking 'step up' and he didn't. So I kept scratching. At one point he raised his foot, then thought better of it. I offered the sunflower with my palm open instead of directly to him and he was more interested in nibbling on me. He nibbled all over my hand and arm - not mean bites but little nips. Didn't hurt and he didn't seem to be doing it out of fear or anger, so I didn't pull away. I stopped when he raised his foot and actually took and ate a sunflower from me. I'm giving him a long break, but I'll see if I can video tape what I'm doing so you guys can critique me better :)
 
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Bluemoonlvr

Bluemoonlvr

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Also quick question! I want to start clicker training again, but he's really tentative about taking treats. Sunflowers used to be the go-to treat, but he doesn't eat them 100% of the time when they're given to him. How am I supposed to reward a good behavior if he wont take treats?
 

MonicaMc

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As long as he doesn't feel threatened or afraid, I think you are heading in the right direction! Right now he sounds curious and indecisive, but learning!



Have you tried nuts? Dried fruits? Different seeds? You may just need to find a different reinforcer that he loves!
 
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Bluemoonlvr

Bluemoonlvr

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As long as he doesn't feel threatened or afraid, I think you are heading in the right direction! Right now he sounds curious and indecisive, but learning!



Have you tried nuts? Dried fruits? Different seeds? You may just need to find a different reinforcer that he loves!

I just tried but he hissed at them, so I just put a few in his food bowl. When I introduce new foods, I usually put my cockatiel next to him and let her eat it first and that usually makes him curious, but she wasn't interested in them, either haha. My Goffin loves almonds, but she's not friends with Taz, so he doesn't care if she likes them xD
 

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