Dr. Laurie Hess: So what at do you do if your bird bites you? Obviously the thing we want to do least, is to reprimand the bird, because all that does is reinforce that behavior. It's our natural behavior when a bird bites to put the bird down or try to fling the bird down, which can be very dangerous for the bird.
And then yell at that bird, "Don't do that," and "No." And all that does is reinforce the bird that if he or she bites, "Well, then I get all this attention, so I'm going to keep biting. That brings me more and more attention. My owners pay attention to me. That's a great way to get attention." And that's really the last thing we want to teach a bird.
We want to reinforce and reward good behaviors. Standing on your hand. Playing with toys. Playing quietly. Doing interactive things that are positive and socially acceptable. But really try the best we can to ignore unacceptable, often painful behaviors like biting. What are some of the things that we can tell people to do when it comes to teaching birds about not biting?
Sarah Inglis: Well, I would say, as you mentioned, loud noises is a bad idea. I can't tell you how many birds I've met that will bite someone and then yell,"Ow, no bite." So they've learned it as a behavior and as a trick and they get a yell out of their owner when they bite them. One of the biggest things I tell people to try to do is, if your bird bites you, try so hard not to even yell out in pain.
It's like a dog with a squeaky toy, you know? I squeak this and it made a great noise, I'm going to do it again. Just simply if they bite, you take them, put them down, and walk away. Oftentimes, just the association of them losing your attention when they bite you is enough for them to learn, that maybe it's not such a great idea.
Dr. Laurie: Right, it's like time out with a child. It's time out from positive reinforcement. If it's reinforcing to stand on your hand to be with you and they bite you, then you put them down and they don't get that attention. You just don't want to encourage it. And if there's a way that you can anticipate when an animal may bite, when a bird's getting ready to bite; like if you put the bird back in the cage and he or she doesn't want to go back in the cage; if you're leaving the room.
Then make that bird have things available, that they can do with their mouth, so that they don't bite you. They can't eat and bite. They can't shred toys and bite. So if you can preempt the behavior from happening, regardless of what the behavior is; biting, screaming and you can provide some sort of distraction for your bird, so that they don't bite; it's better to actually avoid the entire situation, than to get into a punishment type of situation, if a bird should bite.