To start I will give you a little background into my situation and then explore the techniques I used to help curb the screaming behaviour and then on to my recent situation.
About three years ago I had my computer set up in the same room as where Pluto had his cage. Over time Pluto learned the behaviour of screaming for my attention and through desperation of peace I responded in the worst way possible - yelling back at him to ’stop it’ or ‘be quiet’ - only reinforcing the behaviour. I was going insane, couldn’t get any work done, was unable to talk on the phone in a professional way with a screaming parrot in the background and I had to find a solution to this mess I had created!
I tried a number of different things that were suggested such as:
Time Out (covering his cage when he screamed) - this did not work with Pluto. Firstly he was rewarded by getting my attention when I went to his cage and often I would need to trick him into the cage which became a game in itself and once he was covered he would just scream louder anyway.
Moving my computer to another room - I ended up moving my computer to another part of the house. Unfortunately I still couldn’t close the door and Pluto was STILL screaming. However, there were quieter patches and I was able to begin thinking again.
Leaving the Room - Pluto would continue to scream when I would be in the room where he was situated. His screaming had now become associated with wanting food or attention. I attempted a technique of leaving the room when he would scream. I would not look at him, leave the room, stand quietly behind the door and wait for him to stop or make an acceptable noise and then quietly return to the room. I continued with this technique for some time with a bit of success and I will still ocassionally use this technique as Pluto HATES to be ignored. What he has learned is that if he screams I go away and if he wants me to come back he must be quiet or talk properly.
Distraction - I tried a technique of distracting Pluto when he would scream by playing with one of his toy bells or by asking him to sing a song. Playing with his toy would work sometimes but I wasn’t always in a position to do this and often when I went away he would start again. I often felt that this was letting him get what he wanted anyhow and wasn’t actually solving the problem at hand. Talking to him would often make the situation worse. He didn’t want to talk. He wanted to play with me or receive food and he wanted it now!
Ignore - As hard as it is to do this, the best way to prevent and fix a screaming bird is to ignore them. Turn your head away from them, leave the room, don’t call out to them, talk to someone else and put simply - just don’t react to them at all in anyway.
The key to any technique is patience
The thing to remember is that it can take a long time to reverse any behaviour. Persistance, patience and repetition are key when you have a situation such as a screaming parrot. If you have done well for a few weeks ignoring your parrot screaming and then you happen to react - you have just reinforced the behaviour again. Don’t see it as the end of the world however, just remember that by reacting you have gone back a couple of steps and need to push through it again. If you feel you are about to react - remove yourself from the situation - take a break, calm down and then return.
For the last couple of years I have continued to work on Pluto’s screaming. He has calmed down a lot however I am still battling it during food preparation. Pluto can see me in the kitchen and this causes the most problems however where he is positioned is the most suitable in the house. For some reason, food is a big issue and I am still trying to figure it out but I do have a few techniques that I am still working with. Pluto has an issue with the fact that ‘his’ food even if it is the same as ‘my’ food couldn’t possibly be as good as what I have or what I am making. I will often try to give him his dinner before I begin to prepare our dinner and this keeps him happy for all of 5 seconds. As soon as I return to the kitchen and open the fridge he is back to the corner of his cage screaming for something else. If I go to his cage and show him his food he will go back to it and eat it for a few seconds and repeat the process. If I leave the room all-together he will happily eat his dinner but that doesn’t mean he will be full and not scream when I return to the kitchen.
So you are thinking - argh this would drive me insane! Well yes it can do. But now this is my routine:
Give Pluto his dinner. Pretend I am eating it with him and how yummy it is.
Begin preparing our dinner.
Pluto screams. I do one of four things:
a: I leave the room and wait for him to be quiet before returning. Not always possible if you are busy doing something.
b: I simply ignore him. I don’t look at him. I don’t speak to him and I wait for him to say something that is acceptable and THEN I respond to him; rewarding him talking and hopefully he will carry on talking. Sometimes he will talk to get my attention and then immediately after I have responded he will scream cause I am looking at him. 9/10 times when this happens I leave the room to show him that I am not tolerating this at all.
c: I sing to myself and dance around having a good time without paying any attention to him. He HATES this and can’t help but start to sing too. At this point I then involve him in the fun. Again this is not always something that is easy to carry out if you are busy.
d: I start talking and paying attention to others in the household. I have found when I do this he has to be quiet so he can listen in. He wants to know everything that is going on.
Often through ignoring Pluto and just continuing on with cooking he will finally retreat to inside his cage or start playing with a toy. The key to my success is not to react. My ’success’ is a parrot that screams less. I don’t believe he will ever be a non-screamer, he just screams less and less.
But my parrot screams when I ‘LEAVE’ the room.
A lot of owners have an issue where their parrot screams when they leave the room. Their parrot is calling for them to come back. A couple of methods you can try:
a: When you are about to leave the room for a moment, say “I’ll be right back’, leave the room for just a moment and return saying ‘See I’m back”. Give your parrot a bit of attention and then repeat.
b: Similar to above but if they scream when you leave, softly call back once “I’m just in here”. Then quietly wait for them to break from the screaming or make an acceptable noise before returning and saying ‘See I’m back”.
c: Ignore the screaming. If you have to go into the room when they are screaming, do not look at them and do not talk to them - even if they stop when you enter the room. You don’t want to reinforce the behaviour that if they scream, you will come running in.
So what brought me to writing this post today?
Well… I had thought that the screaming had calmed down a lot over the last year. Pluto was happily playing and talking all day in and around his cage. We would have the odd screaming session around meal times or if he was missing out on some attention but I have equipped myself with much knowledge and techniques to deal with it.
Four days ago I decided to move my computer back to the room where Pluto’s cage is. I guessed there would be a few issues and that Pluto would scream here and there and I was willing to accept that I was going to have to deal with this as it is a change for him too. But I tell you what, I was not expecting him to scream from morning to night. lol He sat on top of his cage whining and then screaming all day long. If I happened to glimpse at him he would bop his head up and down with fury. He was absolutely furious with me. How dare I move back here.
Well as hard as it was. The first two days I was strong and simply didn’t react to his screaming. If I went off to another room he would often start talking or singing. Talk about feeling rejected! He wanted to talk and sing to me but only if I was in another room. Then yesterday he started to talk a little whilst I was in the room. I rewarded this with much excitement and went over to play with him and talk and sing up a storm. He thought this was a lot of fun but of course I don’t have time to do that all day so eventually it had to stop and unfortunately he then began to scream for more attention.
Today however, he has talked more than scream. We have played head bops across the room, sang some songs, done our animal noises and now he is taking a nap after having had a bath and preening session.
There is still a big learning curve ahead and I have to remember that this was where the whole situation began those years ago and I am now back in that same spot. We both need to adjust and it will take some time but if I don’t react to the screaming I believe things should be a lot better in the coming months.