Generalizing

Does your bird do a fantastic “Step Up” from the sofa, but not from his cage or anywhere else? Are you wondering why he’s so stubborn, when he clearly knows how to step up? You are not alone!

Quentin is a parrot who is comfortable doing a “Step Up” in many new situations. He accompanies me to the Parrot Club, where he will step up to myself and strangers. At Bird School, he demonstrates the Step Up for everyone at class. Quentin has done many beautiful Step Ups at trade shows, fairs, meet and greets, the In-Laws house, even outside in his aviary. But is wasn’t always that way.

Quentin the Congo African Grey

Quentin started slowly, just like every other bird. He was from a rescue, and I didn’t know his background. He knew how to Step Up, but once in a while he would “forget how”. Sometimes he would look at me with a blank stare. I’d repeat myself: “Step up!” It was no use. He wouldn’t do it.

This is when many birds get labeled “stubborn”. Some get worse labels. When really what’s going on is that your bird needs more help. He’s struggling to understand. Last week we learned the “Step up”. That was a Tuesday, in the living room, after work, while it was snowing, and the TV was on. Today, you’re asking for a Step Up but EVERYTHING else is different. It’s not Tuesday, you are in a different room, it’s not the same time, and it’s not snowing. Are you sure you are asking for the same thing? How does the bird know? 

Odie the Senegal Parrot

When this happens, it’s not because he’s stubborn, or forgetful. The things that have changed may not seem relevant to you, but they are to your bird! You need to GENERALIZE the Step Up behaviour. Generalizing means practicing in new situations. And often, you will have to repeat some of the basics and build up to fluent behaviour again (though this goes quicker and quicker). It’s as if he is re-learning in each new scenario. Your bird will then say “Oh! That thing we did on Tuesday in the living room? That? HERE? Oh.”

Start with achievable changes, like different days or times. Work up to different perches, different rooms, different people. Know that EACH one will need to be generalized and that means temporarily relaxing and re-training Step Up. Often a few repetitions are all that’s needed to be back on top!

Try to change only one thing at a time, and add slowly in small steps. The more you practice, the more generalized the behaviour, the more bullet proof your Step Ups will become. It’s worth it!

*PLEASE NOTE: there are multiple reasons for a step up refusal, or any behavior refusal. Generalizing is ONE potential issue to work on. Please email CBS for specific behavior coaching if you need it!

Blue and Gold macaw doing a Step up in a large aviary as spectators watch.

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