What is a behaviour consultation at the Clinic for Birds?

Author: Drs. Jan Hooimeijer,
Bird Vet, Parrots behaviourist
Clinic for Birds, Meppel
Email: info@kliniekvoorvogels.nl
Webite: www.kliniekvoorvogels.nl

When it comes to the welfare of parrots and parakeets behaviour plays an important role. Known behavioural problems are: anxiety/uncertainty, lack of self confidence, feather picking, self mutilation, screaming, biting/territorial behaviour, 'destructive' behaviour sexual behaviour.

Undesirable behaviour
Undesirable behaviour is generally normal parrot behaviour. Under abnormal circumstances, normal and natural behaviour can become deviant behaviour and evolve into behavioural problems. Undesirable behaviour is often a sign that the bird has problems with the situation in which it is held and the way it is cared for. It usually indicates that the bird does not know where he/she stands. It is often comparable to the behaviour of children in a classroom with a teacher who cannot keep order. Children who have no respect for the teacher show problematic behaviour. Near this teacher the way the children behave is normal.

Consequences of undesirable behaviour
The consequence of undesirable behaviour may ultimately be that the bird is taken to a shelter for parrots or sold.
A sad circumstance considering that a parrot can be a lifelong companion with a place within a family.

Ignorance of the owner
In general owners of parrots/parakeets are insufficiently informed about the responsibility of keeping these birds. There is insufficient realisation that these are not domesticated animals, that is to say that they are wild animals that are kept in captivity. The responsible keeping of wild animals in captivity requires knowledge about the background of the animal and expertise in handling of and caring for them. It is generally recognized that the responsibility of keeping a dog means the dog is raised so that the animal does not exhibit undesirable behaviour.

For 30 years now puppy training has been given in The Netherlands, over the course of 10 Saturdays, the owners are taught how to properly handle the dog. These courses are in the interest of the pet and in the interest of the owner. The course is actually not a puppy training but a course for the owner because the owner needs to learn how to deal with the dog. Dogs however are domesticated animals which have been kept by humans for thousands of years. Dogs are bred to be kept as pets and do not exist as a species in nature. In that sense it is very 'natural’ dogs are being kept as pets. Parrots/parakeets however are only recently being kept as companion animals and are as such non domesticated animals. It is only responsible to keep these animals if the owner has the necessary knowledge about the demands that these birds make in the areas of food, accommodation, care and education.

Clinic for Birds expert in behaviour
The Clinic for Birds has spent the past 20 years focused on the issue of behavioural problems and undesirable behaviour in parrots in captivity. Behaviour consultations are similar to a puppy training. The difference with a puppy training is that usually when parrots/parakeets are being taken in for counselling the majority of them already exhibit behavioural problems.

Why a behaviour consultation?
Behaviour consultations are largely intended to find out what errors/mistakes are being made in dealing with the birds. The behaviour consultation is primarily aimed at influencing and changing the behaviour of the owner. It is important that the owner learns to recognize that he/she is responsible for the undesirable behaviour. When the dog bites the neighbours children, everyone knows that the dog’s owner is responsible. The behaviour of the owner will have to be adjusted to prevent behavioural problems in the future. Such behavioural consultations are, in general, very intensive. Sometimes even confrontational because the owner must be made aware of their ignorance on the normal behaviour of a parrot/parakeet and the wrong ways of reacting to this. Expectations usually have to be adjusted. It is an illusion to think that a behavioural problem can be solved with a one-hour consultation. The causes and backgrounds of the problems can always be found during a behavioural consultation and there may be an impetus for further progress. To this end an information packet is provided with comments relating to the upbringing of a parrot/parakeet. Most of the time is spent reviewing and discussing the uncertainty, ignorance and mistakes of the owner in respect to keeping a parrot/parakeet. If the cause of the problem is known and recognized by the owner, therapy can be started.

Time and perseverance
It takes time and requires persistence from the owner to change their own behaviour and attitude. Each owner will have to realize that no one can learn how to drive within the space of a few hours. Nobody can play the piano after a few hours. Even properly painting of a door, takes practice, experience and time. Raising a dog takes many hours per day. The proper education of a parrot takes significantly less time per day as a parrot/parakeet is much more intelligent than a dog. A behavioural consultation has the effect that the owner will start working on his/her own imperfections.

Learning from professionals
We can learn from the way professionals interact and work with animals/birds. People who train dogs to become guide or police dogs to do this in a professional manner. People who work with Orcas do this professionally. People who work with parrots in a parrot show, are professionally involved. The dogs, parrots and Orcas have a strong bond with the trainers based on mutual respect and trust. That's what everyone should aspire. Owners of parrots and parakeets can learn from those who professionally work with animals. It is important that the attitude and approach towards the animal is clear. It is the difference between the teacher that can and a teacher that cannot keep order in the classroom. Usually it’s the subtle details that determine whether the owner/teacher commands respect or not. This applies not only to owners of pet parrots/parakeets. This problem of course also applies to breeders of parrots and parakeets. Many behavioural problems are already present with the breeder of the parrots/parakeets and are partially responsible for behavioural problems developed at a later stage. Even within the aviculture, many behavioural problems exist in parrots/parakeets.

Knowledge and skills are always profitable!
Investing time in knowledge and skills is always 'profitable' because it will cause a positive change on several fronts. A parrot/parakeet that feels good and can be taken to the forest, the playground and the petting zoo is quite privileged compared to the bird that sits in its cage and is not tame or ever goes outside. With breeders the birds are often scared and uncertain and rarely tame. In a breeding situation, we can assume that the breeding results would improve and that problems would be avoided if breeders took these behavioural problems seriously. It is remarkable to see that so few owners/breeders seriously study the behavioural problems of parrots/parakeets. If a bird breaks a leg it is logical to consider that as an emergency. The parrot is then usually brought in, X-ray photo’s must be made. The parrot will have to undergo surgery in which a pin might have to be placed, etc. The bird will have to stay at the clinic for a few days. Then a new appointment is made for a check-up , it might be necessary to make a new x-ray, remove the pin or the sutures etc.. All in all a broken leg will take at least 3 hours of time. Nobody doubts the need and importance of investing this time. Remarkably, when it comes to behavioural problems people usually have a different point of view. Both in respect to the time required as well as the costs that are involved. It is considered normal for a young dog to be put through puppy training. This usually means 10 Saturdays of training. In conjunction with this you will have to spend at least 3 hours per day to properly educate the young dog. Everyone realizes that this is an essential part of the responsible keeping a dog as a pet. It is predictable that an inexperienced prospective owner of a German shepherd will encounter big problems and the dog will ultimately pay the price.

Behavioural consultation unusual?
Interestingly, when it comes to a parrot as a pet, it is very unusual for an unknowledgeable owner to invests time in behavioural counselling. This is in a large part because of the unfamiliarity with the phenomenon and because there are few places where a motivated owner can go. The consequence and reality is that thousands of parrots/parakeets are kept as pet birds in the most grievous of circumstances. It is known that many parrots are (re)sold or end up in a shelter. The reason is that in most cases traders give incomplete or wrong information to prospective owners. Unfortunately this usually is also the case for breeders who sell their (too) young birds as companion bird. Breeders who sell parrots that still require weaning to traders and shops are participating and propagating the numerous behavioural problems we encounter everyday at the Clinic for Birds. This is in part due to incompetence, the failure to recognize the importance and partly due to indifference. Unfortunately, there is also a lack of knowledge and experience in most veterinarians.

Everyone is responsible
The breeder, the seller, the bird veterinarian and the owner have a significant responsibility to the health and welfare of parrots/parakeets. Checkups in respect to health and advice regarding nutrition, housing and care play an important role. Behaviour consultations play an important part in this situation.

Drs. J. Hooimeijer
Clinic for Birds, Meppel

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