Many years ago my parents gave me a parrot as a gift. The very first
thing I learned about parrots is that it hurts a lot if they bite you.
Depending on their size, they can do major damage to your fingers and
At the time, I was living and working with my friend Reeves Teague,
and he had a natural talent for training animals. He had a “country
boy” way of dealing with “critters” having grown up in the mountains
of North Carolina. Here’s the process Reeves taught me for taming a
1. Encourage and utilize the current behavior
At first, the parrot is going to try and bite you. It’s a natural act
of self preservation. So instead of trying to stop the parrot’s
instinctual behavior, encourage and utilize it. Wear something
protective on one or two fingers (but not a whole glove), and extend a
finger inviting the parrot to engage with you.
The concept of welcoming and utilizing the parrot’s current behavior
even if it’s aggressive, is very much in the spirit of Aikido and
Ericksonian Hypnosis. In Ericksonian Hypnosis when you utilize the
client’s “bad” behavior you join with and validate the client’s
current model of the world rather than trying to change the client by
giving him the message he’s doing something wrong. In Aikido when you
invite someone to attack you, on one level they’re no longer really
attacking, instead they’re following your lead. In Aikido, you will
notice how welcoming an attack lessens the power of the strike.
2. Encourage aggression and tenderness at the same time.
Leave your finger in the cage and encourage the parrot to really gnaw
on it. With your other hand offer the parrot a snack. At first he
won’t accept it, but after a while he’ll come to expect it and want
it. When you are encourage aggression and tenderness at the same time,
you’re beginning to engage in the act of play.
3. Reward the unwanted behavior and thus reframe its meaning.
When you reward the “bad” behavior the behavior is no longer bad. The
parrot bites your right hand and you reward him by giving a snack with
your left hand. The relationship is circular in nature. It doesn’t
take long before you notice the parrot’s losing his enthusiasm for
biting you. After a while he’d rather not have to do all of the biting
to get the goodies.
4. Blur the difference between good and bad, right and wrong
The parrot’s been biting one hand and you’ve been feeding and stroking
the parrot with your other hand. Now take the hand that’s been doing
the feeding and stroking and present it to the parrot for biting. When
the parrot takes a playful nip, you offer a snack with the hand he was
previously gnawing on. He will soon realize that both hands can offer
him what he really wants. Another way to say this is that you’re
encouraging the parrot to bite the hand that feeds him! His confusion
will be obvious, and you’ll have accomplished this withoutt needing to
engage in a conversation about good or bad.
5. Change the reason for the reward.
After the “break in” period you only give a snack when the parrot is
gentle and playful with you. Little by little you thus change the
reference behavior for getting the snack. Little by little you make it
clear the parrot only gets what he wants when you get what you want.
I’ve found this training method, to be the fastest, simplest, and most
humane way to tame parrots, aggressive children, and adults. If you
don’t own a parrot try it on someone you’d like to have a better