Potty-training Your Bird

Potty-training Your Bird

Copyright Eri Izawa 2007. Reproduced with permission.

Tired of bird poop on your shoulder? Love your bird but wish that, aside from installing a volume control, that you could install a poop control too? But you CAN potty train your bird.

Our lovebird, for example, practically potty-trained himself — he “goes” automatically when picked up and held over a trash can or piece of tissue paper set down for that purpose.

Our cockatiel Torque acted “antsy” as a sign it’s time to “poop” him (Tcsh, alas, is far more subtle about it, and in fact seems to deliberately poop on his less-favorite-human – while he seems to avoid pooping on his most favored human subject).

It helps to realize that most parrots (cockatiels, lovebirds, larger birds) have some sort of instinctive desire not to poop on their favorite human perch. I don’t know how this evolved, but it’s there. So, how does this training process work?

It’s actually very similar to potty-training a dog. Dog books will tell you to learn and anticipate when the dog will go to the bathroom: right after waking up, right after eating, etc etc (though it depends on the dog); you’re supposed to take the dog to the right spot every time you think he’s likely to go, wait til he does his stuff (repeating a key phrase all the while, even if you feel like an idiot for it), and then praise him profusely.

Birds are a lot like that, with one really BIG difference: they go as often as once every few minutes!

So the trick is to get in the habit of picking up the bird every few minutes — you really have to learn to watch your bird to figure out the timing — and then hold it over the appropriate object (newspaper, trash can, cage, whatever), repeat a simple phrase, and wait for the “plop.” Then, praise the bird profusely and give it back its previous perch.

Here are some tips:

  • Birds usually get antsy just before they want to go. A cockatiel on your shoulder might start climbing down, for example. (Unless your cockatiel is like Tcsh, who just does it.)
  • RIGHT before going, most birds do an odd little squatting or backing-up motion. You can sometimes (not always) interrupt the bird long enough to pick him up and get him over something more appropriate than your table or your shirt.
  • Don’t use a key phrase common to daily language. One article in BIRD TALK mentioned how this can cause social embarrassments.
  • Be consistent.
  • It may be hard to keep the bird over the trash can … they often really don’t want to stay there. Be patient, and don’t force the bird to sit there longer than seems reasonable (certainly don’t hurt him!). Try again in a minute or so, though. Also check your shirt or the floor to see if the bird went while you weren’t watching.
  • Some birds have a stronger instinct than others. Lovebirds, for example, seem to have more of a “don’t poop on the human” sense than cockatiels. Ours practically taught himself. But remember all birds are still individuals.
  • One idea: some birds might possibly cue off a particular object beneath them. In other words, you MIGHT be able to teach your bird to poop over a bit of kleenex (for example) like our lovebird — but that means anything that looks like that will probably become fair game.
  • When uncovering the bird cage in the morning, try waiting until the bird poops before letting him out (though in the morning, there may be multiple large “presents” waiting to come out of the bird). Make sure to open the door very soon after the act, or else the bird has no reason to associate the action with the result.
  • Likewise, you may try waiting until the bird poops to let him out of his cage at other times of the day. The bird may start associating the cage with pooping, especially if you use a key phrase, and also if.
  • You try putting the bird periodically on/in his cage and refuse to pick him up again until he poops (it helps to wait til you know he’s due to poop to do this, and use that same silly key phrase). Again, this must be done cause-and-effect style, and the hope is that the bird realizes that pooping in/on the cage is a good thing.
  • BIRD TALK warns against getting a parrot so well trained he doesn’t poop without a command — that’s just bad for his health. Expect a few messy shirts, tables, chairs, etc. — don’t expect perfection!
  • It might take only a few days for some birds … or it might take weeks! In the long run, it usually is up to the instructor’s patience and persistence.
  • If potty training is too frustrating for you and the bird, it may be just best to live with the occasional mess rather than get everyone upset.

In any case, those are the basics! Remember, take it easy … birds aren’t THAT instinctively into the potty-training business. There will always be mistakes — usually caused by an inattentive human who didn’t read his bird’s body language, or who forgot how long it had been since the last birdie potty session. But still, in good cases, the mistakes can go down by nearly 90% or more … and wouldn’t that be great?

The “Styrofoam Cup” Porta-Potty

‘Kathy Gerst was able to potty train her pet lory, and below shares her experiences and provides some tips”

“I had a Red Lory and as you know Lory’s droppings tend to be quite soft and watery. So it was especially good that I potty trained this bird but I did so to a white Styrofoam cup.

I used the word “potty”… and the bird even got to where she would say “potty” each time right before she went, even while in the cage. If she was on a shoulder and said “potty”, we still had to be pretty quick as she would say it .. then do it… wasting little time in-between. Yes we still had a few “accidents”, but it was much improved. “

“But the white Styrofoam cup became her personal toilet, and any time she saw one it was her ‘potty’ place.

It was perfect, because I could take a white Styrofoam cup with me most everywhere and always had a portable potty for her, in the car, or when visiting friends and family.”

“Since she was such a beautiful little bird, we did enter her in a bird competition one time. One of the guys working the show was drinking his coffee in… you guessed it, a white Styrofoam cup.

He sat the cup next to my bird cage while he was moving some other birds. I immediately saw it and became concerned, but there was little I could do.

My bird went to that side of the cage, saw the cup, and repeated the phrase “potty, potty”… and then did so… perfectly hitting the inside of the cup. Her aim was incredible. “

“I did inform the guy not to drink his coffee, he couldn’t believe it. After the show, I explained to him that that was my bird and how she was potty trained. He was very impressed, and I am sure was more careful as to where he placed his coffee when around birds. “


Helpful Hints:

When her pet was outside the cage, Kathy basically trained her pet to use the cup as a “porta potty.” Her pet was allowed to simply “go” in her cage. Kathy did NOT leave the Styrofoam cup in the cage since some birds may chew on them and eat parts of them, which could be harmful.

Katie states that “accidents” still happen and it is best not to make a huge deal ouf of them. She emphasizes that bonded pets are eager to please their owners, and that makes them easy to work with.

She found that pets (including birds) learn best if you make it “exciting.” “The more exciting it is, the more interest they take, and the faster they seem to learn it. “

She also states: “I would hold her over the cup and wait for her to go, one trick was to wiggle my finger just a bit and throw her a little off balance.  When she would regain balance she tended to go. Of course, you don’t want to throw the bird too far off balance to either hurt them or make her scared of you, but by that point, she and I had a total trust going on.”

Courtesy of: Kathy Gerst

Photo of author

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