Training the Independent African Grey Parrot

Training Parrots to Perform Tricks and Stop Problem Behaviors

Time To Think Inside and Outside of Your African Grey's Cage (Or Any Other Breed)

The African Grey's nickname "The Cadillac of Parrots" comes from its combination of intelligence and beauty. Because of these two traits, many owners have found success in training them and enjoy showing off their tricks. Training may begin as a result of owners witnessing self-destructive behaviors inside of their African Grey's cages that they wish to eliminate. Others want their parrots to leave their African Grey cages and perform tricks for others. African Greys are one of the easiest parrots to train if owners commit the time necessary to bond with them and develop consistent training routines.


Who is the African Grey?

African Greys are very intelligent, with powerful imitation skills.  But they are also strong-willed and independent, which makes the bond between parrot and owner especially important.  The two different types of African Greys (the Congo and the Timneh) have a few natural tendencies that may require training to eliminate, such as feather-plucking, excessive squawking and biting.  However, if owners pay them enough attention, these behaviors can be prevented or gradually eliminated with the proper training techniques.  From inside their African Grey cages, these parrots will observe the activity of their households and mimic some of the sounds they hear.  Their basic cognition skills even allow them to understand simple cause-effect relationships.  Because of this, some parrots have been reported to mimic the sound of the telephone so that their owners will come rushing to them.

Before They Even Leave Their African Grey Cages...

Owners can begin the bonding process while the bird is still in their cage.  African Greys can develop strong bonds with humans because their interactions are very human-like.  They can learn to respond to human language.  But these parrots are still wild animals and are sometimes nervous or anxious with sudden movements or unfamiliar noises.  Owners should begin bonding with their birds by talking softly to them while they are inside of their African Grey cages.  Bird responses to human contact will vary, thus it is best to begin slowly.  By giving parrots plenty of attention while they are spending time inside of their African Grey cages, owners can begin developing a bond of trust that is conducive to socialization outside of the African Grey cages.

Training Tips for Tricks Outside of African Grey Cages

Proper training begins with routine socialization between parrots and owners (at least an hour a day) either inside or outside of African Grey cages.  Additionally, owners must continually offer mental exercises to keep their parrots' minds sharp.  When owners are away from home, they can leave toys inside the African Grey cages to keep their parrots engaged.  African Greys are relatively easy to train, assuming owners follow a few basic guidelines:

  • Develop a training schedule and be consistent.
  • Keep training sessions short (around 10-15 minutes in length several times a day).
  • Don't begin training immediately after letting parrots out of their African Grey cages.  Allow them to get some independent exercise before focusing on new skills.
  • Begin with behavior that comes naturally to African Greys (like wing flapping or bobbing).  These behaviors are easier to teach and can give owners momentum in the training process while strengthening the relationship between parrots and owners.
  • Teach the "up" and "down" commands by offering a finger and saying "up."  If the bird doesn't respond, gently press a finger against its belly.  Use the "down" command when placing a bird back on its perch.
  • Minimize distractions in the training environment, including removing any jewelry prior to training.
  • Offer positive reinforcement and save treats for training times.
  • When teaching a bird to speak, begin with short, simple words and only focus on one word at a time until the bird has mastered it.
  • Always use verbal praise to reinforce desired behavior and eventually fade treat rewards as the behavior becomes more consistent.  Eventually, the parrot will only expect verbal praise.
  • Training should take place outside of African Grey cages, and, consequently, training treats shouldn't be offered inside the cages.
  • Try to time training sessions for when parrots are a little hungry so that they will respond more favorably to treat rewards.
  • Notice times of the day when your parrot is more vocal (often at dawn or dusk) and use these opportunities to begin speech training.
  • Keep training sessions fun and focus on the bird's interests.

How to Stop Problem Behaviors

Many problem behaviors arise when owners never bond with their birds or if the parrots become bored.  If owners are unable to identify the cause of the problem behaviors and resolve them, their frustration may lead to them finding a new home for their birds.  Fortunately, owners can alter their environments to minimize the potential for boredom or bonding barriers.

  • Some avian experts recommend that African Grey cages only house one parrot at a time.  Two African Greys placed together may create a bond between the two birds that limits the bonding potential between owner and parrot necessary for successful training.
  • Keep African Grey cages at eye level or lower, especially when approaching them to begin a training session.  This will reinforce the owner's role as the one who is in charge and help to eliminate any power struggles between bird and owner.  Also keep any play stands (either on top of African Grey cages or stand-alone structures) at eye or waist-level.
  • Similarly, be careful about allowing birds to perch on a shoulder since this offers them a sense of superiority.  Finger and arm perching are preferred to shoulder perching.
  • Have a towel ready near African Grey cages to use in case birds do not obey the command to leave their cages.  Birds should be offered the choice of obeying the command or leaving the cages in the towel.  If birds do not obey, gently wrap them in the towel and remove them from their cages.
  • Consider having a bird's wings clipped if flight becomes an issue in training or a general safety concern.
  • Keep birds constantly engaged while they are spending time in their African Grey cages.  Hang puzzles or foraging toys inside their cages to prevent boredom.
  • Have many chew toys available to distract birds that may be interested in chewing on furniture or other inappropriate objects around the house. 
Parrots enjoy interacting with their owners both inside and outside of their African Grey cages, which makes these birds especially suitable for training. 

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African Greys as well as many other parrot breeds can be trained to do interesting tricks. But often more important is using their intelligence and bonding capability to eliminate annoying or destructive behaviors. There are ways to increase your success in behavior modification, starting with when, how and where you being the training.

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The DVD collection offered through bird-cage.com teaches skills on how to read parrot body language (crucial for developing a relationship with your birds) as well as a variety of different parrot training tips to eliminate problem behaviors and showcase their talents both inside and outside of their African Grey cages.

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