Have you ever wished you could potty train your parrot, but just didn’t quite know where to begin? Here are some pointers to help you get started. It’s not a good idea for health reasons to teach your bird to ‘hold it’ indefinitely, but it is certainly possible to get the behavior of ‘going’ on cue so that you can have some say as to when the parrot relieves himself when you’re spending time together. That way, depending on the individual bird, you’ve got 15 minutes or so until you have to be concerned about it again.
As with any training, the first thing is to make a plan. First, pick a cue word or signal. This cue will eventually let the parrot know when it’s a good time to relieve himself. (At our house it’s “shazam.”) The next step is to decide where will be the best location for this action. I’ve found that having a specific area that’s only used for this purpose seems to work best; I like to use a sturdy-handled basket lined with layers of newspaper. The handle serves as a perch, and the newspapers can be easily disposed of afterward. (Be sure to habituate the bird to the basket before proceeding with potty training.) What will the parrot’s reward/reinforcer be? For this behavior, I usually use only verbal praise, but it might be a good idea to have a favored food treat ready, especially in the beginning.
Learn to recognize your parrot’s body language just before he’s going to relieve himself. Depending upon the individual, it can be quite clear: moving the tail back and forth, squatting slightly, shifting weight, etc. Just as the poop is released, say your chosen cue word. If you use clicker training, quickly give a click; then offer positive reinforcement. The goal is to eventually be able to cue the bird before the release occurs, rather than simultaneously as it happens; the bird just needs to make the connection between the cue and his action, which will probably happen relatively soon. Hint: I’ve found the easiest way to facilitate this mental connection for the parrot is to offer the cue when I know he needs to go…i.e. when first coming out of the cage in the morning. I suggest trying to get your bird out of the cage before that first big dropping of the morning, setting him on the basket, and cueing as he releases. These days, unless I happen to sleep in, our birds will actually hold the morning dropping until I bring them out to their baskets. They seem to like the idea of keeping their cages clean almost as much as I do. (Of course they won’t hesitate to go inside their cages if I’m late getting to them!)
With planning and patience, this form of parrot potty training is easily attainable. One word of warning: I was new to parrot training years ago when I first taught this behavior, and I made the mistake of going really overboard with the verbal praise I use as a reinforcer. As a result, my sweet African grey thought for a while that she could get the praise anytime she pooped, and that made her want to go even more often! I had to redirect my training a bit until she realized the importance is for her to go on my cue. I’ve heard of other parrots who will only relieve themselves in the trained location, and this is certainly an example of taking the training way too far. Remember: parrots are evolved for flight, and it is nature’s intent that they’re not weighted down by waste. This training method is designed to help you get ahead of the behavior, not to postpone it.
Good luck to all, and may your clothes and sofas stay forever clean!