Biting without telegraphing -- what are we missing?

So I’ve been meaning to post about Scotty and how well he’s been doing, but we had a major setback this morning and I’m feeling pretty stirred up about it. He now comes out of the cage readily for my husband, is often happy to hang out with him for extended periods, asks for affection, talks to him, and all that good stuff. A lot of the biting he has been able to manage by offering Scotty a clothespeg to chew on if he starts to get restless and beaky. So we have been thinking that a lot of the biting is in play and that he just really has never learned what kinds of interactions are appropriate and which are not. But this morning he asked to come out, stepped up obediently, and then bit, drawing blood, while being carried from one room to another, with apparently no prior sign that anything was amiss. We are beginning to wonder if Cape Body language is a lot more subtle than other parrots, or if he actually has some kind of loose screw. He never fluffs up with aggression, if his eyes pin we can’t really see it (they are dark) and the only time he telegraphs a bite is when he is not wanting to exit the cage – in that case, he does posture with a low head and beak forward. At other times he will seem quite fine, smiling his dolphin smile, and then just lash out and bite. He has done this when sitting on a shoulder and gone for my husband’s face, so he will probably no longer be allowed on shoulders.He doesn’t bite me in the same way, but it’s clear I’m his favored mate. He has bruised my ear and my finger, taking them into his beak to explore and then just clamping down and holding, but he hasn’t lashed out and drawn blood. He lets me do all kinds of things to him that I would think might provoke a bite, including insisting he step up when he really would rather not – but he even lets my husband do that – the bites mostly seem to be random.I know I’ve gone on about this before, but I’m particularly frustrated at the moment. If we really understood WHY he was biting, it would be a lot easier to address it. If we could read in his body language that he was INTENDING to bite, it would be much easier to avoid. As it is, it is hard to know how to proceed. We’d gone almost two weeks with no significant biting and my husband was so sad this morning when he got nailed… I began to think of placing him in a breeding situation and trying again. Or making him “my” bird and getting another, but where would we put another cage that size? He did come to us with this apparent issue… I don’t think we created it. And while we’ve made progress, this isn’t quite the pet my husband had hoped for. Although when he is sweet, he is very very sweet. Any new ideas?

I’m really glad I haven’t encountered this problem yet. I’ve been bitten once or twice by the budgies, and that was when I first got them. It was a bite out of fear, rather than aggression.Einstein hasn’t bitten anyone yet. All he’s done is rub his beak on my finger (asking for cuddles) and when I’m petting him, he’ll correct where I’m betting him with his beak (when I move away from his momentary ‘sweet spot’ he’ll turn his head around and grab my finger).The thing I would do, is put him back in his cage. My Einstein loves to be with me, so when he goes back to his cage, he gets sad. I think it would be the equivalent to sending a child to his room for a time out. This may or may not work, as I have never tried it. I hope this helps

Well, I probably have an unpopular “old school” attitude about all this. I’d grab the toes and give the bird a firm wobble, evil eye, low growly “noooo”. Next bite that’s in close proximity in time would warrant having the bird go from hand to hand. This is all assuming the bird’s nice and tame to begin with and knows better.In my book there are “ya, I deserved it” bites; and then there are “I didn’t do anything to warrant this” bites that aren’t allowed. It’s kinda like teaching a kid to use their words instead of up and walloping you.My husband and I were discussing our experiences over the years. We don’t recall being bitten with any regularity by any of our parrots. The mature male M2 had it in for me in the beginning, but we worked through it and he never bit anyone.Ducky right now is going through chewing on us. We allow nibbling and chewing, but we stop him and tell him “no” when it’s too hard for comfort. My experience is by teaching them what is too hard, prevents escalation to harder bites. Roz.

Another thought - I took in my friend’s 9 yo male african grey and he was an absolute love for the most part. But he also bit me without apparently any warning. Quick, hard, bloody bites. I finally figured out it was happening when I was ready to take him back to his cage and he wasn’t done with being out. I did the same to him that I posted before for this - discipline. I had him go hand to hand. I also started to give him a warning look each time before taking him back to his cage. So he knew if he bit me what was coming and that this was not his decision. I don’t recall how long it took, but he stopped biting me.I think they’re smart enough to think ahead and remember a series of events or behaviors and preemptively protest. So maybe think about what happened before and after each bite. It’s not necessarily he’s warning you of anything or straight out aggression, he might want you to stop what you’re about to do or where you’re about to go, or since he asked to be taken somewhere your husband just wasn’t taking him where he wanted to go. Whatever it is, biting’s not allowed in my book for this.Mind reading - seriously. They want you to be a mind reader. My husband was saying he thinks Ducky likes me better. I don’t. Ducky wants me for transportation as he’s figured out I’m more easily “driven”. When he wants to go somewhere he leans towards me to be picked up. I watch where he’s looking and leaning and I take him where he wants to go-back to his cage, to the bathroom for a bath, etc. When he gets where he wants he hops off. When he’s feeling snuggly he goes to my daughter or husband.I know - they’re a royal pain in the thought police neck.roz.

entrancedbymyGCC wrote:But this morning he asked to come out, stepped up obediently, and then bit, drawing blood, while being carried from one room to another, with apparently no prior sign that anything was amiss. We are beginning to wonder if Cape Body language is a lot more subtle than other parrots, or if he actually has some kind of loose screw. He never fluffs up with aggression, if his eyes pin we can’t really see it (they are dark) and the only time he telegraphs a bite is when he is not wanting to exit the cageSounds like a Poicephalus thing to me. Kili can do this too (only to other people). She’ll step up for someone non-defensibly and then bite their finger as she sits on it. If she bit prior to the step up request, it would make more sense as a sign of “I don’t want to step up,” however, after willingly stepping up it is quite strange. Once again, no pinning or defensive stuff going on either. Flight solved a good portion of this (she can fly away when scared instead of biting) but not all of it. To me, displaced aggression is the biggest biting issue with Kili. Say if Truman flies by while Kili sits on me, she may reach out and bite me. Most of the time it’s not so obvious. It could just be a sight or sound I am unaware of and what seems to be a completely random bite. Now I’m not saying your husband is necessarily dealing with displaced aggression but it shouldn’t be ruled out entirely. More likely it’s a response or purposeful aggression. Try finding out what causes the bites. At what moment was your husband bit? Was it immediately after step up or for instance while being carried through the cage door? Could something have set Scotty off while your husband carried him?The displaced aggression cannot be punished effectively since it is likely reflex. However, desensitization to environment and people can diffuse the circumstances that trigger it. So good socialization and presentation of many novel objects can help with that in the long run. Kili is still terrified of boxes and always has been. She freaked today when I carried a new package I got past her. If I really cared about fixing this response (which I don’t cause she merely flies off to another perch), I could desensitize her through a bit of positive/negative reinforced desensitization. Luckily it’s only a flee response and not a bite response, so I don’t find it worth the special training.The telegraphing bites are easy to read and avoid. My birds barely ever do that because we don’t get to that situation. However, those unexpected bites are the problematic ones. I think it’s because they aren’t planned. The bird is willing to step up but then something causes an urgent bite rather than a predetermined refusal such as when telegraphing a bite is presented.

I guess I should have spent more time acknowledging that my husband has had quite huge success with Scotty, because we both caught up in an emotional response to a very disappointing incident. Plus my husband would really like to be able to have a shoulder friend he can go around with, but having had Scotty lash out at his face a couple of times, while just sitting quietly together watching TV or at the computer, it seems risky. He hasn’t drawn blood on the face yet, but if he hit an eye it would be really bad. We have cured almost all of the biting related to not wanting to interact, through a combination of allowing him to say No and rewarding him for saying yes. He routinely comes out for both us (for me, always willingly, for Bill quite often willingly, but he will say No to him if he’s busy doing parrot business in there).Roz, my husband is using time-outs with him now. It is not clear if it is helping, and I worry about reducing trust, but maybe the truth lies somewhere between the old school and modern positive-only approaches. I certainly believe that to be the case with horsemanship. At any rate, the poor guy’s hands are starting to look pretty literally chewed up, although all but the most recent bite are well on the way to healing – and a few are from Scooter who seems to have hit puberty or something like that, but Scooter definitely lets you know when he’s packing a grudge. And his bites are 100% trying to warn my husband away from me, he’s quite sweet to him when I’m not around. Can gloves be used successfully without causing fear issues? Taking the pain out of the bite might go a long way towards being able to stay calm and patient.Michael wrote:Sounds like a Poicephalus thing to me. Kili can do this too (only to other people).Is there any rhyme or reason to it? What do you do to prevent others from getting bitten? Flight solved a good portion of this (she can fly away when scared instead of biting) but not all of it.We think we’ve mitigated most of the fear biting, but I guess we can’t rule out that there is some subtle trigger. At first he would bite if Bill tried to reach around behind his head, and that was clearly fearful/defensive and we think due to rough handling. We have let his flights grow out. We did a trial with letting Scooter get flighted, and he was getting into trouble every five minutes, so we trimmed him again to where he can get halfway across the room from a high perch but can’t launch himself at the cactus in the kitchen. With Scotty, he is close to having flight capability but he seems disinclined to use it much. He did, when startled, recently fly from his playstand TO my husband, where he was very cuddly and affectionate. He does not appear to contemplate flight when doing these unprovoked bites. In addition, some people report that flight increases aggressive biting, and if this is aggression, it is hard to know if flight will make it better or worse. Try finding out what causes the bites. At what moment was your husband bit? Was it immediately after step up or for instance while being carried through the cage door? Could something have set Scotty off while your husband carried him?He was pretty much most of the way from the cage to the playstand in the living room. I think I was in the kitchen, and it is possible he bit when he realized he was making a turn away from me. I think more bites occur when I’m home than when I am not. OTOH, sometimes I’m in the same room with both of them, ignoring Scotty, and he’ll be just fine. The other day when he lashed out at my husband’s face from his shoulder, there was absolutely zero obvious trigger. I was in my chair at my computer, he was at his chair at his, only a couple feet away, and NOTHING happened as far as we humans were able to notice. That’s what is making this last puzzle piece so hard to work out. We are missing the trigger. I do worry that some of it is that he really wants to be with me and he’s just plain taking that out on the one he gets to be with. In which case, there’s no real solution, is there. I handle him minimally as it is, but when I do he is all over me like velcro. Regurgitating velcro. So it’s clear I’m the one he wants as “mate”. I don’t guess that is going to change. Do they ever change their minds if the “chosen one” is still around? Is there any solution to that except getting a third bird and being very careful to set it up so I’m not desirable? It’s been a long time since male humans have tripped over themselves for me, but I’m two for two with the parrots! Poor hubby is the bird person who got me started and now both parrots want to set up nestkeeping with me!The telegraphing bites are easy to read and avoid. My birds barely ever do that because we don’t get to that situation. However, those unexpected bites are the problematic ones. I think it’s because they aren’t planned. The bird is willing to step up but then something causes an urgent bite rather than a predetermined refusal such as when telegraphing a bite is presented.Exactly. It is mostly the same here (Scooter we have a new behavior to deal with but it is clear how to proceed, I just hope he doesn’t carry on this way all year.). We have virtually eliminated the predictable biting. So I guess we are doing something right. Parrots aren’t easy, are they?

I dunno about the time outs. They’re smart enough to learn - hey, I bite, they put me away. Cool, I feel like hanging in my cage so I’ll bite them. This actually, I hear happens to a lot of conures. In this sense, it’s like the horses again. I misbehave and they take me back to the stables. Cool.Here’s an article about the cheap shot bite: http://www.africangreys.com/articles/be … biting.htmI don’t think it’s a poi thing. I’ve seen it in other types of parrots - conures, cockatoos, greys.I disagree about not being able to discipline the displacement biting. They can learn control and bite inhibition. The displacement bites usually get a predisplay warning of some sort. Ducky was freaking and displaying the other day at a new toy. I verbally warned him that I was going to pick him up and then I did. I was unsure if he was going to give me a displacement bite or not, but he didn’t. Then again, he knows biting is not an acceptable way to relay his feelings.Fear biting I agree cannot be disciplined. Mild fear they shouldn’t be lashing out anyway. It’s up to the person to recognize mild fear, stop what they’re doing, and help the bird through it. In that sense, it’s the same as horses. roz.

http://www.africangreys.com/articles/behavior/biting.htm

The way my husband is using the timeout concept is to put Scotty down wherever he is for some period of time (if on the floor, we have to be careful that a cat doesn’t get in on the act) and then try again in a few minutes. Certainly, one needs to be careful that the wrong lesson isn’t learned! It really depends again on the WHY factor.

Time outs only have the potential of serving as negative punishment if in fact the parrot strongly desires to be on the person. It doesn’t sound like Scotty is bonded enough to your husband to be strongly disappointed he was put down. In this case, I would strongly doubt this sort of punishment could be effective. This is why positive reinforcement is so highly recommended (because unlike the timeout to which the parrot might be indifferent or even grateful the positive reinforcement is more likely to be desired).

Right, but you cannot positively reinforce him to NOT bite. He does actually seem to be bonded enough that he is responding somewhat favorably to this approach. I was skeptical myself, but the behavior does seem to be decreasing. Since we don’t know why he is doing it, it is hard to figure out.The hope is that the floor is a less desirable place to be than on his person is. If he gets really flighted, the floor may become no different than anywhere else, but we aren’t quite there yet.