How to Potty Train a Parrot ...in 2 weeks
If ever there's been a rewarding bird behavior you can teach,
it's potty training parrots. Those who 'housebreak' their birds
save countless hours of cleaning and enjoy pet bird
companionship a whole lot more! Spending time with your bird
doesn't have to end in soiled clothing or furniture. The
stigma of "bird poop everywhere" need not be if you follow the,
easy-to-do, BARRS™ Method of training.
The BARRS™ method, Behavior-
Association-Reward-Reinforcement-System, is a short course in
applying the most widely used potty training technique for
pet birds, behavior association through reward reinforcement—the
art of getting your bird to associate a behavior (going potty)
with visual and/or verbal cues using positive feedback.
As you read through this guide, you will likely
find the following two characteristics to be true of the BARRS™
The method is simple and the principles are
familiar; you've probably already used them.
The BARRS™ method teaches potty training with two goals in mind.
The primary goal is to teach your bird to go potty on your
command. This behavior can be taught to most companion birds,
including cockatiel and conures to cockatoos and macaws, in
two weeks or less. The second goal is to encourage your bird to
return to its cage or T-stand to go potty. Success with
this goal depends on your bird and circumstances. For example,
birds that are unable to fly and are not provided a cage ladder
would be unable to return to their cage and, therefore,
may not be good candidates for such learning.
The following is a list of things to do for optimum training
1. If you've just purchased a bird of any age, be
sure to allow adequate time for your bird to adapt to you and
its new surroundings (at least three to four weeks) and become
hand tame. Newly purchased birds endure a measure of stress when
placed in a new environment. Premature training would only add
2. Begin taking note of your bird's actions just prior to
and during a dropping. Learn to recognize these unique behaviors
your bird displays. Some birds will give you small clues just
before they drop while others will make a production out of it.
In either case, recognizing when your bird is about to go potty
simplifies training and will be helpful later on.
3. Begin timing your bird's droppings to determine its
cycle. For example, some birds will drop every 15 to 20 minutes
under normal conditions. In this example, the minimum drop cycle
would be every 15 minutes, and the maximum would be every 20
minutes. Knowing how frequently your bird goes potty is a must
for efficient training.
4. Establish a special treat you can give your bird as a
reward. For example, try Cheerios™. Avoid choosing a food item
from your bird's daily diet. Make it something special for your
bird to look forward to. Using such a treat will enhance the
learning process, particularly in the first two weeks of
training. Consider putting together a treat cup made from a small
jar or plastic container with a lid. It will save time and make
it convenient to have a treat nearby.
5. Decide on a verbal command that's not used in ordinary
conversation, such as "drop" or "poop." If you're training
more than one bird, it's advisable to use different commands for
each bird to avoid unexpected droppings by the bird not being
addressed. For birds that are likely to talk, be sure and choose
a command you can live with. Many bird owners use small phrases
successfully, such as "go potty." The single syllable words
given above as examples are suggested for their simplicity.
6. If you do not already own a portable, table-top T-perch,
consider getting one. Although it's possible to house train
a bird without one, it is highly recommended. It will make training
easier and more convenient for you and your bird. To find a
portable T-perch, start by checking out our gallery page of
table-top bird perches. There you'll get an idea of what's
available online or at local pet stores that sell bird
supplies. For those of you with the time and tools, making your
own T-perch is another option. If you do acquire a new
T-perch, set the T-perch in a location visible to your
bird at least one week prior to T-Perch training. Birds are
keenly aware of their surroundings and may be uneasy about
perching on something they've never seen.
Most, if not all, birds have no problem using their cage as a
place to go potty. However, many of these same birds will
have no problem going potty on you or your furniture as well.
The object of cage training is to get your bird to prefer the
cage over you or your furniture. This is done by rewarding your
bird each time you notice the bird go potty while inside the
cage. Respond immediately by using positive reinforcement. This
can include both a food treat and verbal praise. (Note: If you
remove the bird from the cage as part of the reward, your bird
may come to expect it.) Many birds go potty right after waking
up or when they see you opening the cage door. If this is your
bird, take advantage of it, and give your bird verbal praise. By
immediately rewarding your bird, you will be reinforcing the
behavior of going potty in the cage and teaching your bird that
it's worth the effort to return to the cage whenever it's time
to go potty. Be sure to include a ladder if needed. Avoid
using any verbal commands during cage training. While the bird
is in its cage, it should feel free to go potty, at will,
without being told to do so.
Potty training using a T-perch can begin as soon as your bird is
hand tame and you've established a reward your bird looks
forward to. Use the following guidelines for T-perch
1. Find a convenient location in the home for the T-perch, and keep it
there until your bird begins going potty on command. By keeping
the T-perch in a single location to start with, your bird will
make the needed associations faster than if the perch is being
moved around. After your bird begins responding to your command
on a consistent basis, the T-perch can be moved about and used
elsewhere for your convenience. TIP: Particularly in the
beginning, choose a location with the fewest possible
distractions—people, animals, etc.
2. To begin an actual bird potty training session, start by noting the
time your bird last dropped. Then wait for the minimum
drop cycle time to pass. To make this part really easy,
purchase an inexpensive, digital, kitchen timer, and set it to
your bird's cycle time. Also, some multi-functional watches have
countdown alarms that work great. Once the minimum cycle time
has passed, position your bird on the portable T-perch, and
begin giving the verbal command every two to three seconds,
while watching for those unique behaviors mentioned in the
preparation section. Avoid using small talk between commands,
such as "come on sweetie" or "you can do it." This will make it
easier for your bird to associate the right command with the
desired action. If your bird leaves the T-perch during training,
be sure and return the bird to the T-perch to complete the
3. Once your bird performs, immediately respond with a
reward. Such a reward may include a treat, praise and removing
the bird from the perch. If you remove the bird
from the perch as part of the reward, your bird will come to
expect it. This is fine if you don't plan to use the T-perch as
a temporary stand for your bird to stay on. Remember, the
sooner you respond with your reward the quicker your bird
will learn through association.
4. Repeat the above steps three to four times
consecutively to complete a single training session. At least
one session should be conducted each day until your bird
associates dropping with the T-perch, your command and the
reward. For quicker learning, multiple sessions or longer
sessions can be given each day. Unlike training for other
behaviors, potty training provides its own natural breaks which
help prevent your bird from becoming bored or frustrated.
Do avoid training when your bird is irritable or moody and least
likely to be receptive.
Once your bird is going potty on
command, continue the T-perch training without using the
command. This will reinforce the association your bird makes
between going potty and the sight of the T-perch. In addition,
begin using the T-perch at different locations to further
develop the visual association. Many birds will learn to return
to the portable T-perch, but to do so they must have access to
the T-perch, which may include a small ladder or climbable toy
to get to the perch dowel.
By using these guidelines, you should see results within two
weeks and possibly sooner, depending on your bird and how often
you train. Hand-fed, younger birds that are well adapted
are usually the easiest to train. Birds that are given more than one
session a day will also train quickly. Older birds are trainable too,
but with habits and personality well
established, they are less predictable. Some will learn
very quickly while others may take longer.
Getting your bird to go potty on paper requires the same
techniques used in T-perch training. Simply place your bird on a
sheet of paper when it's time for your bird to potty, and give
your verbal command until the bird performs. Immediately respond
with a reward, and your bird will learn to go potty on a piece
of paper. If your bird wanders off the paper before dropping, be
sure and return the bird immediately and continue training.
Paper training, however, does have one possible
drawback. Your bird may associate all paper as a place to
"go" without your command, leaving similar, unattended
loose paper at risk. This is a
potential problem for birds that are allowed to roam
Getting your bird to go potty on command while it's perched on
your hand or arm requires the same techniques used in T-perch
training. Simply give the command while the bird is perched on
your hand or arm, and have the bird go potty on a sheet of paper
or in a trash can. Then reward the bird to establish the
behavior as acceptable. Before using your arm or hand as a potty
perch, carefully consider the pros and cons.
Pros: Hand/Arm training is convenient when the bird's portable
T-perch and cage are unavailable. For example, "walking your
bird" outdoors or being in another room of the house will likely
require you to make some accommodation. Since birds go potty
frequently, they should not be expected to hold it for prolonged
periods of time. Going potty off the hand or arm provides some
control over what would otherwise be indiscriminate droppings.
Cons: Using the hand/arm in this manner is likely to establish
unwanted visual associations. For example, your bird may
associate your arm or hand as the acceptable cue for going potty
in addition to the verbal command. If this happens, you'll not
only have unwanted droppings from your arm or hand, but a
behavior association that will be hard to reverse.
However, many bird owners who use their hand or arm as a potty
perch become so aware of their bird's drop cycle that they
automatically know when to return the bird to its T-perch
or cage. When combined with the fact many birds will hold it for
a few extra minutes (or longer) and/or exhibit behavior that forewarns their
owner, the issue of arm/hand training may not be as important to
some. The only other concern would be for house guests who enjoy
holding your bird, but lack the insight to avoid being dropped
Regardless of where you train your bird to go potty, consider
the associations your bird could make. Birds can just as easily
make a visual association as they can a verbal association. When
you reward your bird immediately after a positive behavior and
do this repeatedly in a consistent setting, your bird will begin
to identify all the things that have remained consistent, giving
equal weight to each. For example, if you choose to use hand/arm
training, your bird may not recognize your verbal potty command
as the only key to respond. Your bird may give equal weight to
the visual sight of being on your hand or arm as a key to
respond, since both the verbal and visual are always
together. For this reason, hand/arm training is usually not
promoted for potty training, whereas T-perch training is.
This is not to say that you'll never be dropped on by your
T-perch-trained bird. Your bird will have its own say-so from
time to time.
As time passes, and habits take root, food treats can be
discontinued. Nevertheless, keep the following in mind when
parrot potty training:
Always praise and love on your bird for positive behavior. If
your bird does not go potty on your command, it could be that
your timing is off, and there is nothing there. Know when to
give your bird the benefit of the doubt, and try again in a few
minutes. If your bird is caught dropping on you or your
furniture, and you're convinced the bird knows better,
issue a stern "NO" immediately afterwards. Then, place the
bird in its cage or on its T-perch for a minute or two, and give
your potty command as a reminder. Never punish a bird by
beak tapping, tail swatting or becoming angry. Although birds often assume an
attitude that needs to be dealt with, such responses can only
cause your bird to become fearful, mean and difficult to train. Also,
birds with clipped wings or those hindered from getting to their
cage or T-perch should be given special
consideration for indiscriminate droppings.
The key points to remember on how to potty train a pet bird using the
BARRS method are
1. Be consistent in working with your bird. Try to make
each session similar to the previous one. In doing so, your
bird's associations will be consistent each time you train, and
you'll avoid giving your bird mixed signals.
2. Learn to recognize your bird's unique behavior patterns.
This includes their mood swings as well as their actions just
prior to going potty. Doing so will make training easier.
3. Always reward your bird immediately after a positive
behavior. Waiting, even as little as two or three seconds, can
give your bird time to become distracted and associate the wrong
thing with your reward. Immediate responses create stronger
associations and reduce training time.
4. Be patient, and give your bird the time it needs.
Training will vary from bird to bird. If your bird needs extra
time, it will be well worth the effort to give it.
5. Always remember to promote visual associations as the
learning tool for cage training. It's important that your bird
feels comfortable going potty in its cage without a command.
This will also prevent any remote health concern over a
bird learning to hold it in expectation of a verbal command.
After your bird is well taught, seasoned in good potty
behaviors, the occasional use of the verbal command is often
helpful in getting the attention of a distracted bird. At such
times, using the verbal command is not likely to pose a problem.
6. Commit to the two week training period! It's a must if
you want results.
Can you potty train a parrot or, as others might say, toilet
train a bird? Absolutely! Simply reward your bird for the right behavior as
you spend time together each day. If you do so, it won't
be long before your bird is ready for show and tell.
You'll enjoy the reaction of family and friends as your
bird demonstrates his or her ability. But, more important,
you will have made life much easier for you and
your feathered companion.
© 1996 - 2013 Rick Swanson, All Rights Reserved