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I might be a lot of things, but one thing I'm not is bossy

You know what I’m not good at? Exercising authority. For example, when GC and I are volunteering in the art program with the kids, I can’t tell a kid to stop jabbing his buddy with his pencil and focus on his work. I can only suggest it. I can give him reasons why jabbing isn’t good and focusing is. But I can’t bring myself to actually tell him what to do.

It was the same thing with my own son when I was raising him. I rarely ordered him to do anything. I suggested, and he negotiated. Fortunately for me, he was a pretty easy-going kid who didn’t take outrageous advantage of me. But I remember a birthday party where the kids were bouncing off the walls, all fired up on cake and icing, and I was gently suggesting that they not jump on the couch and not climb on top of the fridge. It turned out they weren’t nearly as suggestible as my son. They didn’t get off the fridge until they either felt like it or their mothers arrived and physically dragged them off.

I see the same pattern emerging with Kazoo, the double yellow-headed Amazon parrot. All the books – and even some readers of this blog – have said it’s very important in the early days to establish my dominance, so that both Kazoo and I understand that I’m the boss. So far (we’re still in the so-called honeymoon period, so this could change) Kazoo seems like a remarkably mellow and laid-back bird. So it should be easy to assert my dominance over him, right?

For birds, dominance is closely related to height, so I have the advantage there – I’m quite a bit taller than him. But he spends most of his time on top of his cage, which makes him quite a bit taller than me. I tried putting his perch on the coffee table, but he kept flying back to the top of his cage. So I ended up (after a brief and half-hearted power struggle) deciding that if it was that important to him, he could stay on top of his cage. After all, he feels safer there, and he needs to be a lot higher than Duncan.

(Speaking of flying, it looks like a major effort lifting that big body into the air and flapping those wings, so he doesn’t do a whole lot of it.)

The only other arena where we struggle for dominance is the top of the bookcase. He likes it. It’s about two feet from the top of his cage, so he flies there about twenty times a day. I don’t want him there, because he eats the bookcase and poops on it. He also nibbles on the birdhouse that contains my grandfather’s ashes, and shows some interest in eating that Dwarf. So I remove him from the top of the bookcase about twenty times a day. It will be interesting to see which of us gives in first. And it’ll be interesting to see what happens when his true colours emerge, after the honeymoon period ends.

I just hope that when he seizes the reins of power, he doesn’t boot me and Duncan out onto the streets.

12 comments to I might be a lot of things, but one thing I’m not is bossy

  • Is that the 4th dwarf?

  • That’s an excellent question Robin.

  • “To lead people, walk behind them.” – Lao Tzu

    Unfortunately, Lao Tzu never said anything about leading parrots.

    I’d suggest (based solely on your height/dominance relationship) that whenever he goes on the bookcase, make sure to put Kazoo into his cage, and make sure you’re above him, stepping on a stool if you have to. If he immediately flutters to a higher altitude, put him back down. Only walk away when he stays lower than you.

    My dad never properly trained his dog as a puppy and he continues to suffer from it eight years on.

    – RG>

  • You used to own a dog, didn’t you, Zoom? Were you the leader of his pack? I started out being a pushover with my Betsy, but soon learned that visitors to my home did not appreciate being trounced upon by a wildly excited beagle. We went to obedience school where I learned some gentle ways to exert my authority. She is still stubborn and willful, but *everyone* loves her now. Just saying.

  • RealGrouchy, that’s an excellent suggestion. I’m going to try it.

    Abby, yes, before Duncan there was Sam. We lived together for 13 years. I’m not sure I was the leader of the pack, though. Fortunately, whoever had him for his first year did a good job of training him. He was housebroken and smart and responsive and he always came when he was called. He studied me very carefully – I used to say he had a PhD in me – so that he could anticipate my every move. He often knew what I wanted before I knew it myself. So I didn’t have to do a lot of bossing in that relationship either.

  • I venture to guess that the “pack leader” thing is all about energy, as Cesar Millan says. So whether it’s birds, cats or dogs, you are the source of everything (food and shelter) and so the natural pack leader. Being the leader is not about being loud or “dominant”. It is about being the source of everything they need, which includes calm, balanced energy. If a pet feels that there’s a vacuum in the decision-making department, the pet will start making decisions. If you see a pet that makes the decisions, you know the human isn’t doing it. If your rules include no pooping on the bookcase, then enforce that rule. RealGrouchy has a good point.

    As Cesar says, pets don’t have to be the boss (and are generally happier NOT being the boss) but they do need to know what the rules are. Consistency is also key.

    I’m going to practise all this (ha ha) whenever I get my NEXT pet.

  • If you want to keep Kazoo off the top of the bookcase, you could make a folding panel screen out of wire grid squares and zip ties. It sounds bizarre, but to keep my cats off my kitchen counter, I made such a “fence” with one end attached to the wall. When I’m cooking, I fold it up against the wall. To keep the metal from scratching, I cut 1-inch pieces of clear tubing, split them lengthwise and put 2 on the bottom of each panel as feet.

    The grids come in white, black, gray, chrome, and kids’ multicolors. They’re sometimes available at thrift stores and on Craigslis. Here are several links: these use original plastic connectors this tutorial is good even if it isn’t for a folding screen LOL

    An alternative is to fill that space up with books and/or decorative boxes so there’s nowhere for Kazoo to perch.

  • Your parrot is a teenager, and seems to be testing the limits of his new home and master. Whatever you do to get a little control over him, just keep in mind he’s never leaving home and he’ll probably live another forty years.

  • felonius bunk

    our parrot learned to fly 2 secs after figuring out window-latches; ‘boyd’ (an alias) had white around the eyes, lucky you if ali-kazoom is venezuelan! clipping isn’t primo bonding but stems anxiety – they’re far too bright, and if ‘rescued’ by numbskulls* can literally go mad; once clipped, though, they’re good travelling companions (*apologies, as warranted, for the hypothetical slur)

  • TechWood

    My cockatiel used to love being up on the bookshelf, and like Kazoo, pooped all over it. I couldn’t keep him from going up there anytime I let him out of the cage. He would fly off anytime I tried to get him back down, so I guess you could say he was the dominant one. I knew a lady that said her birds returned to their cage for bathroom duties. What she said was a load of bird crap, because when I was there I identified many bird droppings on various pieces of tall furniture, including picture frames.

  • knitty_kat

    The blocking thing is a great idea – empty pop cans or something that will fall when Kazoo heads there could make him reconsider. It’s all about learning, amazons are fabulous, smart and affectionate birds. If you establish trust with a firm hand you’ll both have a great relationship.

    What do the birds think of your knitting?

  • Thanks to all of you for your excellent suggestions. Things are going well with Kazoo – we had a bit of a breakthrough last night when he let me scratch his head for the first time. (Today, though, he won’t let me.)

    As for the knitting, the lovebirds have never seen me knit. (But if it’s anything like reading in front of them, they’ll want to sit on my knitting and shred it as I knit.) Kazoo has seen me knit. He hasn’t expressed any interest though.