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Why a Parrot Should be Taught to Step Up

Updated on January 13, 2018
Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn has shared her life with four parrots, written articles for avian publications, and helped owners address troubling parrot behaviors.

Teaching a Parrot to Step up is an Important Exercise That Makes for Easy Handling of a Pet Hookbill.

A Well-Trained Parrot is a Well-Behaved Parrot

Parrots are intelligent creatures that can be taught to step up on command, responding to consistent verbal and physical signals. An owner should undertake step-up training because a well-trained parrot is much easier to handle.

An obedient parrot will step up when told to do so, instead of resisting by backing away, flying away, running away, threatening to bite by lunging, or worse still, biting the proffered hand.

At all times, interactions between parrot and owner should be peaceful, with the owner in control of the situation.

A authority-based relationship that includes interactive behaviors will help to offset, instinctual behavior and/or potential aggression that could develop in a mature parrot.

Just as you share your life with your parrot, so too, your parrot shares its life with you and learning to trust you is an important part of the picture, one that is important to your bird's well-being. Owners who know how to encourage their parrot to step up willingly, foster a relationship that is peaceful, loving, and that is sustainable over the long-term.

Part of the flock or ruling the roost?

Importance of Step-Ups in Relation to Avian Behavior

Pecking Order

Parrots, by nature, seek to understand their place in the pecking order. This happens in the wild and it happens when they become part of a human family. In other words, your family becomes your parrot's perceived flock and your parrot will try to determine its place in that flock.

While your parrot is an important part of the flock, it is important to teach the parrot that it does not rule the roost. And it very well may try to.

Teaching a parrot to step up helps to curb dominant and aggressive behavior by establishing the desired power hierarchy.

Oh Boy! I Can Climb Up

A Parrot Should be Taught to Step Up to Build Trust

Step-up training helps to foster trust between parrot and owner. A parrot is incredibly sensitive to its surroundings and to the humans it interacts with. Psittacines are prey animals and will react instinctually to any perceived threat, so it should be obvious why every effort should be made to help them feel secure in their environments. Establishing mutual trust is important and can be facilitated via step-ups that are done in the right fashion.

A human's body language and its location in relation to a companion parrot are important parts of the puzzle when it comes to getting a parrot to step up. Never should an owner's body language or position send the wrong signals, inciting mistrust and fear in the parrot, which would cause it to act in an innate fashion, using avoidance or aggression behaviors to try to protect itself from perceived threat.

Food Rewards

When you offer your parrot a treat to entice it to step up and after it does so, you are helping it to associate the desired action with something pleasant.

Hmm...This Perch isn't so Bad and She Gives Me Peanuts

Strengthening Avian-Human Bonds

A parrot's instincts will drive it to want to be with its owner (as it would with its flock) twenty-four hours a day, engaging in side-by-side activities, that it would do in the wild. When a parrot willingly steps up, this helps cement daily interactions that are an important part of life with a companion parrot.

Wanting to sample whatever you are eating or drinking is a side-by-side activity that your parrot will enjoy and it is far easier for it to do this if it steps willingly to hand. These shared activities help build bonds with your parrot, as do head scratches and pets, playing, even cuddling, depending on the particular bird--all of these activities help a parrot build a warm, trusting, and loving relationship with its owner, which helps to combat boredom and loneliness.

This is more easily facilitated when a bird will step up when asked to and it becomes far easier to satisfy a parrot's need for companionship and attention if the human is able to actively handle the bird on a routine basis, rather than interacting with it from a distance.

Step-ups and Your Parrot's Emotional Health

Because parrots are highly intelligent creatures, every effort should be made to keep them healthy, in tune physically but also emotionally and mentally in tune, as well. Your parrot is a sentient creature that shares many of the same emotions you do, so it can be seen why teaching a parrot to step up can aid in maintaining emotional well-being and good mental health.

Rather than spending great stretches alone or merely observing from a distance, a parrot who readily steps up is an active participant in daily life and daily interactions with its humans. This is the preferred scenario and it is a close second to how it would live in the wild, as part of a flock.

When you encourage interactive behaviors, you are helping to replicate, in small part, a parrot's behavior in the wild as an engaged and active part of its flock.

This Perch is Soft and Warm... I Could Snooze Here


A socialized parrot is much easier to live with. In the course of each day, a parrot will need to be taken from its cage to its play area, to its tree perch or stand, will need to step onto its human's hand for one-on-one time, taken from room to room, or when an owner wishes to put a harness on their bird to take it on an outing or for moving the bird to the car.

A parrot that has learned to step up when required to and is comfortable with humans is also more likely to interact peacefully with guests. Parrots keep a close eye on absolutely everything happening around them and they are usually very curious about visitors that come to the home. If given some time to observe new houseguests, they may willingly step up.

Guests will be curious and fascinated by a parrot and delighted if it is willing to step up onto a hand, instead of lunging and biting.

The Bond Between Human and Parrot is a Wonderful Thing


A bird that steps up is a bird that is transportable. There are many different scenarios when you will need to move your bird or take it with you.

Having Step Up Difficulties?

It's all well and good to say a parrot should be taught to step up and under ideal conditions and depending on the temperament of your bird, this may be doable, but what happens when a parrot resists or even if it has been trained to hand, it later becomes aggressive? See my article, When a Parrot Refuses to Step Up to learn effective methods to combat challenges that arise.

A Hand-Trained Parrot and Vet Visits

At times, it may be necessary to take a parrot to a veterinary clinic. A well-trained bird is easier to control in strange surroundings and when stressed. A parrot that has been taught to step up may be easier to handle if a veterinarian needs to examine it.

Trained to Hand Fosters Long-Term Relationships

It can be seen that there are good reasons why a parrot should be taught to step up when required. An owner that spends time teaching a parrot to do so builds a foundation for a solid and mutually satisfying relationship.

© 2013 Athlyn Green


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