“Chats” with Lara Joseph

Written By: B.D. Butler - Aug• 20•13

laraWhile deciding who I wanted to interview for the next “Chats” segment I started perusing around Facebook to see what some of my friends were following or up to.  I cam across Lara Joseph and a picture of her target training a pig.  No, you did not read that wrong, I said pig.  

lara.pigI had been following the constructing of Lara’s beloved “The Animal Behavior Center LLC” and how amazing it was becoming.  Who wouldn’t want to have a paradise in the middle of the country, with room for your birds to free-flight train, grassy areas, fountains to add serenity and let’s just throw in banana trees.  It’s like an animal’s version of Vegas, all the things that wouldn’t necessarily be there, but somehow magically are.  

I know that Lara is insanely busy with all of the classes, webinars and speaking engagements that she attends, but I managed to find her in the middle and got in contact with her for “Chats”.  


lara.too.shoulderPE: Many people in the avian community have their own stories about how they got into it, what is yours?

LJ: My introduction to the avian community was through Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo. I was one of those people who the majority of the companion parrot world would frown upon. I had not a clue about birds or parrots and now I suppose that is what engaged me. I walked into a pet store to buy a pooper-scooper for my dog and walked out with an umbrella cockatoo and told my friends I just bought a Cockatiel. I had no clue what I had even bought. Actually, when my husband and I walked out of the pet store, we didn’t have Rico. We just put a deposit on him so we could take the time to think about what we were getting into. I still did it backwards. I went in two days later to pay for him and bring him home. I was in the pet store for at least three hours. I was hesitating on purchasing him because I had this feeling this was going to be a lot of work. I finally purchased him and then went home and did my research on cockatoos. I remember sitting in the back yard reading about them and looked at my husband and said, “Sweetie, I think this is going to be a lot of work.” I laugh now that I am saying this. I often think of what a normal life I could be leading and how much traveling we could be doing if I didn’t get as involved with birds or training as I am now. I don’t regret it one bit. I love helping people increase that bond with their animals through communication with training.

 lara.tooPE: What was the first animal that you owned that you got passionate about training with?

 LJ: I became interested in training with Rico, but I became passionate about training once Rocky, the Moluccan Cockatoo I acquired through a shelter came to my home.

 PE: How long have you been training? 

 LJ: Well, I say this all the time to anyone that comes to my workshops or with any presentation I give. “Every time our animals or parrots hear or see us, we are training them whether we realize it or not. The important question is, exactly what are we knowingly or unknowingly training?” I became interested in training shortly after I acquired Rico, which was nine years ago. I was just interested in training the parrots I had at home with me. Once I adopted Rocky, I began sharing his story and my training with him via the internet. I didn’t care if anyone was reading, I just wanted to put it out there in case it could have been of benefit to anyone. The scary thing was I didn’t realize just how many people were reading. Someone I did not know then who has now become a good friend, Kathie Hahn was reading what I was writing. She asked me to give a public presentation on Rocky’s story and how I worked with him in changing some pretty serious behavior issues I was having with him. I remember the first year she asked me, I was flattered but turned down the invitation. I told her I was not a public speaker and didn’t feel comfortable. She asked me the following year and I accepted. The responses I received from so many companion parrot caretakers was my reinforcer to continue making public presentations and continuing my education in positive reinforcement training and applied behavior analysis. I saw the difference my sharing was making in relationships between people and their birds. I saw it as helping keep some of these parrots and animals out of shelters. I saw the difference the training made in Rocky and myself. I had to continue to share for those interested in listening. Rocky is now probably the most well-behaved parrot I have at The Animal Behavior Center. What a gem someone lost and the shelters are filled with these gems. Rocky is the ambassador behind The Animal Behavior Center.

PE: You’ve been a great inspiration to a lot of people in the avian community; do you have a mentor, or someone who inspired you to get into training?

LJ: Yes I do. When I first became interested in parrots I was searching everywhere for educational material. I found it hard to find quality material containing the science of behavior to support it. Several months later I remember reading one of Barbara Heidenreich’s issues of Good Bird Magazine. I thought, “Now, this information makes sense and I can see how this would work.” I then stumbled onto the work of Dr. Susan Friedman. I remember listening to her for the first time and I felt like a kid sitting in front of the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. That was my turning point when I turned into a behavior geek. I thank them both for helping get me started on my path in animal training, behavior modification, and communication through positive reinforcement training and applications in behavior analysis.

lara.vulturePE: You opened The Animal Behavior Center, what kinds of animals do you train there?

LJ: So far I have trained dogs, pigs, fish, parrots, a turkey vulture, a rat, and a crow. I know I’m forgetting a few. I also have a unique line-up in the near future. I would love the opportunity to interact and train an octopus and I would love the services I offer to take me into zoos and other animal organizations to help with behavior and training. I would love to see this list in about another year. I’ve also had a blast training some donkeys and chickens. These weren’t at The Animal Behavior Center but through on-site consultations. I’ve even been asked for help in an enrichment plan with penguins. That was fun.

PE: What kinds of animals do you own personally?

LJ: Currently I have seven parrots, a Green Aracari, a Beta fish in an aquarium that I am training as I type this, and 18 fish in a pond in the Center that I train daily also. I have another animal that will be coming here probably next month that has taken a lot of planning and consideration to bring here. I would love to leave that as a surprise, and no, it is not a bird.

lara.facilityPE: In building your facility, how long did it take?

LJ: I didn’t build this facility. It was an existing structure. It was a former greenhouse that went out of business over five years ago. We acquired the greenhouse almost a year ago to the day. This place is massive and with a massive facility goes a massive amount of work and maintenance. We purchased a greenhouse that we are slowly converting over to a building and making it less and less a greenhouse by the month. We planted grass inside the 10,000 square foot facility with an irrigation system that waters the grass and plants weekly. We’ve planted banana plants, magnolia trees, fig trees, and flowers in here. The place is a sight to see but we are continually working on it and I really don’t think we are done yet. We started bringing in dog owners and parrot owners about five months after we acquired it.  

laral.banana.treePE: What is it like inside?

LJ: Paradise. I’ve made it into what I want the other animals to see when they come in here. “Paradise” is one of the words I’ve heard others mention when they visit or come here for training. It is bi-level and covered in grass and plants everywhere and filled with the sound of fountains. There is a 1,000 square foot concreted area where I set up tables for workshops or talks. When people walk in I see them looking up where the ceilings are opened and you can see the sky. I see them walk forward over the grass and past the palms to where there is a double staircase leading down into what I call ‘The Pit”. The Pit goes into the ground about 4 ½’ – 5’. The Pit is also covered in grass and down there you will find the trees that will grow to be about 30’ tall. This is why they are in The Pit. We planted them for animals to run around, pee on, climb, fly to, and eat from if they wish. I wanted a magnolia tree in here because their branches make great perches for all kinds of birds. I panted the trees specifically where I did to direct areas where I wanted dogs to pee.

PE: Tell us about “a day in the life” at The Animal Behavior Center.

LJ: Each day varies but each day is filled with animals, poop, and lots of cleaning and laughs. Honestly, it is a lot of work but a lot of fun. A day here is filled with the unexpected and I find the unexpected as continual learning potential. I rarely sit down in a day and when I finally reach my bed, I no longer fight insomnia. I tell my friends “When you own your own business, every day is a Monday but when you love what you do, every day is a Friday.”

lara.facility.2A day here begins when the sun comes up. I usually begin with sweeping the Bird room. I get a few different birds out while I’m cleaning. It’s funny because with all of this room to fly, they are usually always on me or near me. I love it and laugh and play with them while cleaning and feeding as long as I clearly see a balance between being with me and being able to play independently or with each other. The more time I see a bird wanting to be with me, the more I see behavior issues starting to form so I really focus on keeping that balance….daily. I currently have a Turkey Vulture here that I am training for a local wildlife rehabilitation center so after feeding and training the parrots, I head out to train the vulture. I am very lucky and thankful to have nine volunteers that help me here at The Animal Behavior Center. They usually come and go throughout the day. I try to get cleaning, feeding, and training time in the morning. I may have a dog training class here, or giving a behavior consultation or webinar on-line in my office. Sometimes I go out on consultations and if I do, the volunteers may still be here helping. Their help and reliability is priceless to me. They help me keep the parrots socialized and take them out to the Center while they are working on projects or watering the plants and trees. I’ve had Kwynn, the micro-mini pig here for training several times and sometimes for several days. Some days I have dogs dropped off here for training or evaluations. I may have one-on-one consultations here with an animal and their owner. I try to spend at least 2-hours a day on the computer whether that is on Facebook sharing the Center, writing on my blog, doing a consultation, or writing an article for a newsletter. Because I am a big believer in enrichment, I take the time each day to make sure the birds are getting out and flying and interacting with each other. I do a lot of training daily with them and am teaching agility through flight and interacting with new objects. The day usually ends with cleaning, feeding, and more training. I’ve started some evening dog training classes in the Center. I’ll end the day training the vulture, and then it is back inside to get back to more computer work and updating my website or designing webinars. Each day here is so different. Sometimes myself and the volunteers give large tours. Those are fun days when we all get together. We all seem to really enjoy sharing what we know with the public at these events. Force-free training is a really cool service to offer to the public and we give live demonstrations on different animals to show the public how this can be done. They seem instantly engaged once they see it in motion.

PE: What about birds gave you the “bug”?

LJ: This is an easy one for me…dinosaurs. I’ve always been fascinated with dinosaurs. Their association and line of evolution caught me from the beginning. Plain, and simple.

lara.birds.onPE: What is your favorite species of parrot(s) and why?

LJ: The Moluccan Cockatoo. They are so unique and have such differences in individual personalities. Their look can be so delicate and soft yet when excited they turn into this big, peach ball of feathers and mouth. They can be so exuberant yet so docile. I’ve been interested, or concerned rather with their life and future in the wild. Their eyes make me wonder of how they interpret all of the complexities of this world that help and hurt them. One of the main reasons behind the huge cages we had built for the birds here at the Center was so that I could go on a tour in Indonesia with The Indonesian Parrot Project to observe this species from a distance.

PE: What are your three favorite ways to create or provide parrot enrichment?

LJ: My favored forms of enrichment for parrots are flight, training, and foraging. All three provide such mental stimulation and this reflects in their body language and focus. All three of these also have a huge impact with behavior issues. If behavior issues arise here, usually one or more of these is lacking.

PE: If someone were having behavioral trouble with their parrot, where would you send them?  (Meaning books, videos, maybe an online training with you?)

LJ: I try to provide an educational resource for people. I’m always writing in my blog on behavior, training and enrichment. I give on-line webinars, which are very popular because they are so interactive and personal. I provide on-line consultations, which I’ve provided internationally, and I can literally reach anyone anywhere. There is an array of help I offer right here at the Center which has already been visited by people nationally and internationally. I also do on-site consultations. I still travel and give presentations and workshops and also offer annual workshops where people fly in here to The Animal Behavior Center. I have two Facebook pages, which I try to provide educational content every couple of days. I’ve often been asked to write a book. I know Barbara Heidenreich has great books out there. I would also direct people to Susan Friedman’s classes. Behavior is always changing. The use of positive reinforcement interaction becomes a way of life once you understand how it works. Applications in behavior analysis is very powerful and very effective and I love talking about it and helping people understand why behaviors issues exist and how to change them. You just can’t turn this stuff off. It is always at work whether we realize it or not.

PE: What are your favorite aspects of the avian community?

LJ: The passion that I see birds bring out in people. Wow, what a passionate community the avian community is. I also like seeing the amount of foraging toys being made. It was something rarely talked about and now it is so popular. I love this for the birds.

PE: Tell me about where you would like to see avian education focus for future generations of aviculturist? 

LJ: Quality and attention to care through behavior, training, and enrichment. These are complex animals. Much more complex than I think people are aware. I always say, the more intelligent the animal, the more complex it can be to keep in our care. This is the parrot.

lara.kidsPE: What do you think the present aviculture community needs to instill in future generations?

LJ: Keeping our youth involved in the importance in conservation. I didn’t learn nor appreciate conservation until I cared for a parrot of my own. Caring for a parrot opened my eyes to their species in the wild. Their species in the wild then drew my attention to the species of birds that visit my backyard. I learned so much about the behaviors of my own parrots through watching the wild species in my backyard. It opened my eyes to so many things including how they learn and interact with each other, how they react when frightened, and what behaviors occupied the majority of their day. Observation, education, and conservation, I feel has increased my quality in care that I provide to my own birds or other birds in my care.

PE: Where would you like to see the world of aviculture in ten years?

LJ: Continuing to work together. We can make such progress when we all work together. Our parrots and the parrots in the wild depend on it. If we love them so much, let’s just do this. I would also love to see more emphasis on the importance of flight, its impact on behavior and health and providing education on how people can safely live with flighted parrots.

PE: What are the top three things that are important to being a great parrot owner?

LJ: Continually educating yourself.  Understanding their bodies, how they work, and how those body parts provide function for a healthy bird. Keeping them socialized. Socializing these birds can help keep them from losing their homes.

PE: If someone came to you and said, “I think I want a parrot”, what would be your response? 

LJ: I usually smile and am interested in knowing why. I love seeing people excited about parrots but I also try to portray them in ways people understand that they aren’t always easy to care for. I love working with parrots, birds, and other animals. I make sure people understand to my best ability that owning a parrot doesn’t just mean keeping it in a cage and feeding and singing to it. Providing flight and the space for flight is so important to their mental and physical well-being. I honestly want to know why they would like to have a parrot so I can help show and tell them what I have seen and what can be avoided through socialization, flight, training, and keeping them mentally stimulated. If they are still interested, I strongly encourage them to spend time volunteering at a shelter to better understand the care and what other people thought they had once had time for also. One question I’ve been asked is “Do parrots make good pets?” I’ve thought about this question for years and I respond with “Do parrots make good pets or is do people make good parrot caregivers or owners?” The future is an open pallet to the world of living with parrots. There is so much we are currently doing and there is so much yet we can improve in offering the parrots in our care.

PE: The avian world seems to be at odds with groups on Facebook and other internet social media sites.  There are people giving various opinions and advice, thoughts on that? 

LJ: I may not be seeing a lot of these ‘at-odds’ conversations. Sometimes I hear about them. I watch a few when I get the chance and I support those and direct owners to those sites that I see providing advice I think will help. When I see advisors using positive reinforcement and applications in behavior analysis effectively on others, those are the people I refer people to. Being at odds with others or groups doesn’t help the issue at hand. I’m always afraid a bird is going to lose its home in the process of people trying to prove whose methods are better than others. These differences in opinions can be very frustrating for a parrot owner seeking help and advice and could cause the parrot owner to give up looking for help. That’s the underlying important issue here. Our passion with and about birds is what brings us all together in the first place, right? Flaming isn’t going to get the bird anywhere. More than likely the only thing it is reinforcing is the argument continuing and keeping the owner on the computer defending themselves when help should be happening instead. There is some great advice at our fingertips and turning toward the internet makes finding this help very easy or very hard. 



I would like to think Lara Joseph for taking the time out of her busy life and schedule and participating in this interview!  

This is why Lara Joseph has always been on my “movers and shakers” list in the avian community.  She makes a goal and doesn’t stop until she gets it done.  Then she starts a new goal.  That is how life should be, you have a dream, go after it.  If you would like more info on Lara or her Animal Behavioral Center, click here.


Copyright 2013 – Parrot Earth – Chats with Lara Joseph

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Wonderful read. Lara is one of the true gems of the avian community. She’s a great ambassador for using Applied Behavior Analysis/positive reinforcement with our pet birds. As you can see from the results with birds like Rocky, behavior change is always possible through hard work, dedication and correct technique.

    Thanks for having her here on Parrot Earth!

  2. Diana Castello says:

    I love what Lara had to say! I also purchased my moluccan cockatoo without any idea of what we were getting into! This great big ball of peach feathers was just precious and terrified me at the same time. We have had Mango for 20+ years now. Through many trials and tribulations I have learned so much about him and although he has changed our lifestyle I would not have it any other way. I feel it is so important to educate those wishing to live with a big parrot. Thank you Lara for all you do.

  3. Lara Joseph says:

    Thank you Diana. 😉

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