Last time I went on about trainers and got some feedback, including some “WTF?!” comments. The fact that I posted the entry and immediately received two comments that were the polar opposite of one another, shows how divided people can be over this. Granted, I was a bit negative in that last post, going on about the downside to training, especially in terms of shows and performances.
Training does have its place, as long as it doesn’t “cheapen” the parrot-human experience and lets the bird grow and develop.
Let me focus on the positive side of training now.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jan Hooimeijer, a famous Dutch Veterinarian and behaviorist. I had also seen other trainers and people who call themselves trainers prior to that and there always seemed to be stipulations to their techniques “this will work after some time” or “this will work depending on the personality”. Dr. Hooimeijer is the only person I’ve seen preach a certain technique and follow it through on some difficult cases with complete success and almost no prep-work.
Everett was a Severe Macaw with a certain flair for causing pain to men. I remember the first time stepping him up without a warning and he decided my hand made a good place to perch while he gnawed on my thumb bone! After the fact, I got the “Oh, by the way, he doesn’t like men” speech.
Through, what he calls his “5 step method” Dr. Hooimeijer was able to have Everett step up and then sit comfortably on him for nearly a half hour before stepping him back up and putting him in his cage. I don’t care what you say about the man otherwise, THAT was a result!
The method is similar in many ways to the Parelli Horse Training method used. It uses the bird’s natural instincts and behaviors to achieve a wanted behavior. You’re not teaching them stupid parlor tricks, sing-along-songs or a huge vocabulary. You’re teaching them to take their ability to be a bird and adapt and grow into their new environment. The end results are beneficial for the bird and the humans.
Another important feature that was taught by him, and something I picked up while doing Wildlife Rehab was essentially to “not make a scene”. If something goes wrong, if the bird falls, if the bird gets spooked, you don’t react to it. You stop and you don’t add to the stimulus. When it passes and you see that everything is safe, you continue on like nothing happened in the first place.
To get that wanted behavior, of course, you do acknowledge it. You acknowledge the behavior for the moment but don’t continue past that. Once that moment has passed, it’s gone for good and should never be thought of again, in terms of the training at least!
It’s the same method, as he describes, that a preschool teacher uses. When a child falls and you make a huge scene over it, you increase the stress and the child reacts more severely.
Likewise, when a child acts like a child and performs a normal child routine, you don’t make a big deal over it. I can’t stress how HUGE this part is! How many times have you, or people you’ve known with birds made a huge ordeal over the bird doing something that was perfectly normal and healthy for the bird?
If that bird were a child and the child was playing on a swing, would you really go over to it after each swing, throw confetti, jump up and down for joy and pat them on the back? You think the kid might develop a complex after a while?
If we consider birds to simply be “pets” it seems almost counterintuitive to ignore them. We’re so used to dogs that run in circles around us, wanting attention, that we forget these little feathered things around us don’t have those same set of needs. They’re very happy being independent and doing the things birds should do, if left to their own devices. Our constant attention and our constant reactions to them drives them into a permanent state of anxiety.
The one “secret” I’ve always had when handling birds, is right along these lines; I ignore them. People introduce me and on the surface I say, “Oh cute bird” and go about doing something else. Now, let me open the door to my head for a moment.
In that same scenario people introduce me to the bird and I think, “Poor guy, he’s probably terrified of seeing me barge into his place like this. I’ll give him time to adjust. I’ll pretend he isn’t here and let him just watch me without posing any threat. Maybe I’ll go back in a little bit so he can get a better idea of who I am, but I’ll still give him some space. When he’s ready, I’m sure he’ll come over to me because he wants to.”
It may seem counterintuitive to not pay attention to a “pet” but in the case of birds, think of it as “playing hard to get”. You’re basically acting as though you’re indifferent to the bird being there and not adding any more stress to the situation. They will act the way their instincts tell them to act. It’s not the bird’s job to change their behavior to suit your needs, it’s your job to change your behavior to suit the bird’s need. If you do it right, the bird will grow comfortable around you.
This is also a reason I hate giving people “bird advice” – 99% of the time, the bird does nothing wrong, it’s the humans who are doing everything wrong. Trying to retrain humans to interact with their bird is almost more difficult than trying to train a bird to interact with their humans!