Well, we’ve had Vi for a little over three and a half weeks now–things are going well.
Slow, but well.
Man oh man, unless your rehomed parrot is super well-socialized (which many aren’t–probably why she’s a rehome), this task is not for the impatient.
I’m following my mantra of “every experience a positive one” and it seems to be working, but as a woman who grew up in the world of instant gratification, it’s hard to wait for her to be ready to step up!
Thus, without further adieu, I detail my process!
Week One – Goal: Building the Beginnings of a Relationship – FOUNDATIONS
Since day one, she has consistently climbed out of her cage and hung out on top with her toys. Keep it positive–no chasing her back into her cage! Every day, we plan on spending at least an hour at a time sitting near her cage in the basement so she has the opportunity to go back into her cage on her own (and we tell her to “cage up!” when she does and praise her for being in her cage–hopefully this command will stick eventually We leave her food in there to encourage her to return home every now and then for a nibble so we don’t have to chase her back into the cage with a towel, something her former home did. If we’re in a rush, we’ll also put a pretzel, grape or two, or other favored treat in her food dish so that if she’s been out a bit, she’ll go right in!
So yeah, teaching her to trust us enough to step up looked (and still looks) a lot like sitting around our basement for hours on end while she makes decisions–I’ll coo at her, sing to her, etc. That first week, I offered her a variety of treats. On days one and two, she wouldn’t take them from my fingers and would only eat them out of her food bowl. By day three, she trusted me enough to take something from my fingertips!
Week Two – Goal: To Teach Her That We Will Respect Her Body Language
My goal this week was to continue to build that trusting relationship, but also one of showing her absolute respect; this was the week she would bend over, grab onto a bar, and shake all over while making these weird grumbly noises. After consulting my handy-dandy bird forums at Avian Avenue, it was determined she might want scritches. So, the next time she bent over, I came it low from the side where she could see–and she let me pet her! Woohoo!
The key to not being bitten before or during scritches is to pay careful attention to a parrot’s body language. The moment she starts to pull away, I slowly (don’t jerk!) remove my hand and coo to her. If she backs away when I approach, I freeze; if she changes her mind, she’ll lean back in. If she stays put, I’ll remove my hand. The goal this week was to continue to reinforce the idea that I will respect the signals she gives me, that she does not need to bite me to get her message across.
This is the first time I haven’t been bitten (EVER!) by a parrot. Fingers crossed that I can make it to one month! I’m learning!
Week Three – Goal: Figure Out Her Favorite Treat(s)
In addition to repeating everything mentioned above, this week was dedicated to finding Vi’s favorite treat… so that I could eventually deprive her of it so that she can only get it from me, and only if she does something for it.
Clearly, I’m a middle school teacher. xD
Vi is not particularly food-driven, so this was initially kind of a challenge–all the mentioned “favorite treats” made Vi happy-ish, but it wasn’t enough to entice her to even move from wherever she was perched.
Thus, I resorted to eating whatever next to her cage–it was thus that I discovered she ADORES Tostidos. Health food? No way. Key to her heart? Oh yeah. The only issue is that Louie also loves this food, but it’s made with corn and makes him wing-flap. Boo.
Moreover, this week taught me that my mantra is extremely important–every experience a positive one! It’s been pretty dry, so a few times I’ve approached a very affectionate Vi only to accidentally shock her with static electricity–she won’t let me touch her the rest of the evening when that happens.
Week Four – Goal: The Hokey-Pokey
You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out…
It’s been four days since I started “Operation Hokey-Pokey.” Now that I have a treat Vi REALLY wants (one she’ll enthusiastically move towards when offered) I have my positive reward for behavior I want!
On Saturday and Sunday, I started by just holding the chip in FRONT of my wrist so she could see that my hand was there; she’d hesitate, but she’d eventually take it if I spoke gently to her. If I moved it over my wrist so any part of her head had to move over my hand, no way would she take it, and she’d move backwards. Patience–I only had to commit fifteen minutes to this process. Any more, and I’d be pushing it.
She took three small chip fragments each day from me this way–again, the key here was don’t pursue her. Let her come to me.
It was SO HARD to not just give it to her these two days, but she has to work for it–otherwise, this process will take even longer.
Yesterday, I held it over my wrist, a little further behind so she had to reach over my wrist to take it–she took five chips this way, pausing less and less every time!
Now today we had progress–I held the chip JUST out of reach, wrist in front of her coveted treat. If she wanted it (and boy, did she want it!) she had to lean against my hand to take it. She took FIVE CHIP FRAGMENTS! WOOHOO! PROGRESS!
Here she is, trying to be closer to me tonight–this is the first time she’s been trusting enough to hang out close to the floor to be near me! Meanwhile, of course, Louie was running all over the floor… That fella, I tell you what… But I digress.
Tonight, I realize: Oh my gosh. I’ve spent twenty-five days with this little girl and all I’ve accomplished is her leaning for all of two seconds against my hand… but progress is progress!
Patience is a virtue, right?
By Sunday, I am hoping that she will be comfortable putting one foot on my wrist in order for her to reach her treat… and by the end of week five, I’m hoping she’ll feel comfortable enough to step up and sit on my hand for thirty seconds… and then longer and longer.
By and large, I feel like I’m learning and enacting an important life lesson right here–1. Set a goal. 2. Set tiny, measurable steps to work toward it so that 3. every day, you are closer than before, even if it’s only a foot or two in a marathon. And of course, celebrate every bit of progress!