Go Slow to Go Fast in Step Up Training: No Negative Experiences

In the “a stitch in time saves nine” quotes category, there’s a popular saying in education:

“Go slow to go fast.”

Essentially, if you don’t want to re-teach a skill multiple times over, it’s worth teaching it well  and thoroughly the first time. Which takes patience.

So, so much patience.

Shockingly, this is also true for bird training! Vi and I have been going agonizingly slowly in our developing relationship… But here we are–new successes!

Every day that I hang out in the basement, Vi now climbs down to come visit with me.

One week later, I’d guess this behavior is 60% food motivated rather than 95%. =) She’s starting to enjoy our company. Progress!

She still won’t step up from her cage (although she frequently says the phrase “Step up!” as if she wants to–contrary snot!) but we made another positive step forward today:

I brought her upstairs when she went after my flavored-bad-for-birdy popcorn, set her on our “big bird” stand as I made her some bird-safe popcorn, and she enjoyed herself in her new-found play area–so much so that she didn’t want to step up.

We were either going to break new ground in our training, or she was going to break skin (she postured to bite!)

I gently insisted she stepped up, promising her popcorn, which she didn’t actually want, anyway…

My hand remains intact. Up she went!

This is the longest I’ve gone without getting maimed by any parrot we’ve owned. =) Fingers crossed that I continue to have fingers to cross rather than losing a digit or two to her big, bad Amazon beak!

Just keep swimming, what do we do, we swim, swim, swim…

Step Up Training: Find a Treat They Love

Sometimes, just hanging out around your parrots and eating things will tell you all you need to know about what really matters to them.

“I got pizza love… (I got pizza love!) / I can’t stop / I just have to chew / when I see that cheesy goo-oo-oo / I can’t stop! And I think I’ll cry-aye-aye / if I find some onions on my pizza / pizza pie-aye-aye…”

Obnoxious fifth grade concert songs aside,  it looks like pizza crust is the key to Vi’s heart. And Louie’s, which is why he is my featured image–I hope to, through pizza, someday win Vi’s ultimate trust so I can do with her as I do with Lou. ❤

I decided to enjoy my dinner in the basement with Viola, and as I watched Nurse Jackie (our latest addiction), Vi crawled down from her perch, stared at me long and hard from the bottom of her cage for about ten minutes as I dined, then climbed down onto the floor, waddled over to me, and stepped up in order to eat her pizza crust.

She nommed it contentedly while sitting upon my hand, garbling in parrot-speak to me.

And here I thought we’d stopped making progress. So glad I didn’t push her!

I should take bets on how long it’ll be before she’ll step up without bribery and solely because she wants to be with me. I give it until Mid-July, personally.

If I’m right, I’m taking myself out to my favorite restaurant. =)

Grooming Helps Parrot Training: If at first you don’t succeed, redefine “success”!

…And then keep going until you match your initial definition!

Hit a bit of a road block with Vi (extremely limited progress…) until today. I was headed to my local bird shop (Busy Beaks Bird Shop if you’re interested–I volunteer for them by maintaining their website) and decided to see if I could coax her into her travel cage for a trim, as her nails and beak were getting quite long. Toast didn’t work to entice her, but she stepped up for me onto her pink towel after a bit! Woo! So… success? Sort of?

One way to strengthen a bond with a parrot (and get her to step up willingly without bribery!) is to “rescue” her after getting groomed… Oh grooming, you necessary evil you–still, there can be some good that comes from it if you do it correctly!

At Busy Beaks Bird Store

Make sure you’re out of sight during the grooming–from capture with a towel to release, you don’t want your parrot to associate anything negative with you.

Be ready to “save” her as soon as she is released–she’ll look for the safest thing possible, and that’ll be you! Vi stepped right up for me; not only that, but she was comfortable stepping from hand to hand, and while I worked on the aforementioned website, she hung out on top of her travel cage… and she stepped up again!

It was a lovely bonding experience for the two of us; I hate the actual grooming process, but hey, progress is progress. She continued to step up like a good girl from her travel cage at home–now that she’s safely back in her cage, she is refusing (she bows down when I try, begging for scritches, the brat!), but I have my next game plan: give her a few preliminary scritches so she knows I still like her, then ask her to step up. If she bows down, I’ll back away, then try again later–if she steps up, she’ll get scritches.

Good luck to me. Watch me finally get bit. =) I’m sure I’ll deserve it!

Vi and Mom in the living room for the first time. Mark it!

Step Up Training: One Full Step Up (The First Time!)

A leap of faith takes at LEAST the Holy Grail… of toast!

More progress today! …But at what cost?

Behold: The Holy Grail of Toast

I think this is a mistake that a lot of novice bird trainers (i.e. me) make–we don’t provide a reluctant feathered friend with enough incentive to take a biiiiiig leap of faith. Sure, Wa-Wa-Waddles adores toast… but even Indiana Jones wouldn’t make that leap of faith for a measly sack full of gold.

It’s gotta be big. A relic of epic proportions. Something so tempting that it is worth the risk to closer her eyes, take a deep breath, and LEAP into the unknown with both talons forward.

Thus, I give you: Behemoth Toast.

It’s at least as big as her face. xD

After another five days of feeling like we’d hit a stall, I decided to up the pay-out.

Every day she wouldn’t dare lift a toe of her second foot, my toast offerings got bigger and bigger as I moved the toast farther and farther up my arm.

Finally, today, it proved too big a temptation. I WON!

Tomorrow, hopefully, it will require less, especially since some sound or another upstairs startled her and she took another flight around the basement. Once she’s off her cage, she’s more than happy to step onto more familiar ground–my wrist. She stepped right up for me, and I held her and cooed to her, making sure she wasn’t too nervous or uncomfortable.

Several beak-grinds later, and she’d had yet another positive experience with Mom. ❤

Every experience a positive one!

Achievement Unlocked: Full Step-Up

Step Up Training, Consistent Foot/Wrist Contact: Slow and steady wins the race

We have foot-wrist contact! Consistently! Woohoo!

Vi holding the remnants of her toast; she has two white toenails and two black ones!

Vi now knows exactly what she needs to do to get her tasty toast, and she did it several times–and she reminded me very clearly that it’s so important to continue going slowly with her.

I tried to entice her with a big piece when she repeated the gesture five times in a row, attempting to persuade her to put two feet on my wrist, but that was too much. She leaned far out, realized just what she was doing, and lowered her beak to my wrist in an attempted bite.

Not sure if it was a warning nibble, if she doesn’t know quite how to bite hard (I’m sure I’ll find the answer to this one out soon) or was unsteady on my wrist, but message received, miss Amazon: slow and steady.

She steadied herself, I backed off for a bit and continued to eat toast–when she looked longingly at it again, I offered my wrist again, but didn’t push her. Renewed that positive contact. =)

New Goal: Two more days of wrist-hand, maybe three depending on where she is, then go for full wrist contact. I’ll set her down immediately after (or let her hang out on my wrist up top on the cage if she’s comfortable, but will not move her)–by next Sunday.

Step Up Progress: Lifting a Foot

Progress! Eeee!


…The reason I am so excited about this is because I didn’t think I was actually making any progress; she was comfortable leaning against my wrist to take a chip from me, but refused, refused to even try to move her foot closer to my wrist.

But today was the day of toast. She crawled alllll the way down her cage and was looking for a way to make it to the floor–apparently, she wants toast more than she wants chips.

On a hunch, I offered her my wrist, a tiny piece of toast, and voila, Viola! She lifted her foot to step up!

…Granted, she didn’t actually set it on my wrist, but hey, that’s HUGE step. Celebrate every little victory, right?

The other excellent news is that it will be MUCH easier to give Vi her medicines; when Louie got sick, we’d only had him a few months.

Giving Meds as a Positive Experience

We could either force him to hold still (which took two of us) twice a day to force-feed him something he hated, or we could saturate tiny pieces of bread with the medicine and feed it to him a little at a time.

The latter built trust (Louie LOVES bread–not exactly good for ekkies, but there are worse things we could do), made sure EVERY last drop of medicine made it into his system (don’t just leave it in a bowl), and was a nice little ritual we had every morning and evening.

To whomever came up with the mechanisms necessary to make tasty, tasty bread, I thank you–you’ve made my bird-owning life much easier!

Training Rescued Parrots: Setting Goals

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!