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!

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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!

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

Step Up Progress: Lifting a Foot

Progress! Eeee!

VI LIFTED HER FOOT TO STEP UP TODAY! I MADE MY GOAL!

…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!

Rehomes – The Way to Go

Many people often ask the question:

Should we go with a baby bird, or look for an older bird who needs a new home?

Hubby and I have done both; each experience was fulfilling in its own way. The biggest benefit to a baby bird is that it allows you to learn to handle your parrot without fear early-on; but they grow up, they often change, and young birds are incredibly vulnerable to illness.

As far as older, rehomed birds go: there is nothing so touching as bonding with an older parrot. I have never met a more grateful creature in my life than a rehomed parrot.

sophie
This is Sophie, a goffin’s cockatoo with a plucking problem. She’s looking for her forever home in the Denver Area at Busy Beaks Bird Shop.

It may take patience, it may take some very deep understanding, and for some, it might just take lots of time. But winning the trust of a parrot neglected or formerly abused is one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced in my twenty-seven years of pet ownership.

Sure, they have a funny way of showing their gratitude–tearing up all the cardboard and wood we provide (and some that we don’t), singing, dancing, screaming their hearts out when I’m trying to work, making giant messes, destroying a student’s homework for funsies, chasing my feet around and trying to kiss my ankles while I cook dinner…

There is an element to a rehomed parrot that just doesn’t exist when you raise him or her from a baby. It is absolutely beautiful and indescribable.

Even Louie, who clearly hasn’t been neglected a day in his life, also has that extra element of thankfulness and joy that many home-raised babies I’ve met and/or raised do not: he is deeply, deeply attached to us now, not because he thinks we’re his parents, but because we have been excellent flock-mates. =) We have earned his trust.

I’m sure that people who adopt shelter dogs and cats experience this as well, but there’s something extra special about forming a bond with so long-lived a creature.

That trust can be hard-won, but once you have it, it’s incredible.

harry
This is Harry. He’s a little shy, and also looking for his new home in Denver!

Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and take home a bird that clearly hates you (or is even indifferent about you.)

Before we adopted Louie, I visited:

-a goffin’s cockatoo who liked me just fine, but just wasn’t all that into me. I could just tell.

-an amazon I wasn’t comfortable handling, though he seemed to like me. A lot.

-another smaller amazon who bit the dickens out of me (with virtually no warning)–no way we were taking her home!

Finding the right ‘fit’ is essential; you have to know what you’re comfortable with, what your triggers are, examine your own experience.

And you may walk into a bird store one day, and a bird may fall in love with you. They may dance when they see you–they might let you pet them when no one else can touch them. They might sing you a lovely little song.

Louie met Fletcher and I and immediately began kissing us on the cheeks, over and over. His former owners were blown away–he NEVER does that. Now that we’ve had him for over a year, I can vouch for that!

If you’re struggling to decide what to do, my advice:

Pick the parrot that picks you.

It is beyond worth it.

If you’re really struggling with the idea–baby or adult?–I implore you:

Look for that right fit: Give a re-homed bird a chance. 

It may be the best thing you ever do.