How do you find a source of training advice you can trust? Is the bird training world really as brutal as some make it out to be, wrought with conspiracies against individuals, professional jealousy, and continual arguing over methods? Who do you believe?
No one. That’s right, no one. All the highly respected trainers I have met or seen in action do not work in isolation. It’s not a huge community, and most bird trainers from zoos and shows know each other — the “degree of separation” probably averages 1 or 2. Attending the IAATE meeting in Cincinnati this year, the collegiality among trainers from different parts of the country — and the world — was even greater than I expected, and I learned as much from talking to people as I did from the talks. If there’s a conspiracy out there to shut out particular trainers, it must be super secret, because no one I’ve ever met knows about it. Or perhaps more likely is that you reap what you sow, and those who cultivate sound training practices, professional friendships and sharing of information earn that respect.
Avoid: Sites [trainers] that lack any references or affiliation to other materials and professionals known in the field. Established professionals usually work together in a cooperative and/or collaborative way with other recognized professionals. This usually includes references to other sources of information and products on their sites in addition to their own. — Barbara Heidenreich, Good Bird Blog
Observing the trainers I have learned the most from, it’s also striking that they rarely toot their own horns, claim to be “the best,” or that they are the only one to ever do this or that. They do not make promises about training outcomes, or take ownership of established methods by branding them as their own. Training is a science, and like other sciences, is built on what has come before. Good practitioners recognize this. “Revolutionary” is pretty much reserved for those exercise machines advertised late at night on infomercials. The art and science of training is an ongoing learning process that takes patience. It really is true that “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Anyone who believes they don’t need to learn more is only at the outer layer of a very large onion. (To paraphrase Donkey.)
Continued education, and close mentorship with respected, well-known professionals in the field is paramount. . . . Courtesy, reliability, and accuracy are also trademarks of the “expert”, as is willingness to share freely their knowledge. — Animal Education Foundation
These are some things I ask about trainers:
- Can they give you good references? If not, run, don’t walk. Expert trainers work with others and never stop learning, whether it is through informal relationships or formal collaborations. Any good trainer should be able to provide several names of professional trainers who can vouch for their ability. Talk to them, and ask them about the other references as well. Is this trainer someone who has really made a difference?
- How do they care for their own animals? Do they know about mental and environmental enrichment, and practice it? Do they feed a balanced and varied diet that includes fresh food? A good deal of training is about relationship building and general standards of care — what happens outside the training session does matter.
- Is there a strong emphasis on fast and/or easy? This is typically an indicator of exaggeration, a shallow understanding of training principles, or over-reliance on weight management.
- Who have they learned the most from? Who has had the biggest influence on their training, and why? Can they recommend to you a few other good sources of training information? Every single trainer I know who is respected among their peers can and will refer you to others that you can learn from as well. While it’s good to work with a single trainer on specific problems to avoid giving mixed signals to your birds, any good mentor will encourage learning as much as you can from other sources they trust.
With the internet there is the possibility of sharing information now as never before, but it also opens up the door to just about anyone who wants to call themselves an expert. The cream of the crop among trainers are those that can convey more than just instructions; they demonstrate the principles they are teaching in every interaction with birds. It’s a rare gift, but well worth seeking out those who have it.