2009
Jul 28
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The idea that one has to work on either flight skills or recall skills with a new flyer is an odd one. The two training tasks are so complementary. Doing controlled flights under your cue is how a bird can build up confidence along with skill, and those three elements — good recall, skill, and confidence — are what makes a good outdoor or indoor flyer.

They need all three to fly safely, and it doesn’t make sense to ignore one to work on another. If you neglect the recall training, every time you allow latency you are training the bird that it’s OK to ignore your cue. If you don’t gradually increase the skill level of the recalls, you risk the bird becoming bored with the training and not progressing physically.

The only time these elements come into conflict is if you’re trying to move too fast. If recall needs work, you can do that at whatever the bird’s skill level is, and do lots of repetitions. The reps improve recall, increase overall confidence, and can be done while gradually pushing the skill level. Carly’s first outdoor flying consisted of A-B flights between me and a perch, increasing in distance; short loops away and back to me, increasing the diameter; A-B recalls flying down from tree branches, increasing in height; and targeting to me through a tree (combination of climbing, hanging, dropping, flying) to learn how to descend if she landed too high for her flying skills. These can be done in a systematic way if the bird has a good recall and the confidence with it’s skill level that you can maintain an outdoor training session without flyoffs, refusing to come down from trees, or panicking.

For a companion parrot, being outside with poor recall and/or low confidence just increases the probability that it will panic or get into a situation that is beyond its skill level. These are not parrots who were raised outdoors by parents in a nest in the wild. They are not used to everything the outdoors presents.

Putting a bird in a situation that is beyond its abilities and forcing it to essentially “learn or else” and become desensitized to its own fear is one of the worst training strategies there is if you are trying to base the relationship on trust and positive interactions. It’s called flooding.

UPDATE: Apparently those claiming it was necessary to make a choice between training flight skills and recall agree with my point (from public Freeflight group):

Yes doing controlled flights is ONE way to build up the birds confidence and flight skills.

So, if you can do it that way, why encourage an unnecessary choice between recall and skills, which is more risky for the bird?

I urge anyone considering freeflying their companion parrot to consider this subsequent statement as well, before using the unfledged baby or “just let ‘em fly” approach:

Recall is extremely useful but is not required to fly birds out doors. — Chris Biro

and ask yourself if you’re comfortable taking this attitude with a valued companion.

That statement alone says enough for me to close the book on anything coming from this source.

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Training a Bird to be Petted

Posted by Raz on Dec 3rd, 2008
2008
Dec 3
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The previous comment on using flooding to make a bird accept petting is similar to a discussion that has been going on recently on Barbara Heidenreich’s Good Bird Group. A question was posed about how to “train” a bird to allow a person to pet it. Although no one there was considering using anything but positive reinforcement to achieve that, it still brought up an interesting point: do you really want to train this behavior? Or do you want to set up the environment and build your bird’s realtionship with you so that he feels free to initiate it himself? This was my musing on the topic…

This reminds me of the previous discussion about training and touching a bird. I don’t know quite how to express this without sounding judgemental, which is not my intent at all. But I think this gets to the core of what we expect of these pets that are essentially wild animals.

What’s the purpose of getting her to let you scratch her head? Is it for her or for you? Typically birds bow their head for a scratch because they like how it feels. Clearly not all birds do, so why push it? To me there is a huge difference between asking a bird to give me her foot for a nail trim (something that isn’t pleasurable — though not painful — but still a necessity) and having her bow her head and ask me for a head scratch. The initiation on her part is what the latter is all about. Most of the time if I initiate a head scratch with my greys they don’t want it. I don’t see the point of training them to allow it if it isn’t usually pleasurable enough for them to ask for it on their own. They might “learn” to like the behavior because it earns an external reward, but to me that misses the point of what a head scratch is all about.

I have two cats, a male that loves belly rubs (unusual for a cat) and a female who doesn’t. I could probably train the female to allow it, but for what purpose exactly? What’s so fun about giving the male a belly rub is that he wants it. That’s also what’s so magical about a bird asking for a head scratch — even more so because these are wild animals, not ones who have been bred for thousands of years to be companions for humans.

It kinda reminds me of little kids being “trained” to allow grandma to give them a big kiss when they don’t really want it. It’s clearly for the benefit of the grandma, not the kid. I just think it’s important that we ask ourselves what our motivations are in training sometimes.

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How Not to Tame a Bird

Posted by Raz on Dec 3rd, 2008
2008
Dec 3
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Sid Price just posted on his blog about the practice of “flooding” as a training technique. It is is response to the Birdtricks people posting recently about the so-called success of the method (which they call “perching”) with a blue and gold macaw. In this instance, the person put the bird on a chair back in between a wall and a refrigerator, so it could not escape, and forced it to be petted with a stick until it complied. This is a classic case of teaching by force, and through learned helplessness. They claim this method is good because it can be done by beginners who are not good at reading parrot body language. They also fall into the old, old trap of thinking that parrots must be dominated, and not allowed to make their own choices. In this antiquated training philosophy — utterly discredited by behavioral scientists — the birds are viewed as trying to “intimidate” people by biting.

Perhaps we should be teaching beginners how to read parrot body language instead, and earn their trust, and not how to just force them into submission? Birds learn to bite because it gets a message across — namely “NO!” to whatever you are doing. The Birdtricks method essentially says to the bird, your wishes do not matter, what matters is that I want to pet you whether you like it or not.

Submission is not the same as trust. It works not by building trust, but by breaking spirit. The result — at best — is a compliant, passive bird (likely with other behavior issues) not an active, trusting companion.

Sid’s post here: The Real Secrets of Training Success and Where to Find Them.

There are many articles by Dr. Susan Friedman and others on how real behavioral scientists and reputable trainers address these issues. See listings in the Training Directory (Most of this information is also free — not only free of charge, but also free of hard-sell marketing tactics that treat consumers like 2-year-olds.)

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