Jul 28

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.


Baby steps with harness training

Posted by Raz on Jun 9th, 2009
Jun 9

I just addressed a question about training the Aviator harness on a forum.

I forget all the details of how the Aviator recommends training, but I know they don’t emphasize how slowly you need to go and don’t break it down into small enough steps. I think if they were honest about that it would probably decrease their sales because people would perceive it as “too difficult”, or at least too time consuming.

Here are some tips for those very first steps.

If you’re seeing visible avoidance reactions, you’re going too fast. Too many of those and it will become a serious aversive and instead of training to wear a harness, you will have trained to hate harnesses.

At each step go only as far as your bird is comfortable with. A big problem with the Aviator is doing the loop over the head in baby steps. Starting with treats through the loop is good, but when it comes to actual contact that’s a huge step. When you approach that part don’t even try to put it all the way on. Just put it over his beak or head as far as he will allow without backing off, then immediately remove it. BIG treat. Repeat it at that level as long as it takes until he’ll allow a little bit more. It may seem like you’re not making any progress, but you’re actually setting up a big history of reinforcement. Repetition is good!

When you get to the point where he’ll allow it all the way over his head, be prepared to remove it immediately at first. You don’t want him to feel trapped. Just over the head and off, then treat. When that’s going well, you can do over the head, treat — BIG treat — then off. Then leave it on a little longer before the treat. Always be prepared to take it off immediately if he wants it off.

Lots of praise and treat at the end of session!

Repetition good!
Repetition good!
Repetition good!

Complete Harness Training Series.