Harness Training — Going with the Flow!

Posted by Raz on Jul 26th, 2009
Jul 26

I had an unexpected breakthrough tonight with Piper on the harness. If you’ve been following the blog you know that Piper developed a dislike of his previous harness which had an over-the-head loop. So we stopped using it and have been training a new design (shown here). It’s been slow going, but we were to the point where he would walk up to the end of his perch, have me put the strap around his neck and fasten it, and put the belly strap under one wing and through the back strap. We’ve been doing this for awhile, and whenever he showed any sign of wanting it off, off it came. So tonight, after a very lazy day, I went to do our usual short session before our dinner time recall training, and we got to the usual point. He seemed very keen on his sprouted sunflower seed treats, and not paying much attention to the harness, so I decided to take it a step further and go for the strap under his other wing. That went fine. So I gave him big bonuses — handful of sprouted seeds, and he still was fine. So then I fastened the belly strap also, and gave him another handful of sprouts. Still fine! I kept feeding him his sprouts for several minutes, while carrying him around on his harness.

This surprised me but it shows how you just have to go with the flow of what the bird is presenting you. If an opportunity shows itself, take it. And if you are making big breakthroughs, give big bonuses! (Heck, even on little breakthroughs I give big bonuses.) But tonight I gave him almost his whole dinner while on the harness. My plan is to keep doing this for the next week or so: harness training combined with his whole dinner.

Here he is while eating dinner out of my hand (sorry for the blur — trying to work iPhone with one hand while feeding!)


This comes at a very good time, because he has become very interested in exploring the outdoors now (trying to follow me out the front door) and getting quite relaxed walking at the beach. So I was planning to start working A-B recalls on the harness at the beach this week.

So of course this warranted a celebration. Witness the fate of probably the last surviving blood orange of the season in southern California:


Training note: Piper is being trained at at-lib weight. His indoor recall is excellent, more reliable even than Carly’s. He is just over one year old, and it is not recommended to restrict weight on parrots less than a year old. His weight range now is only slightly higher than when he arrived at 4 months old, and he is in good condition from flying a lot indoors, so this is a good range to work with. His response to training does not warrant any change. Acclimation to the outdoor environment is something that can be done without weight reduction, as it is an entirely separate issue than food motivation. Comfort with the environment is one of the major elements in the list of factors that should be considered when training a new behavior, and it is far up the list from weight reduction.

My position with regards to outdoor training is that you go at the pace the bird himself sets, whether that is a matter of flight skills, recall response, comfort with the environment, or eagerness to fly in the first place. I am doing this for the enrichment and benefit of Piper. I’m sure Carly would love to have him as a flying companion, but first and foremost, they enjoy each other as indoor companions, which is where they spend the vast majority of their time. I feel no need at all to push the pace of training. African Greys can live to be 40-70 years old. Piper is 16 months!

Complete Harness Training Series.