For those of you who have been to my seminars and seen video clips of Parrots sitting for blood draws and perched patiently while they receive an injection, you no doubt realized those are behaviours that were trained with tiny, tiny approximations and took some time to train.
I recently read the manuscript to a friend’s book in which she said "you can be sure that shaping with the smallest approximations is what is behind the most impressive behaviours."
We have a tendency to take for granted that our Parrots should do things we want, when we want. Especially when it comes to behaviour we accomplish easily with other species such as our dogs.
I implore people wanting to train this behaviour to take a moment to pause and relax and say "it's OK if it takes me two years to train this behaviour" It probably won’t take you that long, but it will let you calm down and not feel pressured to get the behaviour done right this second. Go at the pace your bird dictates works for him.
I often tell people what if this was a lion or a porcupine....what would you do if that animal did not want to go in the harness? : ) (I mention the porcupine because at one zoo where I consulted we did work on training a porcupine to wear a harness) Force will likely cause aggressive behaviour or an animal that won’t come near you.
And as has been mentioned before, our goal with positive reinforcement is to create an eager participant and in turn continue to foster that wonderful relationship we can have with an animal.
I too have been working on this behaviour. I started maybe 1 year ago with one of my Amazon Parrots and have worked on the behaviour off and on. I went through a lot of experimentation.
Different harnesses, different shaping plans, etc to try to find the easiest methods. I have also worked on this behaviour with the two young Parrots currently at my house. One has mastered the behaviour and one is still learning.
Once everyone (and another one I want to start on this behaviour) is trained I will have a comprehensive teaching tool for this behaviour. However here is a sneak peak to get people started. It doesn't have all the steps outlined, but it may help you get some ideas.
The bottom line is that difficult behaviours require small approximations, using high value reinforcers, training when the animal is most receptive to those reinforcers, going at the animals pace.....and time. Be patient. You have many years ahead of you with your Parrot.
Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Good Bird Inc provides Parrot training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.