My Parrots just blow me away sometimes. Or perhaps it is better to say that training with positive reinforcement blows me away. I recently brought Delbert, my yellow naped Amazon Parrot to a new location for a photo shoot. He is fully flighted and an extremely competent flyer.
Before letting him out, I made sure the room was safe for a flighted Parrot. Windows and mirrors were all covered, dogs were outside and no one was allowed to open a door unless he was safe in his travel cage.
New environments can sometimes be pretty frightening to Parrots. Delbert has been around a number of new places, but not near as much as I would like him too. So I was going to have to really observe his body language and see how he responded.
What I wanted to avoid was my bird flying around the space in a panic.
My first signal that things were probably going to be OK was when he started chatting away while we were doing the final set preparations. He watched from his travel cage and starting asking “Ya wanna come out?”, “Are ya ready?”, “Here we goooooo”
Letting him look at the space for about 20 minutes was a great opportunity for him to acclimate. There are some things that usually evoke a fear response in Parrots such as things moving overhead, quick movement nearby…but sometimes it’s the things you don’t expect that you have to watch out for.
This is when reading your bird’s body language becomes super important. Although he had been looking at it for some time, a long narrow cardboard box was simply unacceptable. Any steps too close to that would send Delbert circling around the room.
Fortunately because of all his recall training he would land on my hand after a few laps. We opted to remove that box while Delbert was far away from it.
Another thing that proved a challenge was the backdrop. The coloured drape would occasionally move. This especially happened the moment Delbert would launch off of my hand for a cued flight.
Although it took him a bit of time, the way he gradually got past this challenge was by doing simple behaviours and getting reinforced. Delbert loves flying to new people.
So for some of our photos he got to fly back and forth between me and new people. This meant treats and attention that he loves.
Pairing doing simple A to B flights and getting reinforced made the background fade into …well, the background!
Delbert presented excellent flights on cue, posed like the super model he is for his close ups and enjoyed preening the hair on every head there. He also ended the day snoozing on the photographer’s shoulder, beak grinding away.
I suppose technically a photo shoot is “work” but I have to admit it sure felt like fun to me….and I think for Delbert too. (I think we were done shooting way before he decided it was time to wrap it up.) What made it fun was reading his body language and remembering to use positive reinforcement to make sure the experience was a good one for him too.
Hmmmm, maybe he has a future in modeling. Look out Zoolander…..here comes Delbert!
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This article was originally published on Good Bird’s blog in April 2010.
Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provides animal training DVDs, books, webinars and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in over twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara works with the companion animal community and also consults on animal training in zoos.
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