In 2002 when I first struck out on my own as an animal training consultant I did some work with a parrot sanctuary in Texas. At this facility, the birds were stepped up onto hands wrapped in towels. Often this approach means force is being used to train the parrots to step up. We all really wanted the birds to learn to step onto hands voluntarily. It was my job to train it with positive reinforcement. I had 50 parrots to work with. All either showed fear responses or aggressive behavior towards hands. (Many of these birds can be seen in my first book “Good Bird!” A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companions Parrots”)
What I quickly discovered was that asking a parrot to go from two feet firmly planted on a perch to one foot on the hand was a BIG approximation, one that most birds would not do with that kind of history. I had to find a way to make smaller approximations. So I developed a technique of placing my hand at the end of the perch and using the target to get small steps towards my perching hand. This way if your parrot is not ready he does not need to get on your hand, but can still make progress towards making it happen and you can reinforce it. Here are some photos of me demonstrating it in my DVD and another at a facility where I consulted.
At the time few skilled training professionals were working with parrots with such challenges and I am quite confident I had not seen this particular method elsewhere in my years of training. Certainly early in my career I learned from other great trainers the importance of letting the bird approach the hand and reinforcing small approximations. But what to do with a parrot that is really struggling with aggressive behavior or fear responses towards hands right when he is at the cusp of touching a hand was not something I had seen someone demonstrate. It was actually fun to explore options and experiment until I found a technique that worked pretty consistently.
Since then I have had the chance to practice it and fine tune it with at last count over 1000 parrots at workshops I teach. I do very freely share this technique in my DVDs and almost everyone gets to see a demo of this at the live seminars. In the DVD you get so see a parrot go from lunging so hard at my hand that he almost knocks over the perch, to eagerly pulling my hand closer so he can step up on it.
The bird is a blue and gold macaw belonging to a friend. I had never really interacted with him much before we filmed and by no means was he already trained. We filmed over a weekend. It took two twenty minute sessions to go from lunging to "can't wait to get on your hand!" I still smile every time I play that clip at a seminar. Makes me happy to see a parrot's behavior change so dramatically.
The DVD that features this clip is called Parrot Behavior and Training #1 . Click here and you can see the "before" and "after" with the lunging blue and gold macaw about half way through the video featured in the player on this page.
Hope it helps inspire a few parrot people out there! Happy training : )
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009