Sunday, September 20, 2009
Training a Parrot to Love a Towel
How much do I love this behavior? Let me count the ways. Training a parrot to look forward to being wrapped in a towel has become one of my favorite behaviors to train. I think in part because I know most parrots at some point in their lives will likely be wrapped in a towel for a medical procedure. Knowing that I can reduce stress that may be part of that situation by using positive reinforcement, makes it easy to add this behavior to my list of training goals.
In my DVD Training a Parrot for the Veterinary Exam, I go through the approximations of training this behavior with a yellow collared macaw and also a hybrid macaw. Both were re-homed birds who had a history of unpleasant experiences with towels. This makes it a little more challenging to train the behavior, but certainly not impossible. It just means taking it slower, using smaller approximations and of course lots of positive reinforcers. And as you can see in the video, both birds learn towels are now associated with good things.
One of the great things about working with young parrots, is often they have not yet been exposed to things in a way that might create a fear response. Both Jackson and Joker, the young parrots at my house, have seen a towel. But I have been very careful to make sure all towel encounters include positive reinforcers.
Joker thinks towels mean you get to roll around on your back and play with toys. Jackson thinks towels means you will get your head scratched for a nice chunk of time. My own yellow naped Amazon parrot, Delbert will fly to a towel if he sees one in your hand. He has had so many pleasant experiences associated with a towel he can’t wait to get into one.
People often ask what happens to all that great training when you go to the veterinarian and the parrot is restrained in the towel for a not so pleasant procedure. Will a traumatic experience cause the behavior to fall apart? The answer is “It depends.” If the experience is extremely difficult, the bird may need to be retrained on the behavior. However if you bird has a very long history of positive reinforcement with the towel, one not so great experience will probably not cancel out the plethora of wonderful times he has had in the towel.
Of course the best approach is to train the behavior to the point that actual restraint in the towel is not a problem for your parrot. Jackson and Joker are well on their way towards that goal.