I have already written a bit on parrot harness training, here on my blog and also in Good Bird Magazine. However it is one of those behaviors that people just can’t seem to get enough of…therefore here is a little bit more!
Every time I train this behavior it is yet another opportunity to refine my techniques. I am a huge proponent of training this behavior with a very strict positive reinforcement approach. Sadly there are lots of video examples of parrot harness training on the internet that claim to be positive but still clearly show the parrot does not have a choice in the matter. When you hear the trainer telling the bird “no” or “stop” or “hold still” or you hear the parrot vocalizing his objection, or even trying to escape but being blocked you can bet there is coercion being used. Harness training can be a difficult behavior to train with some parrots and I can see where one’s patience can be tested. However the pay-off of avoiding coercion is worth it. Some of you may recall Beni the Blue Throated Macaw I trained for the Kaytee Learning Center. I loved how he would just become a giant fluff ball when he saw the harness. It meant he was going to be showered with head scratches, which he loved. I am aiming for the same response with Blu Lu.
Blu Lu is also a fan of head scratches. Thankfully this often makes harness training a lot easier. A parrot that is receptive to touch is far easier to teach to wear a harness than one who isn’t in my experience.
Once it was clear Blu Lu liked to be touched I immediately starting pairing head scratching and cuddling sessions with the presence of the harness. I then gradually worked through approximations of putting the harness on followed by head scratches. We took our time. This is because I don’t want her to ever panic when the harness is on. This meant short sessions and small approximations. In the video clip she is up to letting me place it under both wings. She still needs some sessions to work on tightening the strap and leaving it on for longer intervals of time. Eventually the process of putting it on and taking it off will go faster than what is shown in the clip. But for now this is the pace that is working for her.
My goal is that when the harness comes out, Blu Lu will be happily anticipating head scratches. That is what positive reinforcement is all about…eager participants. Enjoy the video. I will post more as she progresses on her harness training.
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