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.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009


Unknown said...

Must be nice to have a "fresh start" with big, boisterous, bubbly birds! When I got a new budgie was surprised at just how malleable his little brain was when it came to learning. He even learned that head rubs felt good! I was so proud of that little guy.

Thanks for sharing the bappies!

Christie L. said...

Even though I enjoy your blog posts very much, I have to admit that the reason I hurry to see your new posts right away is because I LOVE your photos!!!
Those birds are so adorable. :-D

Anonymous said...

I went to your training this weekend in Clayton. It was so awesome. I went home and trained my Hahn's macaw to turn around in about 5 minutes. She badly needs a nail trim, which I usually do, but the towel has been a trauma and I don't want to traumatize her any more. I know it is going to take a while to train her to love a towel, but in the meantime should I take her to have her nails trimmed professionally? They usually towel too and I want to cause her the least trauma possible. What do you suggest.Brenda

Barbara Heidenreich said...

You can actually train her to let you trim her nail without restraint. If you sign up for the mailing list at the top of the blog you will be sent some video clips that demonstrate how to train this behavior. The bird in the clip learned it in three 20 minutes sessions : )

Glad you enjoyed the workshop! It was fun....and went by way to fast.

Anonymous said...

Soo nice to see bid lovers blogging and equally pleasant for a russian guy like me to bring back home c couple of parrots I've been dreaming about since i was 7... I see u'r posts here are all positive her, ppl, which is awesome, but I have a problem which you may help me solve from your experience, perhaps. I got 2 young birds, about 1 month old from Petco today. They seemed so active at the store but I had to expose them to about 25-30 mins of 40F cold weather on the way to their new home and Pasha , the boy, began to sneeze. Not to frequent, so i hope no worries, as the guy in store told me they can take up to an hour of cold exposure. The q. really is that Dasha, the female, looks like a male herself. They r neither bonding, nor fighting, just sit next to each other while one sneezes occasionally. They haven't been eating or drinking for the last 4 hours, so I'm kinda worried, did i get sick birds or did i make them sick and how do I go about two 1 m/o males? Should I get 1 fem for each and when, cz they dont seem to be trained, or should I bring 1 of thm back to the shop and exchange for a girlfriend? Thanks a zillion for your suggestions!