There are so many aspects to the training experience for both the trainer and the parrot. It’s about bond building and mutual trust. It’s wonderful enrichment for a caged bird. It’s about cooperation. Mostly, though, it’s about communication. It provides a common language through which a human and a parrot can begin to converse and understand one another. It is exciting and deeply rewarding for everyone.
That I would suggest that someone NOT train their bird is troubling to me, especially when it is such a positive thing. But there are circumstances when the time is not right – more troubling is the idea of someone failing so miserably at training that they will hesitate to ever pick up the target training stick again, or that a bird would be so put off by the experience that is unreceptive to the experience in future attempts. When all the proper elements are in place, it is difficult to fail.
The following are four scenarios that will tell you that you are not in the right place to consider training. Instead of attempting a start knowing that there are hurdles blocking your path to success, place your efforts today on correcting those problems for when you DO begin:
YOUR BIRD IS ON A SEEDED DIET: The reward your bird receives for performing a requested task is crucial to successful training. Most birds are motivated by a food reward. The bird performs to your approval, you click, and it receives a favorite treat.
It just so happens that seed is a preferred food for most birds. If your bird receives seed regularly and that is its expectaion, the motivation to “earn” treats is greatly diminished and the training process falls apart. Please read this article on how to convert from a seeded diet.
YOUR BIRD IS NOT IN GOOD HEALTH: This is particularly true of birds on a seeded diet. They often suffer from serious vitamin deficiencies without their owner’s awareness that can affect their general mood and willingness to train. Birds with known illnesses might be difficult to train as they are sometimes unable to complete tasks because of ill health.
Additionally, a bird whose mood is altered by surges of seasonal hormones is not a good candidate for training. They can be temperamental and aggressive during this time and it serves everyone to wait until the breeding season passes.
The plan is to always set your bird up for success and an ill or moody bird might not succeed. It would be a frustrating experince for you both.
NOTE: This does not apply to birds that are handicapped but are in otherwise good health. You would simply tailor your training expectations so that they don’t exceed physical limitations.
YOU ARE UNWILLING TO USE FOOD MANAGEMENT: As stated above, birds are food motivated. Food management is simply an adaptation of your feeding schedule that ensures your bird is hungry enough to to be willing to work for food during a training session. When done properly, hunger is not excessive (overly hungry birds do not train well) and there is the perfect window of opportunity for you to train your bird and for your bird to get a full tummy. Win/win.
YOU ARE NOT MOTIVATED OR IN THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND: Sometimes we are our own biggest obstacle in training. There are times when we are not at our best, perhaps grouchy and impatient. Our birds are highly receptive to our emotions and will surely recognize that you are feeling aggitated or pressed for time. Their reaction to this will be skittishness and it will interfere with their ability to focus on the task at hand.
If you are in the midst of a stressful time in your life and are unable to decompress before a training session, it is better not to train at all. (That said, some people find that disconnecting from life and concentrating on their bird is the ideal release from daily pressures.)
Each of these scenarios have one thing in common: they all lead to potential failure in training. I have included links in each section to offer further explanation and guidance on how to move past these road blocks. Please take the time to read them so that you can begin training with all the tools you need to succeed.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.