My relationship with my entire flock has changed over the years. It seems so much easier when they're baby birds: they let you get away with so much! Then they grow up and develop their personalities and characteristics that truly make them who they are. I often ask myself, "If this bird got lost in a flock of its species, could I find it again?"
Out of my entire flock, my relationship has changed the most with my male galah, Bandit, known as Bandit Boy or Gregor (as he so named himself.) I used to be able to do ANYTHING with him. After all, when he was just a baby he was kind of bug-eyed and everyone thought he was downright ugly. He was funny looking but that just made me adore him more, and I was left to do most of his upraising and training on my own. He ended up being a shining star and is one of our best free flyers- if not THE best! (just sayin' ;)
And when we went on a year long tour, he was my roadie. I'd have him out or in a travel carrier beside me on our 1,300 mile weekly drives. Because he wasn't in the show on that tour, I tried to find ways to spend time with him to make up for it.
That tour ended, and we immediately prepared for a summer stint at a theme park near my home town. We had recently wrapped up filming for One Day Miracles, and I had decided to take on Rasta in my "free time" (which was when I wasn't performing 6 shows a week, one every single day of the week... no joke). We had also just gotten 3 new baby sun conures. With all the shows (which Bandit was in but he was doing a routine with Dave and not me), and the four additional birds that were my new priority, my relationship with Bandit waned.
He became more bonded with Dave, and would shun me if I took him out, refusing to interact with me. He basically ignored me. He became less and less predictable and trustworthy, often getting angry at me and glaring at me before eventually attacking.
Additionally, he might just refuse to step up for me, or really respond to anything. He was flat out MAD. Often times I would take him out only to have him act this way, and eventually I would have to ask Dave to put him away because he wouldn't respond to me.
Unfortunately for me, I just didn't have time to address our growing distance. I needed consistent time, and I just didn't have it. That summer I became pregnant with our daughter, and life for me drastically changed. ALL the birds ended up on a back burner while I adjusted to this whole "being a mom" thing that quite frankly - overwhelmed me. I spent many moments bawling my eyes out in bathrooms wondering what I'd gotten myself into. For someone that is used to a large amount of freedom and being able to interact and train my animals when I want, to... well... handcuffs and a jail cell is what it felt like... it was a very hard (and long) adjustment period for me. My relationship with Bandit continued to suffer because I had limited time to spend with my birds, and he made it the most difficult to accomplish so he got less and less.
Honestly, I'm still going through that whole "adjustment period" as I realize it basically lasts a lifetime! Ha.
But now I am FINALLY in a position to mend my relationship with my bird and am going to show you how so that if your relationship with yours has suffered, you see the process of the way out. Because there is one but it relies heavily on:
Being consistently POSITIVE. We need to fill your bird's "piggy bank" with tons upon tons of positive experiences with you.
This is accomplished by positive interactions. Bandit USED to come out to just BE with me because our bond was soooo strong. But now, he won't come out when I present myself/my hand. I HAVE to use a treat.
That's fine, don't let that hurt your feelings. Animals are so sensitive to human emotions; if you are bitter or resentful then don't interact. You need to come in with a neutral or positive tone/vibes. It is not your bird's fault, and don't be hard on yourself either: LIFE HAPPENS! Lets just work on the solution. Focus on that.
Now, first, make a LIST of things your bird LOVES. These will be what you incorporate as your positive interactions and use to mend your relationship. Here is a list of Bandit's favorite things:
- Cuddling right into my face.
This interaction fills Bandit's "love tank", adds money to his "piggy bank", however you want to look at it, it works towards mending our relationship because he loves this, and I'm the only one he does it with. Doing this with him more often makes him want to spend more time with me.
Ok, on with his list:
- Training for treats. He loves going over tricks he already knows as well as learning new ones.
- Hanging out while I do Q&A videos or chores.
- Playing the pillow or Whoop! Whoop! game.
- Special treatment; being the ONLY bird out and getting 100% focused attention.
I kept a journal while I asked Bandit to come out daily (simply by presenting my hand) and here is what happened. I used treats, I started off with shorter, positive interactions and eventually gave him longer positive interactions and here were my results:
Day 1 - Asked Bandit to come out of his aviary 6 times. He said no every time. No interaction.
Day 2 - Asked Bandit to come out 4 times, he did with a treat in view each time. Spent time only "hanging out". Gave treats for content behavior and stepping up.
Day 3 - Bandit came out 3 out of 4 times WITHOUT NEEDING to see a treat (or receive one but I did reward after he came out without seeing one). Spent time only. Some petting. Watched old videos of us. Did chores with him around. Rewarded for calm, good behavior that made me trust him more.
Day 4 - Bandit came out every time I asked. We tried playing his favorite games, doing chores, and let him snuggle close. This really made him happy and eager to interact.
Day 5 - Bandit RUSHED over to get out and be with me, no treat needed. Every time. He is talking, chatting, cuddling up to me, offering kisses and showing wanting to train.
Day 6 - Same eagerness to interact. Constantly content in my presence. Super fluffed face ALL. THE. TIME.
Day 7 - Feels like he's getting back to his old self, and so am I. We're learning to trust one another again. We did some training and he was soooo excitable and so eager to train and earn rewards. However, he does not remember the 'lawn mower' trick...
As exciting as this progress is for only a week of mending our relationship, here is the crappy part. It's equally as easy for it to all unravel all over again. I went 3 days without interacting with Bandit when he was on a high of WANTING to interact with me badly. I could tell just from when I would clean and feed how badly he wanted to come out to keep up our new routine of fun interactions, but I couldn't. Life got in the way again with my dad's birthday, Halloween festivities, having to pet sit for all my relatives at once! And just like that, he's back to refusing to come out of his cage for me again.
Mending a relationship REQUIRES CONSISTENCY. The bird needs to trust you're going to be there, be present and not quit one day. Which is how we kind of ended up here, isn't it?
So it's about building trust.
Unfortunately we can't tell our birds when we are going to not have time. We just have to make the time and find a way.
I'm back to giving treats to encourage him to come out and give me a chance again, but I know we will get there because I saw how fast I gained it, and then again how fast I lost it (in half the time).
To put it in perspective, now that I've worked on this more, I can make the following progress in one day (be patient with your bird and yourself.):
Earlier in the day: Have to show the treat to get a step up.
Later in the day: Bandit does not need to see a treat to step up, or receive one directly after stepping up. However, because it's early in the training and mending, I try to follow up with treats randomly throughout our time together for calm, content behavior.
Fill that bank, even if just a little, every single day. Once your relationship is back where it's supposed to be, your bird will grant you a break here and there but until then, no breaks. You gotta earn 'em!