How I Used Jealousy to Train a Handicapped Macaw

I've talked about using jealousy in the past to get a quicker response from your bird, and train numerous things (from talking on cue to harness training!) We also show it being used positively in our flight training course as we train our three macaws at once! 

So here I am, at it again, this time using camelot macaw Morgan and my blue throated macaw, Jinx. In the first video, it was a very positive, "healthy competition".

But in the video down this page, using my camelot macaw Tusa, I feel even though I got the same result, it was not in a positive way and could have escalated into aggression. It's important to read the body language in each video to really see the difference.

Sometimes training techniques that aren't very good, or positive, can yield instant results that you want. But that doesn't mean that that is the right technique to use. You want the technique that gives you long term results, not instant, short term ones. Now, the good techniques when implied properly, can often give you those instant results too! You just need to know what you're doing before you dive in and start. 

Bad techniques that yield immediate desired results (by stopping the current behavior) but ruin your relationship with your bird long term: 

  1. Covering your bird's cage or putting it in the dark for unwanted vocalizations. 
  2. Spraying your bird with water as "punishment". 
  3. Yelling at your bird. 
  4. Hitting your bird on the beak or elsewhere. 
  5. Throwing your bird to "make" it fly when it's otherwise too scared to do so on its own. 
  6. Flooding (making the bird submit to you by not stopping until the bird gives up.) This would include chasing it around with a towel or your hand until it gives up and lets you towel it or steps up. 

Good techniques to use instead:

  1. Ignoring the bird. No reaction whatsoever. 
  2. Outdoor aviary time, foraging toys, or anything else that can help keep your bird otherwise self-entertaining and contently occupied. 
  3. Making boundaries and sticking to them. If you decide your bird is not allowed on your shoulder because it nips up there, be vigilant about not allowing it. Don't allow it every so often because the message is then confusing to the bird. 
  4. Praise, encouragement and spending time with you as a reward. 
  5. Treats! Favorite foods that aren't part of the normal diet are of higher value. That's why we recommend the diet be healthy foods only so you can save the seeds and nuts for interactions. 
  6. Observational learning. Let your bird SEE what it's supposed to do by learning through observation. 

The last time Morgan spooked and took flight it went a little something like this

This time, she flew to me for safety which is a huge step in progress. I want Morgan, or any bird I'm training for free-flight to associate me with being their "safe place". If they see potential threats, I want their reaction to be their alarm call and immediate action to me. Although when outdoors we try to manage the many risks to our ability, our birds have better eye sight and instincts than we do about what is threatening to them out there, and how they communicate that to us is key. This is one of the big reasons we never "make" a bird fly when it does not want to - birds are telling you something important when they refuse to take flight. It's often because they know something we don't. 

In the above video you're going to see:

  • Morgan is still incredibly hesitant in responding and flying to me with Patty (her owner) around. 
  • I incorporate my Camelot macaw, Tusa, into the training to use that jealousy/healthy competition I did before with my blue throated macaw Jinx, but this time she flies from a negative response instead of a positive one. The difference is all in the body language here. I likely should have stopped from the get-go seeing those signs, and won't be using Tusa again for training at this point in time. 
  • How to condition a bird to allow touch
  • How my training sessions go when it's just me and Morgan. No other people, no other animals and no distractions. 
  • Her spooked flight! How it ended our session but we were still able to end on a positive note. 

What you aren't seeing:

  • Every morning Patty weighs Morgan by having her step up onto her, step up onto the scale, step back up off the scale and go back into her enclosure for breakfast. Morgan receives an almond for this. 
  • When I don't train Morgan that day: Patty trains 2x with Morgan inside the cage, doing 5-6 reps of touch training where Morgan earns pine nuts. 
  • When I do train Morgan that day: Patty trains 1x a day with 3-4 reps of touch training while Morgan is inside the cage. Morgan earns pine nuts for this. 

I've come to a crossroads in my training. I need to either stop Patty's interaction in my sessions altogether because it's hindering progress so much and just focus on building Morgan's skill level, OR, I need to solely focus on Patty and Morgan's relationship to the point of trying to make it so Patty is doing the training and I can step back and be the coach. 

My next goals based on the progression so far and everyone's feelings involved are: to make Patty's relationship match my own so that she can take over the training. 

Patty is ready emotionally. And based off Morgan's reaction to Patty the other night, I believe Morgan might just be ready too. So our new plan for our next video is either going to be a massive success to make us re-think our entire plan. Stay tuned! 

Have you missed out on the past blog posts or videos about Morgan? Click here to view her playlist

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