What You Can Learn About Bird Training, From Dog Training

Hiking Wilson Arch with my galah Bandit and German Shepard Diesel.

I've been on a mission to teach my dog practically all the tricks in this puppy training book I have, 51 Puppy Tricks. It's an amazing book and if you have a puppy, I highly recommend it! Get it as early as possible, too. The reason I feel so drawn to teaching my pup all these tricks is I believe the earlier you train an animal, the better you are later in life with that animal when it comes to avoiding potentially disastrous behavioral problems. And, with a baby on the way, I want all the training done so that I have at least a month where I can just... change diapers and not feel like I need to be giving that attention to training my pup. I've learned that he can go about a month without training something new before he starts doing something else that's annoying and needs fixing. Because I've been working on training my pup so often, it has left the birds not getting trained much at all which for them, isn't exactly a bad thing since they spent the entire summer performing and training 5 days/week.

When we come home to Florida it's considered their "time off" and I work on other things with them like diet and nutrition (no more treats!) and varying up their environments to keep them interested. Right now my toucan, Rocko, has the entire 200 sq ft bird room to himself. That's right, he is out of his cage all day long flying around in there from cage top to two foraging trees... he has it all and is loving it. For my other birds, I've been cleaning and rearranging aviaries - today, Tusa, my camelot macaw has an aviary all to himself. He looked like he could use some alone time. The conures are back outside after being inside for a cold snap we had and are already trying out their second aviary and the freaks (two rosies and a grey) are inside by our bedroom keeping us company by going through their vocabulary regularly at night. Everyone is in a new environment and it keeps our birds healthy and happy.

Now, where does this all tie into dog training? Well all I was told was how different dog training is from bird training and boy, were they right! You can train a dog on way less food motivation (my pup can be full on his dog food and will work his butt off for a piece of hot dog any day!) and way more often. You can use luring more effectively, and overall, it's just different. However, the last few weeks I've trained my pup to shake (hold his paw up to your hand), crawl (not entirely on cue yet, and if I do say, it's not that good yet...), roll over and my most recent trick today was working on the spin. I was training him outside because for the crawl, he needed a non-slippery surface like grass or carpet. We only have a rug inside so grass worked for me. For roll over, he needed the space of the outdoors. So for spin, since I was so used to having his training sessions outside, I naturally went outside to train. He instead, rolled over... and over... and over... refusing to give me his attention to learn something ELSE. I realized I needed a SMALLER space to train in, one that would give me his attention and let him know he didn't need to use all the space up for what it was that I was going to train him. I took him inside to our den which is pretty small. He will roll over in there if given the cue, but it's not a space that he would offer it so easily. It's a bit tight. He picked up the spin trick in MINUTES. All he needed was that change of environment.

We recently did an in home consult with two birds that are not bonded to one another. However, one is well adjusted to life with humans and the other is terrified of everything. Normally, we recommend people go somewhere else - away from the bird's cage - to train the bird to do something. But when we did this with the terrified bird, it shut down completely. The second we took it back to its cage by the other bird to train there, it progressed 2x faster than the well adjusted bird. It just goes to show how a change environment changes your progress (or lack thereof). Sometimes what applies to one bird won't work with another. You won't do the same training techniques on an aggressive bird as you will use on a terrified bird and because of this, and how differently birds react, changes what direction you take training in. I often make a 'training plan' of what I THINK I am going to do and what order I THINK I am going to do it in, but the animal NEVER FAILS to change up plans on me.

So pay attention, change it, don't be afraid to see how something else might work or not work. Whether you fail or succeed in that instant, you learn something. And usually, we all learn a great deal more when we fail.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

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