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African gray and my family

Discuss the methods and techniques of clicker training, target training and bonding. These are usually the first steps in training a young parrot.

African gray and my family

Postby svkost » Mon Jul 02, 2018 11:17 pm

Hi, me, my wife and three small children (8, 5, and 3) just adopted an African Gray. It is our first bird, but our whole lives we had other pets. Her name is Guta. She is a two year old girl and she is a very nice bird. She was already rehomed 2 or 3 times in her young life. We love her, even though we just have her 3 weeks. She speaks, she comes out of her cage to play on top of it and she is not afraid of us or our other pets (2 cats and 2 chihuahua dogs). She takes 'candy' (sunflower seeds) very gently from our hands. But when it comes to being 'nice', she absolutely favors me. She steps up my hand (when she wants to) and I can touch her head and beak. We don't let her on our shoulder, as we have read that is an absolute no-go to do. We don't touch her on her back, was we don't want to provoke 'partner-behavior' in her.

We started to use a clicker to try to make the behavior more constant, as now she only does what she wants to do. She knows how to 'target' a chopstick. She is very smart and learned this in just a few minutes. She starts to step up at my wife's hand, but only when there is a sunflower seed involved. The children can't come close with their hands at her, unless there is a sunflower seed in it.

Is it true that an African Gray only bonds with one person, or can she become a friend of all family members? My children really love her; they would be so glad if they can only touch her head. It doesn't matter if it takes months to achieve that. It just seems strange to me that a parrot will only bond with one person, while in nature they live in groups.
Gender: This parrot forum member is male
Posts: 2
Number of Birds Owned: 1
Types of Birds Owned: African Gray Parrot
Flight: No

Re: African gray and my family

Postby Pajarita » Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:44 am

Yes, what you heard about them is true. They do not make good family pets, they are all one-person pets. This is mostly true of all parrots although there are species that tend to be a bit more gregarious than others. Unfortunately, grays are the poster child for the one-person pet and it seems that she has chosen you. Grays are, as you noted, highly social in the wild and live in large groups [which are, actually, their extended family] but, although they have lots of flock mates, they have a single mate all their lives and this mate is the ONLY bird in the entire flock that is allowed any kind of familiarity so I am afraid that, at least for now, your children lucked out. I say for now because she might, in the future and if they are EXTREMELY quiet and calm children, allow them to touch her head whenever she feels like it {they are not touchy-feely birds]. I am afraid that, generally speaking, grays do not do well with children. Again, some other species don't seem to mind too much - macaws are known for liking well mannered children when they are sweet-tempered and have not been neglected or abused in any way but grays are particularly difficult in that they are naturally high-strung birds and need a quiet household with never changing routines to thrive. Noise, hullabaloo, quick movements and ANY change seem to be kryptonite to them. Unfortunately, most people don't believe this and tend to treat them as any other parrot which is why the greatest majority of them end up plucking. Their intelligence, the unavoidable chronic stress of captivity, their sensitivity and the fact that they are naturally high-strung makes them one of the most difficult species to keep healthy and happy so they are not recommended for first-time bird keepers. But, having said that, it doesn't mean that a first time owner cannot do it! Like everything else in life, success is a matter of how much the person is willing and able to put into it.

Now, I don't know exactly how long you've had her but I would not recommend your starting training her any time soon. Parrots are not like any other pet we might have. They all belong to undomesticated species [so they have not been bred for generations to be people-oriented], they are prey animals [we are predators and they know it -both our eyes are in the front of our faces] and the conditions we keep them under are completely unnatural [and this inevitable] so there is chronic physical and emotional stress from the moment we steal them from their parents to the time they die. To make matters worse, they don't understand the concept of obedience or subservience so achieving a good, solid, long lasting relationship that works for both the human and the bird takes A LOT of work on our part because they simply cannot adjust, nature did not give them the tools for it. For a parrot to feel semi-content in captivity [no parrot is ever completely happy in captivity -there is no chance for that!], one needs to be very careful, especially during the honeymoon period -which is what you are experiencing with her right now. You need to get the parrot to trust you [because you seem to be the chosen human] implicitly first and then love you. You can train a parrot even if the parrot doesn't love you but you will never get a good relationship with it and you will have to constantly bribe it [and, please, do not use sunflower seeds, use a piece of a nut instead].

So forget about the targeting and the clicker for now and concentrate on getting the bird to like you, trust you and then love you. Once this is achieved [and if you feed it right!], you will find that the bird will be willing to obey simple commands without having to bribe it for it. I don't use rewards, a target stick, a clicker or even hold training sessions with my parrots but they are all quite obedient and well-mannered and know a large number of commands, words and phrases. I do it the same way one does it with a child: patience, persistence and consistency. If one always gives the same command, indicating the desire for always the same action and reacts the same way to the outcome: praising for 'good' behavior and ignoring the bad, the baby learns.

By the way, I don't agree with the 'no shoulder' thing. Any bird of mine who wants to get on my shoulder is welcome to it.
Norwegian Blue
Gender: This parrot forum member is female
Posts: 18327
Location: NE New Jersey
Number of Birds Owned: 30
Types of Birds Owned: Toos, grays, zons, canaries, finches, cardinals, senegals, jardine, redbelly, sun conure, button quail, GCC, PFC, lovebirds
Flight: Yes

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