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Harlies progress (long story)

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

Harlies progress (long story)

Postby marie83 » Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:46 am

So I think most of you have some awareness of Harlies story (those that do can skip to the last 4 paragraphs or so if your interested) but for those who dont then I believe she was less than a year old when we got her. I don't know her entire background but I know she was fed a standard cockatiel mix, lived in a cage I wouldn't keep a budgie in and lived with two childen who violently shook her cage, screamed at her and poked anything that would fit through the bars at her.

I know that when I brought her home she was so terrified of people that she threw herself around her cage blindly if I so much as walked in the same room. This went on for a long time, even though I spoke to her before entering the room to try to avoid startling her, I only went near her cage to do essential jobs and I would always tell her exactly what I was doing next.

If I remember right it took around 6 months before she stopped freaking when I came in the room and sat down as far as possible away from her, I started to move my chair closer, inch by inch but it would always mean she freaked out again and I had to start again at the furthest point. By the time we had her a year she wasn't alot better for all the time I spent talking to her at a distance. It was 1 step forward and 5 back which was so disheartening as I felt like I was failing, the taming methods I used had worked with every single other bird I had in the past but the only real improvement with Harlie was I could get in the same room as her at a distance without her trying to break her neck.

So feeling like a complete failure I considered all sorts of other options such as flooding, leaving her to her wild ways and alot more besides, I was getting desperate to make her happy and secure again. I even considered rehoming her since I had come to the conclusion that I blatently didn't know what I was doing... I had failed to tame her, failed to convert her onto healthier foods etc. Only I was far too scared of what might happen to her if I abandoned her so I perservered. I continued the cycle of 1 step forward and 5 back but gradually over the next few months every now and again we would only take 4 steps back and the length of time until she was ready to take that one step forward again was decreasing little by little.

Eventually my little girl was brave enough to let me sit right outside her cage, every time she would climb right to the back of her cage then sometimes after a few minutes climb forward again until she was sat at the front. At this point I started offering her treats, usually she would hiss and not take them, other times she would. I started using food management techniques so she would be a little hungry but this didn't really help much to start with. Sometimes she would sit right at the back and shake but fairly soon she was coming down to see me most times even if she wouldn't take the food. That is where the progress stalled though, the next few yeas were spent with her going back several stages every time I asked her to do a teeny bit more, then I would have to work to get back to the point she would come to see me every single time.

Finally I found this website, I was originally looking for harness training advice for Ollie but then he got sick and constant medications made him scared of me too, despite me trying to keep it all nice and positive so the reward for excepting the bad things were greater. I couldn't get him back in his cage, I even had to move him into a smaller cage just to be able to catch and medicate him as no matter what I offered him he wouldn't come to me. The meds finished but our bond was broken, thats when I really started looking at this site and I started traiing Ollie to target (and then other things) in a bid to build the trust again. Seeing how well this was going with Ollie I decided target training Harlie may be the way to go.

At this point I set about introducing Harlie to the target stick, pretty much in the same way I got her used to my presence, I started far away and gradually moved closer. All went well until the point I was outside her cage with it and she flipped, I went back a few stages, I hid more of it in my hand etc but nothing was really helping. Now I wasn't going to have another few years of the stepping forward and back game so I abandoned the idea and went back to sitting outside her cage. She accepted this again very very quickly, in fact she even started climbing outside the cage on the perch which was there to get her seeds, at which point the progress stopped again- and she decided she no longer wanted to come onto the perch again.

I carried on regardless and eventually she not only started coming out onto the perch but occasionally she chose to climb onto my arm and would come and sit on my shoulder for a while. We still had several more backward steps but this past year the oare coming thick and fast in comparison to previous years. We even had a few occassions where she has tried to get to me herself which has resulted in some very awkward crash landings from which I have had to rescue her. This is to be expected though, she has never really flown before this year.

Then she got sick (about 5 months ago or so?) and needed meds, obviously I was most concerened about getting her better but I seriously feared for the progress we had made. By this point I had managed to change her onto a primarily pellet based diet but she still wouldn't touch damp foods, besides which she wasn't actually eating much, leaving me no choice but to go with the twice a day catching her thing...
To my suprise she dealt with this really really well, dont get me wrong she wasnt happy about it but neither did it do much damage to our relationship. She kept coming out her cage and allowing me to feed her but she stopped flying and climbing on me, she would also disappear back into her cage if I came near the cage.

Anyway from there more progress has been made and we are suffering fewer and fewer setbacks. Last night we had pretty much the best night yet, she flew over to us, then she was walking about, climbing over us quite confidently and responding very well to step up training.

up to 6 whole years on- to think I had almost given up on the idea she would ever tame, been in tears over her (several times) and feared for her. Dont get me wrong, we still have progress to make and I wish it hadn't taken so long but I have much higher hopes for her future now.

By the way I re-read through this and it does make her sound like she was cagebound until recently, this is not the case as since she was tame enough for me to go up to her cage without her freaking she has always had the opportunity to come out as we left her door open and walked away but until recently she never was brave enough to come out.
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marie83
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Re: Harlies progress (long story)

Postby friend2parrots » Fri Dec 14, 2012 9:00 pm

Thank you for sharing Harlie's story. Its a heartbreaking reminder of how deeply parrots remember things from many years past, how powerful their memories are. Its also a heartwarming story of patience, love, and a promise of recovery for Harlie, because she has a dedicated caregiver in you.

The progres you describe is really amazing - from thrashing around in the cage at the sight of a human to climbing around over you and your partner now. Harlie is lucky to have you work with her at her own pace. many traumatized birds never get better - they wither away in a state of constant acute stress in rescues because staff may not have the time to work with them to calm them down, as you have with Harlie.

Thanks again for writing Harlie's story - I enjoyed reading it very much. Best wishes on the journey toward her full recovery.
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Re: Harlies progress (long story)

Postby cml » Sat Dec 15, 2012 3:46 pm

It's great to hear of Harlies progress, that she wants to actually hang out and flies over to you is awesome! It might take time, but I am sure she will just keep on improving and improving!
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Re: Harlies progress (long story)

Postby GreenWing » Sat Dec 15, 2012 7:53 pm

My heart breaks for Harlie's previous treatment, but I am so glad she came into your life. Through your care and your building bond, she continues to heal and grow and make so much improvement. You've done so much for Harlie, and it shows. I am so happy for you. :)
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Re: Harlies progress (long story)

Postby terri » Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:13 pm

People should take note to your story.Obvious bird owners unfairly give up way to soon on their birds, because they dont meet up to their expectations.When was filling out adopting a bird forms one of the questions was what do you expect from your bird.My thought is whatever their willing to give, each bird has their own wonderfulness.Thank God your Harlie came across your path sounds like hes able to be secure and find happiness.Thumbs up to you for your perseverance :D
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Re: Harlies progress (long story)

Postby marie83 » Sun Dec 16, 2012 6:22 pm

Thanks everyone. I posted in the hope that it might show other people that might be in the same situation, struggling to tame a parrot (or any animal) what can be done and give hope to them.

I know in the post I mentioned that I considered rehoming her and honestly I did because I felt like I wasn't giving her the best, not because she was "hard work" or anything like that. The consideration to rehome her wasn't entirely a serious one though, it was born out of sheer frustration. I've always said if I take on an animal it is for life and I did mean it so hopefully now we have reached a stage where she can live out the rest of her life a much happier bird but is already such a relief to see how much fear she has lost, despite the setbacks.
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Re: Harlies progress (long story)

Postby marie83 » Wed Dec 19, 2012 1:41 pm

We have managed to go the past few days since the first post with no step backwards. This is a first so I'm very very pleased. Today she has stepped up 100% of the times she was asked to and after training very almost fell asleep on my hand, she even tucked her head into her wing a few times but I dont think she actually fell asleep.
I could cry with happiness :D I'm trying not to run away with ideas on what I want to teach her about just yet, further handling and carrier training are the priority but I also know how slowly I must go with her. I just cant help feeling excited about reducing her fears so hopefully she can live out the rest of her tormented life relatively peacefully.

Whats even better is although it has been me that has done all the work with her she is responding to my partner too when he asks for step up. I told him theres no way in a million years she would do it, sometimes it is nice to be proved wrong :D
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Re: Harlies progress (long story)

Postby friend2parrots » Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:13 pm

this is WONDERFUL ! I am so happy for you! :danicing:

congratulations - she sounds like she really loves and trusts you both in her heart. she's a lucky little bird! :)

keep up the great work!
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Re: Harlies progress (long story)

Postby CaitlinRice413 » Sat Jan 05, 2013 1:04 pm

:amazon:
Last edited by CaitlinRice413 on Mon Sep 08, 2014 6:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Harlies progress (long story)

Postby marie83 » Sun Mar 17, 2013 6:39 am

Well Harlies been on meds the past few days, I'm not sure whats different this time compared with last time but she has regressed really badly. We were at the point where she was stepping up almost 100% and we had just started to re-introduce the target stick which she is alot less freaked out by now.
I've no idea why she was so good at having her meds last time but this time is scared to death :(
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Pineapple Green Cheek Conure
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