I don't want to have to deny Kili the opportunity to go outside in the summer because she is now flighted so I decided to get an early start on harness training so that by the time the weather gets warmer, she'll be ready to go.
Two days ago I took Kili and just put the harness on her. It wasn't a problem and she wasn't scare of it because I trained her a bit in the presence of it. She is so hand tame that I did not have a problem just grabbing her and slipping the harness on. I took it on and off three times and gave her a reward each time. I also cued tricks from her while wearing the harness and recalled her to my hand while wearing it. This all seemed great except by the next day she was terrified of the harness. I could force it onto her quite easily but if I approached her with the harness freely, she'd panic and fly away. This is bad in the long term because she will be stressed wearing the harness and not enjoy it.
So I decided to train Kili to accept the harness willingly through positive and negative reinforcement based training. I will document by progress here as well as post videos that demonstrate how I am doing all of this. This should be useful not only to parrot owners that want to be able to get a harness onto their parrot but also for owners trying to introduce anything new to the parrot as well as techniques for taming. If your parrot is not yet hand tame, you can mostly use the same techniques with just your hands without the presence of a harness with equal success.
I would like to ask everyone not to reply on this thread because I intend to keep adding new update posts as progress goes on. So in the interest of maintaining a sequence, I'd like the community discussion to take place on a separate thread and leave this one just for the story as it develops. Thanks.
I am starting out the harness training using both positive and negative reinforcement. Kili is already hand tame so I don't have to worry about her biting or being scared of me so I can proceed right to harness training. If your parrot is not already hand tame, you can start by checking out my How to Step Up Without Biting Article. If your parrot already steps up and is used to you but is not hand tame, you can follow the steps in this training guide for the harness without the harness. Just do the same process to desensitize your parrot to your hands first and then introduce the harness in later sessions. The technique I will demonstrate here for taming also can be useful for handling your parrot for grooming.
Step 1 - Visual Desensitization
If you are working to harness train your parrot, odds are it is flighted and will try to fly away from the harness. This is great! Your parrot is telling you it is scared so there is no communication misinterpretation and you know exactly what the parrot is thinking. If you are hand taming a parrot (especially one that isn't a baby) that is clipped, unless you are good at reading body language, you will not realize as easily at which point you have pushed the parrot's comfort threshold and will get bit! What can I say, you'll find out where it is. If you always stay more cautious and don't rush the training, you should be able to let the parrot progress ahead of your involvement and not get bit. Don't give up though. Results are not immediately guaranteed. Some people may be able to breeze through this in a day with their bird while it could take others years. It really depends on the parrot and its life experiences. Be careful not to go faster than the parrot can handle or you will not achieve desired results. On the surface it may seem that the parrot accepts the harness but in the long run it will still have a fear of it.
Begin desensitization by letting the parrot see the harness from a distance. Don't rush at the parrot with the harness. A good way to disassociate the scary harness from yourself is to lay it at a distance from the parrot's cage and let it see it. Progressively put it closer and closer. Once the parrot is used to seeing the harness without panicking, you can begin the visual training. Lay the harness near where you train the parrot and cue some behaviors. If it doesn't know any tricks, at least target it around. Don't even target the parrot to the harness right away. Just get the parrot distracted so it can forget about the harness. Just train the parrot around the harness as if it isn't there so it can realize that it is not coming after it.
Step 2 - Target Training
Once the parrot isn't paying attention to the harness, you can start targeting the parrot toward the harness. This doesn't mean targeting it right up to the harness right away if it isn't comfortable. Start by targeting it in the direction of the harness first and progressively closer and closer till the parrot has to touch the harness to get to the target stick. Don't forget that for taming you can just substitute your hand instead of the harness and target your parrot toward your hands. Of course you should be giving the parrot treats and/or praise every time it comes toward the harness or target stick.
Step 3 - You Touching Harness & Approaching
The next step is to start touching the harness with your hands. All this time it was laying limp there but now you want to start being able to hold the harness without scaring the bird. You are going to have to feel your parrot's fear threshold. If it is flying away the moment you touch the harness, you're going to have to do less. For instance hover your hand over the harness and reward the parrot. Then touch the harness and reward. Next you can try to just lift the tip of the harness and reward. And so on. Just get more and more involved with the harness while staying below the parrot's fear threshold where it flees or bites. Once you are able to life the harness and hold it, start to approach the harness toward your parrot. Don't rush this or it will scare the parrot and it will continue being scared cause it remembers being scared last time. To accurately gauge your parrot's fear, let it stand free so it could run or fly away if it is scared. Approach the harness toward the parrot until it gets ready to flee. Hold it there and if the parrot doesn't move away, take the harness away and reward. Here is where we start including some negative reinforcement. We demonstrate to the parrot that remaining calm and not fleeing will eventually make the scary harness (hand, novel object, etc) go away.
Step 4 - Touching Harness to Parrot
Continue this exercise until you can touch the harness to the parrot without any panic. Continue rewarding progress as you go along. Remember to keep increasing your demands with every try (as long as the parrot is accepting it). While you don't want to rush things, you don't want to take it too slow or the parrot will get too comfortable with the harness being far away and be less willing to take it closer. One thing I did to expedite training (which is not for everyone) was to use a bit of flooding coupled with positive reinforcement. Some people throw a fit when they hear the f word and swear up and down that you are a horrible person for doing it. However, I believe that when done properly and with reinforcement, flooding can successfully expedite parrot taming. Don't take it lightly though, if you do it wrong or over-zealously, your parrot could lose trust in you. Kili already trusts me and I have been socializing her to new things all the time so if I force the harness onto her, she won't hate me. There is a chance she could hate the harness for it though. This is why (as you'll see in my video) I went back and forth in my techniques and constantly gauged her fear threshold. The way I did the flooding based technique was to trap Kili from running away by either holding her or blocking her way and bringing the harness towards her. If I didn't hold her, she would have probably flown away or backed away. Then I wouldn't have the chance to reward her for being near the harness and showing her that it is harmless and ok. So I held her and slowly brought the harness toward her, stopped, and then rewarded. Then I held her and brought the harness closer, held it there, took it away, and rewarded. I kept increasing the duration and proximity until I could lay the harness on her, let go of her, wait a while, take the harness off, and reward her. This technique makes the training go much quicker cause it forces the parrot to try it and realize it's not bad and in fact rewarding. Until the parrot realizes it is safe and rewarding it won't want to try and if it doesn't try it won't know which causes a cycle and blocks progress. This is why I find a little bit of flooding to actually make positive reinforcement training progress go much better.
None of the steps I outlined in day 1 actually involve putting the harness on the parrot. All of these steps are to desensitize the parrot to the harness. This lesson may take longer than a single day for many people and you have to work at a pace that your parrot can handle while always establishing progress (even it it is to hold the harness an inch closer or a few seconds longer). At no point in this stage do we clip the harness on the parrot. We are just trying to establish a trusting atmosphere between you, parrot, and harness (or whatever you are taming/introducing parrot to). In the next lesson I will talk about starting to put the harness onto the parrot a little bit.
I'm going to try to video all of my progress on the harness training for the benefit of the parrot community. This skills are important not only for the use of the harness but for all sorts of taming and introduction of novel objects. Here is a 10 minute selection out of the 30 minute training session. It's a bit long/boring but I just wanted everyone to see how progress is slow but to also see progress and development over the time period. Just keep in mind that the video is basically 3 times quicker progress than in actuality.
Since we were so successful in our first day of desensitization taming with the harness, I decided to step things up for the second day of training. I cheated a little bit and had a few micro sessions aside from the formal video/article training sessions in between but these were not significant. They just helped me review and remind the parrot that the harness is good. Without the additional few attempts between training sessions, I might have just had to spend an extra 5 minutes in the beginning of this session more reviewing the previous techniques. I just want everyone to know that I'm getting a fast pace of progress with Kili because I work with her a lot. I don't want the readers rushing the training with their parrot if the parrot needs more time.
I began day 2 of training with a brief review of approaching the harness to the parrot and touching it to the parrot. She did an excellent job and did not back away at all. She was more eager than ever to be close to the harness material because she grasped the concept that harness = treats. I didn't have to spend more than 5 times practicing the previous day's training to get her ready for the new stuff.
All of day 2 training was focused on putting the collar around the parrot's head. I started the training by putting the collar around Kili's head. I started using the clicker to mark the moment the collar slips over hear head to point out that this is the critical behavior I am looking for. She caught on pretty quickly and was soon walking over to the harness and sticking her own head through the ring. So another focus of the second training session was duration. I tried to distract her from thinking about the harness for as long as possible to increase her harness wearing stamina.
The process for getting the parrot to put its head through the collar of the harness is similar to day 1 taming and training in general. Squeeze the collar to compress it into a circle and hold it open so it is easy for the head to slip into it. For the first few times put it onto your parrot. If the parrot stands still and let's you put it on, you are ready to be doing this step. If the parrot panics or tries to flee, you are going to have to keep repeating the day 1 portion of training until the parrot is comfortable enough with the harness to let you put the ring on its head. Put the collar on the parrot and provide a treat. Wait a little bit and then take it off. Keep repeating this and to expedite training, you can use a clicker to click the moment the head slides into the collar.
Up till now, you've been putting the ring on the parrot's head but start to reverse the roles. Let the parrot move its head into the collar. Bring the collar just up to the parrot's head without putting it through completely and wait for the parrot to finish the motion. You can target or lure the parrot the first few times if it doesn't get it. Soon enough, you should be able to put the collar on the parrot's head without difficulty. Do not let the parrot bite the harness or turn away. If you have to, hold the parrot's head a little to get the harness on the first time. You shouldn't have to hold the parrot or the head after this though if the parrot understands what do to. If you have to hold the parrot or head, your parrot is still uncomfortable and you have to slow down and go back to taming. Please remember that the timing of the guide (day1, 2, etc) is my pace and your pace could well vary. This isn't a strict day by day curriculum but just a report of my own progress. It could well take a week of each step or more for a parrot that is really terrified of the harness.
Here is the video for the second day of harness training Kili. Once again keep in mind that this is 10 minutes out of a 30 minute session so I had to cut out about half the exercises out of the video. So the rate of progress in the video is about 2 to 3 times actual progress speed. However, from the beginning to end of the movie you can definitely see a transformation where the parrot goes from just being ok around the harness to willingly walking up to it and sticking her head through the collar and wearing the collar for a duration of time.
The third day of harness training is when all the taming/training of previous lessons came to pay off. This is the first time I got to put the harness entirely on Kili without her panicking or trying to chew it off. By now she is used to the sight of it and is used to the concept of putting it on from previous training sessions.
Prior to sticking it on, I reviewed the skills built the previous day by holding the collar open and letting Kili stick her head into it herself. After all, if she is doing it herself then she doesn't feel forced and I know she will be ok if I proceed. So after a couple quick practice runs, I just went right into putting the harness on. I already knew the procedure from putting it on (from watching the DVD that came with the harness and having forced on Kili before) how to attach the straps. It is important to don the straps carefully not to pinch any feathers. The harness should be worn fairly snug so the parrot can't wiggle out of it but still leave enough room to breath and so the harness could self adjust position.
The first time I put the harness on during this session, I rewarded for each step of the way. Unsuspecting, I let Kili put her head into the collar without letting her realize I would go all the way through with putting on the harness. I rewarded for putting on the collar and while she ate the big sun flower seed I gave her for staring off, I snuck one wing into the harness as well. I continued by rewarding for each wing inserted into the harness and then one more treat for finishing off tightening the whole harness. Kili clearly found it awkward but she did not much resist. I waited for her to calm down, cued some tricks, then took off the harness.
Here is an important thing to keep in mind in order not to jeopardize all of the progress you had made up till this point in training: practice letting the parrot put its head into the collar much more times than putting on the entire harness. If every single time you ask your parrot to volunteer to put its head in it gets the entire harness forced on it, quite likely it will realize that it's not worth the little treat for sticking head in when it's going to be forced to be locked into the uncomfortable harness. This is why I just keep requesting the parrot to put its head in and rewarding and then picking a random one of those to strap the harness on all the way. This way the parrot doesn't know which time will be just a treat for putting head through or which time will require the full strapping into harness. This ensures that the parrot continues to willingly put its head into the collar. If your parrot starts to get reluctant to put its head into the collar (unless you exhausted the training session), you should continue laying off the strapping in and doing a greater number of collar donning exercises.
Once the parrot got through the basics of putting the harness on and off about five times, I decided to move on to a little bit of mobility training. I targeted her around the table to force her to walk in the harness. She has to learn to walk over again as she was normally accustomed to doing this naked. She also had trouble using her foot to eat her seeds so the extra treats provided extra practice to hold her balance with the harness on. Finally I started doing some short flights/recalls to and from her perch to as far as the short chord would allow. At this point she is fully functional with the harness and it is just a matter of exposure time for her to get used to and comfortable with it. This is why I decided for the next few weeks to let Kili eat all of her evening meals while wearing the harness.
For now I am worried about the harness getting tangled in the cage, so I'm just letting her eat on top of her cage while wearing the harness. This is like 30 minutes of non-stop positive reinforcement for wearing the harness. She will not only get used to wearing the harness but will learn to associate meal time with the sight of the harness. So unlike originally scaring away from the harness, she should eventually start to look forward to wearing it. Think of it as a conditioned stimulus like smelling cooking and getting ready to eat.
This will probably be the final video in this series since I achieved my goal of safely putting the harness on my parrot without scaring her. I may come up with some updates if I have any training break throughs with it and naturally I'll be making some new videos when I am ready to fly the parrot with the harness.
A few weeks ago we had a warm weather streak for an entire week and every day was in the high 60's. I started taking Kili in the backyard wearing her harness and soon started taking her to the playground/park a few blocks away.
The first day I took her there I was worried about her getting too scared to I grasped her in my hand when walking into the park and held her tight for the first few minutes so she could get used to things. Eventually I started to let her perch on my finger but I wrapped the harness chord tight around the hand she was on so that she could not go anywhere. The wrist loop I had clipped to my belt so I was more concerned about her crashing into something or hitting the end of the leash than getting lost.
As she started getting used to the bustle of rowdy children playing, I began to loosen up my grip and cue her to do tricks. Every once in a while kids would come over and wonder about her and I would show them to her and she would perform tricks.
I clip her harness or leash directly to my pants to avoid any chance of it getting loose. Kili has been enjoying the sun, attention, and outdoor experience.
Originally I just had her on the 5ft leash that is built into the harness. Now I have been progressively lengthening it to 5, 10, 15, and now 20 feet plus the 5 feet built in. I use a strong nylon kite string to extend the harness. Kili does fine with the longer recalls but the longer string poses a few problems. Firstly it is becoming more difficult to manage, drag around, and not trip on. Secondly, if Kili misses the landing or flies off, there is a greater chance of her getting the string tangled on something or someone. So I don't think I'm going to be lengthening the string anymore than the current 25 foot allowance until I start flying her at a more open location. Not shown in these videos but I've even been flying her with some stronger winds as well.
I just wanted to add a supplement to the original harness training series I created a year ago. After a winter of no harness use, it became difficult to put a harness on Kili. However, nothing a little positive reinforcement training wouldn't solve. After about 2 treats for sticking her head into the collar she remembered everything she learned last year about the harness and was as good as before. So just because a parrot used to do it, doesn't mean it still will now. But usually it takes much less training to bring the old knowledge back.
I also needed to follow the same training process, that I had done with Kili, now with Truman. He was becoming scared of the harness and didn't want to put it on. I simply followed the 3 day plan as outlined above with Truman, put the harness on in full for a week for a nut, and he's nearly as good as Kili now about having his harness put on. Check out the complete article about retaming Truman to wear his flight harness.
i seriously want a harness for my but i dont know where to get on, i see many places online but they are all in america and i live in south africa in the western cape!! i want to start training as soon as possible. i would ship it here but i dont know how to since i amd only 14
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