Trained Parrot BlogParrot Wizard Online Parrot Toy StoreThe Parrot Forum

Building Trust with my Father's Bird

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

Building Trust with my Father's Bird

Postby jackbollda » Mon Jul 06, 2020 10:18 pm

Hi everybody!

I've been working on building my relationship with my father's bird Lali, and have had some difficulties. I live at home on break from university, and grew up around this bird (African Grey, age 35), so we're very familiar with each other. I pet her every day on the back of the head, dance with her, have little conversations with her, sing to her, etc. but she doesn't trust me to step on my hand.

She does, of course, step on my father's hand. The catch is that I think he's an unskilled trainer. For example, she'll only ever step *backwards* onto his hand, and often refuses to step on his hand at all, when she's "not in the mood," as he puts it. He's had a few parrots, and he jokes that she's the most neurotic, but I remain optimistic that I can build trust with her and teach her not only to step on my hand, but to step-up on command.

Specifically, if I offer her my hand by lowering it to the level of her feet -- I've tried offering the palm, the side of my hand, three fingers, the wrist -- she stops it with her beak as if to say "stop, no more of that." I don't want to push past her comfort zone, so we never seem to get past me offering the hand and her pushing it away with her beak.

Given that she trusts some physical contact (petting) from me, but doesn't accept other contact, what do you recommend I try? Books or guides I could read? I've tried to initiate stick training, but she's afraid of the stick! (I started with a chopstick and went down to a matchstick, to no avail.)

Thanks!
Last edited by jackbollda on Tue Jul 07, 2020 4:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
jackbollda
Parakeet
 
Gender: This parrot forum member is male
Posts: 2
Number of Birds Owned: 1
Types of Birds Owned: African Grey Parrot
Flight: No

Re: Building Trust with my Father's Bird

Postby Pajarita » Tue Jul 07, 2020 10:16 am

Hi, Jack and Dad's grey (you did not give us its name), welcome to the forum.

Hmmm, I am afraid that you have a super uphill climb with this... All parrots are one-person pets but grays are notorious for their single-minded allegiance to just one person and one person alone so while other species will easily to uneasily (depending on the species) tolerate and some will even like other people that become familiar to them, grays usually don't. And it's not that your father is not a good trainer when he says that she doesn't step up when she is not 'in the mood' and that she is a bit neurotic - that's the way grays are. They are highly intelligent birds and they can be quite stubborn in their ways. The more intelligent a species is, the more difficult they are to convince to do something they don't want to do. Parrots think like people do, they have 'general intelligence' (there is a great study on this) which means that they can take two things that would be unrelated and put them together to reach a conclusion and that's why it's so incredibly hard to 'trick' them after the first or second time.

Now, to help you with your endeavor (which I cannot guarantee will work to your satisfaction but which will improve things A LOT), you need to choose your interaction time properly and always use her high value item first as a gift and later as a reward. The right diet is of outmost importance because if you free-feed protein, you will not really find a good high value item for her PLUS, if the bird is overly-hormonal, she will cling to her relationship with your father (her mate) forever. So, solar light schedule and proper diet is essential to 'free' her from too many sexual hormones in her bloodstream. Once she is not hormonal and you have identified her high value item, you should start spending time with her just talking/whistling/singing/dancing to her and, every now and then, whenever she does something positive (allows you to scratch her head, bobs up and down following the rhythm of your song or dances along with you), call her a GOOD GIRL! and give her a high value item (you can use a clicker for this, if you want - I never found them necessary to train an animal but some people find them useful). As time goes by, she will start looking forward to your 'visits' and, when she does (you will see this by her body language - which is something you should observe and learn), you can start asking her to step up and, when and if she does, reward her with the Good Girl! and the high value item. But do NOT impose on her! Grays do NOT appreciate pushy people. You ask once, if she doesn't do it, walk away - come back in 5 minutes, ask again and, if she doesn't, walk away - ask a third time and, if she doesn't do it this time, do not ask again until the next day. She needs to feel that it is HER choice and that, if she decides to do it, there will be a reward but it is ultimately always up to her.

Now, to teach her to step up from the front, put the 'gift' on your open palm while you are 'wooing' her and, at the beginning, put it right in front of her face but, when you see that she is taking it every single time without hesitation, start putting it lower until it's at her feet level and, when you start training her to step up, start by putting your hand (with the open palm up and the high value item on it) a bit far so she needs to put one foot on your open palm to reach it. Do not make it more than a teeny tiny little step and a mere stretching of the neck at the beginning BUT when you see that she is doing it all the time (you need to wait until she does it several days in a row with a single hesitation), start holding your open palm in front of her, just as you have been doing all along with the reward on it but you are now holding the reward on your other hand so when she 'half-steps' on it, she is grabbing the treat from your other hand and not from your open palm. When you see she is grabbing the reward from your fingers without a problem, you start making the distance between her and the treat bigger so she needs to step up completely (both feet on your hand) before she can reach it. When you get her to do this consistently, start taking a couple of slow, steady steps with her on your hand BEFORE you give her the treat (mind you, everytime she does something right, you need to praise, praise, praise as well as give her the reward).


With parrots, the key is husbandry (because you need to feed right, keep the bird from being overly hormonal, timing interactions right, etc for things to work), patience (because EVERYTHING takes a long time with them), consistency (ALWAYS do/say the same thing with always the same consequence: command, action, praise, reward) and persistence (it takes MANY MANY tries to get always right).
Pajarita
Norwegian Blue
 
Gender: This parrot forum member is female
Posts: 17510
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

Re: Building Trust with my Father's Bird

Postby jackbollda » Tue Jul 07, 2020 5:01 pm

Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply, Pajarita

The bird's name is Lalibela or Lali, named after a town in Ethiopia because she's an african grey :gray:

She's quite a smarty pants! So I can definitely see willfullness as a component. I think, like many (relatively) inexperienced parrot people, I'm applying the psychology of dogs and cats onto the bird.

One concern I have in my father's treatment of the bird is that he uses the 'towel of doom' to sometimes get her to do things. For example, we let her roam our living room / ground floor every evening after dinner (wings clipped), but when we want her to go back in the cage for whatever reason, and she won't step up on his hand, we sometimes have to get out the scary towel and wave it at her / chase her. I always feel bad about this, because I worry that it is obvious negative reinforcement. This is one reason I want to get her to step up on command, so we don't have these kinds of negative interactions!

My father also tends to introduce new toys and perches by just plopping them into the cage, and letting the bird acclimate. (This is something I've already changed with him, in terms of introducing things gradually.)

So I don't want to throw shade on my father, but I think he makes some mistakes.

Anyway, two questions:
1. Should I take protein out of her free-fed diet? We feed her a good brand of bird pellets, and add banana chips, veggies, and peanuts, walnuts and cashews. Should I reserve nuts only for treats? Or alternatively should I find some new treat that she likes? (We used to give her cheese and sunflower seeds every day, but I put a stop to that.)
2. Could you expand on solar light schedule? We keep her in a porch with tons of natural light, windows on three sides. She's docile in the evenings, which is when I usually work with her.

Thank you again for your kind and thoughtful advice.
Jack
jackbollda
Parakeet
 
Gender: This parrot forum member is male
Posts: 2
Number of Birds Owned: 1
Types of Birds Owned: African Grey Parrot
Flight: No

Re: Building Trust with my Father's Bird

Postby Pajarita » Wed Jul 08, 2020 8:12 am

Ahhhh, Lalibela - what a beautiful name! Don't be too hard on your father - every single one of us has made and continues to make mistakes with them. I am afraid that as defeatist as this sounds, it's the truth because we, humans, as mammals, are not really mentally prepared to deal with a highly intelligent avian species. We all default to what we are used to and, as you pointed out, it's dogs which are not only domesticated and have been bred for thousands of generations to be people-oriented but also have completely different needs and psychological make-up.

OUCH on the diet she is getting! Mostly protein and free-fed, at that. That's soooo not good for her... And for several reasons - one of them being why she gives you so much trouble when you want to put her in her cage. People often don't realize that, when it comes to parrots, more is not better. I would strongly suggest you change her diet ASAP because, at her age and being clipped, you have no time to waste. Has she had a bile acids test done recently? Or even a regular blood chem panel? Because I bet that she shows high uric acid and bile acids levels and, possibly, also high cholesterol so, if this hasn't been done, I suggest you do it just so you have an idea what your are dealing with and take steps (like given her liver and kidney cleansers and tonics ). I have a 20 year old gray, also a female, and she eats gloop with raw produce for breakfast and a mix of seeds and nuts for dinner (but it's mostly nuts - walnuts, almonds, filberts, pistachios, cashews, pecans, brazil but not all at once, of course). This, plus a good multivitamin/mineral supplement twice a week does the trick. She is a healthy, happy, well-adjusted bird with absolutely no issues whatsoever.

Yes, the 'towel of doom' is not a good idea... especially since she is clipped and cannot fly away from it as her natural instinct would be so the whole thing must be terribly stressful to her, poor thing! But if she was given the right diet with protein only for dinner and for rewards/treats, and exposed to a strict solar schedule, she would be more than willing to go into her cage -as long as she spends enough time out of it on a regular basis. I don't have a single bird that gives me any trouble going back into their cages, they all know what 'Go home' means and some of them even go in on their own - all I have to do is say: "Epuish! Go home! Que rica papa!" and he flies from wherever he is to the top of his cage and climbs down swinging inside the cage on its own. They are so willing that I have even trained the ones that do not step up at all (not to a hand or to a stick) to do it on their own. Mind you, this is not to my personal credit! It's nature at work - all I do is follow Mother Nature's guidelines and the premises are very simple: if you do not free-feed protein, the bird will be more than happy to go into its cage to get it AND if you keep it at a strict solar schedule, once it gets dark enough for it to start producing melatonin, it will get drowsy and will look for its roosting perch. Nature took hundreds of thousands of years to finetune their bodies so they are hard-wired for this and all you are doing is giving them the stimuli at the right time of the day. The truth of the matter is that emulating the conditions that they evolved to live under is not only best for the bird because it keeps it healthy and happy but also much, much easier for the human!

The solar schedule is just that: a schedule that follows the sun so the days are longer in the summer and shorter in the winter. The first trick is to expose them to twilight because it is the different spectrum that only happens during these two events that turns on or off their internal clock - and the number of hours in between is what tells their bodies what should happen at that time during the year: breeding, molting, migrating, etc. Birds are governed by a single internal clock that works both for the daily routine (circadian cycle) and the annual seasons (circannual cycle) and it all has to do with light. They are the most visually and light dependent species of ALL the vertebrates. And so, the light of dawn (first greyish turning into golden/orangey) wakes them up and makes them want to eat their breakfast and drink water (parrots, like most prey animals, are crepuscular feeders because twilight reduces the predators vision by 10%), once satiated, they bathe, interact, preen, etc - then they rest at noon - once they are active again, they preen, interact, etc until the sun begins to go down (light turning orangey/reddish until it turns bluish/greyish again once the sun is completely out) which tells them it's time to eat dinner and, as the day wanes more and more, the darkening activates the production of melatonin which makes them go looking for their roosting perch so they can sleep. Think of chickens or the birds out on the trees... And the second trick is to make sure the bird is not receiving ANY artificial light during the night so you need to make sure there is no light sneaking into her cage (no light from a street or garden light, no light from another room, no TV light, etc). People talk about night frights but, in my personal opinion and experience, the only birds that suffer them are birds that are not being kept correctly because none of my birds ever had them (and I cared for, literally, hundreds of them when I had my rescue). Well, actually, when I first moved back to NJ, my tiels were having them and I couldn't figure out why until I spent a night in the birdroom to see what was going on in there and realized that they were getting a sliver of light from a corner street lamp. Once I put black out drapes in that window, no more night frights.
Pajarita
Norwegian Blue
 
Gender: This parrot forum member is female
Posts: 17510
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


Return to Taming & Basic Training

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 11 guests

Parrot ForumArticles IndexTraining Step UpParrot Training BlogPoicephalus Parrot InformationParrot Wizard Store