Sunday, November 8, 2009

Next ABK Issue – it’s on `target’ for a great read ☺

I hope that some of you bought the latest ABK Magazine and had a chance to read about my experiences with Lola, my Yellow-crowned Amazon parrot. I think it’s a good little story and one that shares the simple fact that it doesn’t matter how experienced you are, or how much you think you’re prepared, life with parrots is always full of new challenges and reminders that you’ve still got a whole darn lot more to learn. If you didn’t get the mag, and therefore didn’t read my article, well, ah, may your parrot poop on your best shirt tomorrow! Anyway – I’ve just sent off the Pet Parrot Pointers column for the Dec/Jan issue, which will be out in the second week of December. I thought about doing some kind of daggy `What to buy your parrot for Christmas’ thing but I just couldn’t. Read `Bird Talk’ for that – guaranteed to have a parrot somewhere in an issue at that time of year wearing a Santa hat or some other barf inducing prop (God I hope they Photoshop those images). Nope – I thought I’d give the gift that keeps on giving and write up an article on Target Training J Hey, maybe that’s what you can buy your parrot for Christmas – a Target Training stick! One of those super-dooper telescopic ones that extend out like a TV antenna (for those of you who are pre-plasma generation and actually know what an antenna is). Actually those target sticks are pretty neat – I have one and love it. You can pick them up from if you’re in Australia. Either that or just nick a chop-stick next time you’re out feasting on a Sweet ‘n Sour dish at your local greasy spoon.

One of the applications of stationing a parrot to touch a target that I’ve been applying is with Lola – the aforementioned Amazon Parrot. She’s never been keen on tactile handling, always been a little on the averse side to hands, and not been one for a good old ruffle of the nape feathers. With a little use of the target and pairing some approximations of reduced proximity of my fingers towards her head, then a touch, then increasing touch duration, she’s come around and is now a bit of a glutton for a good old preen and cranial massage J Nice work Jimbo – and thanks for the patience Lola! The other pic is PJ, my Caique. He used to go into pet packs no problemo, but I’ve been slack in keeping this up. A good reminder about training some of these behaviours – use it or lose it! Anyway, I’m back to working with him and getting him re-acquainted with the scary plastic box again. The target helps and hopefully this time we’ll keep it up. Read more in the ABK Dec/Jan issue. Available at newsstands absolutely everywhere on Earth from mid-December J

Top 5 Reasons Why I Do What I Do... Number 1

So here we are – `Numero Uno’ reason for being a parrot behaviour and enrichment consultant eh? Hmmm. You know, any of the previous reasons I shared in earlier posts is enough to keep me motivated to do what I do. But there is one reason that really out-does the others. I want you to take a good look at the image above. It’s a nice little head study of an African Grey parrot. Neat looking bird huh? The thing about African Greys is that when you look into their eyes, I mean really look, you can’t help but be a little overawed with the realisation that there is some serious neuron firing going on inside that head of theirs. Any of you who have been up close and personal with a Grey will know what I mean. It’s different. I mean, these guys really do look back at you as if to say - `Yeah - I breathe, I think, I make decisions, I’m a complex, sensitive creature – what are you gonna do to keep me occupied today?’ Obviously I have no real idea what that Grey, or any other parrot for that matter, is `really’ thinking – but that doesn’t stop me from making a double take every time I look at one of these guys and just wonder – just wonder.

Anyway, thinking that Greys are pretty darn neat isn’t what I’m on about here for my `Number 1’. The thing about that headshot above is that it’s actually a close-up of the bird below. My bird. Not someone asking for my help for his or her feather plucked parrot, my bird. You see, the number one reason why I do what I do is because I’ve actually lived through the problems, the traumas, the heartaches, the frustrations, the sense of despair, and the self-evaluation as a parrot owner that often leaves you asking... `Why?

When I’m supporting a client, it’s not just with a few snippets of advice I gleaned from an Internet chat board, or read in a magazine, or heard about from Barry the breeder down the road, or just made up because I have no `real’ reference point to work from but it sounds good in theory. More often than not, I’ve lived it. I’ve walked in your shoes. I understand the sadness, the relationship strains, and the confusion that often envelops your life when things go bad with a parrot that you brought into your home. The flipside is that I also know what it takes to get to the other side – to get that parrot trusting me again, to get its feathers back, to communicate with me in a way other than screaming its lungs out. That’s because I haven’t just lived through the problems, I’ve taken the weeks, months, and sometimes years, to live through the solutions.

That African Grey in the picture? His name is Cheeky. He came to us 5 years ago at the age of 25, in the same state he is in today. He’s probably plucked himself like that for a good 27 or 28 of those 30 years and unfortunately, it’s unlikely he’ll ever experience the sensation of lift beneath his wings. He has some of the most intensely stereotypical picking behaviour I’ve seen in a parrot. It doesn’t make me feel any better knowing that he’s always been that bad though. When I go around to my birds each day, I stop and have a chat with Cheek, look at him in the eye, and get reminded of a simple goal – Don’t give up, keep doing what you do, keep trying to make a difference. So, when Cheeky looks at me as if to say, `What are you gonna do for me today?’ – the answer is try – just keep on trying. In the process, the knowledge I gain will inevitably help someone else, and the ripple effect flows on from there. That little bald guy is the most important parrot in my aviaries, my inspiration, and my reminder that I owe it to them to do what I do – bigtime. Number one reason why I do what I do as a matter of fact J

Top 5 Reasons Why I Do What I Do... Number 2

One of the most satisfying experiences working as a parrot behaviour and enrichment consultant is when your clients achieve success with a behaviour management issue that you have been working with them on. It’s particularly pleasing when the result is the repairing of a relationship with the bird when the owner had taken a few too many hits, or `bites’ to probably be more accurate ☺ It’s not just the trust rebuilding that brings the reward for all concerned, but the richness of the learning journey when you and your client investment in the time, commitment to the goal, and show the perseverance you sometimes need to stay on the pathway to success. It can be really challenging when you take a few backward steps when managing parrot behaviour, or working towards a training goal. But it’s exactly those moments that really bring out some of the most enriching and special learning experiences for me as a consultant, and hopefully likewise for the client.

Sometimes just getting a pet parrot to step back up onto the hand of an owner it has lost trust in is a monumental achievement and worthy of celebration. What most parrot owners consider the `simplest’ of behaviours that their parrot will present for them is also, in my opinion, one of the most important foundations of their relationship, and undoubtedly the best example of how good learning and relationship building is achieved through small, positively reinforced approximations.

Success in supporting a client to achieve a goal with their parrots, whether it be behavioural or environmental, is absolutely one of the top 5 reasons why I do what do ☺

Check out the neat little sequence below as an example of the approximations that were reinforced to achieve the final goal of this Quaker stepping onto the hand of a client I was working with – without the bite!