I was going to start this post off with `It never ceases to amaze me…’ but ya know what? When it comes to hearing about really outdated and downright destructive advice given to parrot owners it really doesn’t amaze me - I've heard it all and keep hearing it. The tragedy is that bad advice is common advice – good advice is still the exception. The following is an excerpt from a recent e-mail I received that demonstrates the point I make fairly regularly here about the perpetuation of bad behaviour management information and improper handling techniques with parrots. The context is a 10-year-old Galah that has completely lost trust in human hands…
`We took him to (location removed – as tempting as it is to name and shame) and the handler there advised that this can be normal behaviour in male birds preferring a female owner. We were also shown how to use a towel to handle him properly and to scratch him on his head while holding him. Unfortunately he won't even let (name removed) scratch him then - he just keeps trying to bite him.’
Ahhh – the good old fashioned `Towel Hold’. That old chestnut. Love the way the parrot owner referred to the person giving the advice (and demonstration!) as the `handler’. Anyone getting visions of a burly kaki clad lion `tamer’/`bird whisperer'. I bet he had a multi-tool in a leather pouch on his belt too. Ahh... maybe that’s just my colourful imagination. Anyways - nothing like a relationship building session that entails wrapping your petrified polly in a towel like a big old carpet python and giving him some tender lovin’ strokes on the head to let him know that it’s all good in the hood eh? And all involved are still surprised at why such a strategy resulted in a parrot that wanted to bite them and still won’t go near them? I’m all for a good cuddle every now and then but I’m pretty sure if that involved being straight-jacketed and patted on the head repeatedly I’d probably develop a wee bit of an aversion to that experience after a while. Wouldn’t matter how many sweet nothings were being whispered in my ear. The above excerpt isn’t unusual. Last month I had another client who had purchased an Alexandrine from a pet store in Logan (Brisbane south) under the assertion that it was eating food fine and only give it some formula if it’s hungry (Huh? It was a 10 week old Alex!) and it would make a fine `friend’ for their existing pet Green-cheeked Conure (Wha?). No prizes for guessing the outcome there.
I want to note that not all bird stores fail in properly educating their staff on non-invasive, trust building approaches to behaviour management and sound husbandry information. Indeed, at my recent seminar day in Sydney, a prominent Brisbane bird retailer had basically their whole bird department team in attendance! Such a commitment to the professional development of retail staff is to be applauded (three cheers to Pet City Mt Gravatt and the staff in attendance – inspirational stuff! I’ll spend my hard earned there thanks). The problem is that proper staff training at bird retailers simply doesn’t happen outside of a few exceptional stores. The retailers can cry all they like about not being able to afford PD for their staff but I’m not sympathetic. It doesn’t cost anything to tell staff that instead of giving crap advice on behaviour and training they should instead refer the client to properly qualified sources. They stand to gain more from that person seeking out and obtaining information that actually `works’ and improves their relationship with their bird than potentially lose that client as a result of them implementing damaging advice and making the situation worse rather than better. With resources such as those produced by Barbara Heidenreich (www.goodbirdinc.com) easily available through multiple sources in Australia there’s a perfect opportunity to sell products that have sound advice rather than attempting to be the source of solutions that are a bad reflection of our past approaches to parrot care. That for my mind is a win-win approach – income generated for the retailer and a sense of responsibility for self-education placed back on the bird owner.
Got a similar tale to tell? E-mail it to me - keeps me inspired to keep doing what I do.
Regaining trust with parrots - more about relationship building, reinforcement and respect - less about UFC towel holds.