Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Tender Lovin’ Towel Hold

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 When it comes to hearing about really outdated and downright destructive advice given to parrot owners it really doesn’t amaze me - I've heard it all and keep hearing it.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.

Next ABK – New Series Starting

After 34 issues of ABK magazine featuring the Pet Parrot Pointers column I have covered an immense amount of ground in regards to foundational thinking for change in the way we manage the behaviour of our companion parrots. Reflecting on that scope of information sharing, I decided to put together a series of articles for the next 6 issues that take a specific species or species group focus based on my first-hand experiences in the behaviour clinic. In this series I discuss some of the common problems presented by the focus species and offer some practical advice on why those problems are seen and how to best develop some strategies to help manage them.  The pre-print copy I received this week of the graphic layout for the new series looks fantastic!!! I’m hoping that these are well-received and, over time, build a small library of species-specific information on companion parrot behaviour management. The first focus species is Rainbow Lorikeets. I’ll be looking at Eclectus Parrots for the second, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos for the third and Aratinga Conures for the fourth. Not sure about the 5th and 6th – that’s a long way off! You can subscribe at http://www.birdkeeper.com.au 

The above image is a snapshot of how each specific species discussion will be summarised in the form of a clinical `case study'. Looks pretty neat! In good news agencies second week of October.

Latest ABK – Correction

If you grabbed the latest issue of Australian Birdkeeper magazine you hopefully had the chance to read my latest Pet Parrot Pointers article. The article compares and contrasts the `Traditional’ model of companion parrot keeping with what I consider to be the `21st Century’ model that we all need to start advocating. It’s the first time (anywhere) that such a clear comparison has been made and I’m hopeful that the underlying philosophical approach to our keeping of parrots as companions within the framework of the 21st Century model will replace the traditional approach set that unfortunately is the most common and persistent mind set applied today. One problem with the final print version in the latest issue of ABK is a significant error in the final summary note on each of the visual models. Each model flows into an `outcome’ – a critical statement. Unfortunately, the same `outcome’ statement was printed for each model – they should be different. For those of you who may have read the article, please consider the following as the `correct’ way it should have been presented…

The `Traditional’ model (built on dominance based approaches and limited application of positive reinforcement based learning) should culminate in the outcome statement `Establishing conditions that lead to dysfunctional behaviour and challenge’. Conversely, The `21st Century’ model culminates in the outcome statement `Establishing conditions that lead to functional behaviour and success’.

If anyone would like a PDF copy of the two models then please e-mail me.