Archive for February, 2008

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Parrot Responds Well to “Training Video”

February 28, 2008

Just have to share a funny anecdote.

I’ve been trying to take videos of Stewie during our training session.

Recently I had to laugh so hard when I was going through, editing a clip, and Stewie — who’s sitting on my arm — starts doing tricks in response to the cues he hears in the segments as I’m editing them … he was clearly a little confused, but when he heard my voice (in the video) say “wings up” he was a good boy and lifted his wings … even though, of course, he didn’t do it right in the video itself.

Of course he got a treat.

And then I had to stop editing the video because it was driving him nuts.

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Establishing Dominance Over Your Parrot?

February 22, 2008

I often hear it said that a lot of parrot behavior problems stem from the bird thinking it is “dominant” to the humans, and that the way to control the parrot is to reestablish the person’s flock leader position.

But research has shown that not only is it not important to establish “dominance” with birds, it doesn’t work. Sometimes they’ll test you to see what they can get away with, but they aren’t like dogs or wolves in that they jockey for alpha status.

I’m a huge fan of clicker training and the philosophy espoused by Melinda Johnson who admins the Yahoo Bird Click group. She advocates teaching “stupid parlor tricks” as a way to improve communication and therefore the relationship with your feathered friend. It’s not about forcing the bird to do what you want, it’s about teaching your bird to want the same thing you want and then doing it voluntarily.

When I got Stewie last July (from an animal shelter where they had no idea what to do with birds), he was one cranky little guy. In fact, I was a little worried that he didn’t like me and wouldn’t ever really be very fond of me. I started clicker training and it totally changed our relationship.

He learned that there are ways to communicate with me that don’t involve biting. I figured out how to read his body language to understand what he was trying to tell me.

He learned that he can manipulate me into giving him treats just by doing some silly tricks. I have a bird who does silly tricks for me.

We both have so much more fun together, and he’s become downright affectionate — something I never expected!

I believe wholeheartedly that we achieved this new relationship precisely because I didn’t try to establish “control.” In training, we are partners. Neither of us thinks “we’re in charge.” I respect his needs/wants (respect doesn’t always mean he always gets what he wants though…just like I don’t always get what I want either) and he does what I want him to because he wants to do it.

Stewie now steps up with no problem – whereas he used to bite my fingers whenever they were near him. The stepping up came completely naturally; I wasn’t even really trying to train him to step up. We worked on a lot of other tricks first and at some point he got so excited about going wherever it was I was going to take him that he started seeing me as a convenient method of transportation, and happily steps up when I offer him my arm 🙂

Clicker training is the best way to turn a cranky, biting bird into a loving pet. I know it, because I’ve seen the change in Stewie with my own eyes.

Related: Allowing Birds on Your Shoulder – OK or Not?

Updated: I just found this article by Susan Friedman on the discussion of “dominance”. It’s a good read. Check it out.

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Small Clicker Training Props for Birds

February 18, 2008

This is the bird prop I got for Stewie from Nature’s Chest — it’s intended to teach him color discrimination. Unfortunately it’s too small. He doesn’t have the dexterity to get the rings onto the peg.I’m going to try to teach him pull the rings off the peg instead and give them to me. He can already retrieve, and he can get the rings off the peg, so the advanced version is for him to give me the color I ask for.

Update: we spent a whole training session just taking the rings off the peg and giving them to me. To start teaching colors, I just said whatever color he was going for anyway (that way he always gets it right!) — so if he went to grab a red ring, I’d say “Bring me RED!” and then reward him. Once we get comfortable with that, I’ll put my hand on top of the other ones so the only one he can get is the one I asked for. Just need to be careful not to get nipped at because he doesn’t like it when someone interferes with his props mid trick. 🙂

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This one is the small Psitta Puzzle. For this trick, he needs to put the shapes in the corresponding hole. The description on NatureChest.com says that it might be too big for cockatiels, so I got the smallest one they had, but I probably could have gone a size up on this one too.

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Just How Smart Are Cockatoos? Check It Out!

February 6, 2008

This cockatoo’s puzzle solving skills are really impressive.

Doesn’t she look like she’s having fun? Just another example of children’s developmental toys making good (large) bird toys too. (Imagine having to keep a toddler entertained and healthy … that’s at least how much work a cockatoo takes too!)

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Cockatiel Playing Connect Four

February 4, 2008

I love this video! It’s of a cockatiel (which is about the same size as a sun conure) playing Connect Four (that four-in-a-row tic tac toe game that you play vertically). How adorable is this:

This looks like it was taught via clicker training.

I’m going to buy one of these travel size Connect Four games and teach Stewie this trick.

Update: I finally found this game after much searching (It’s the “Connect Four Fun on the Run” version). I haven’t really started working on this trick with Stewie yet, since I haven’t been able to get him to stay on the table lately. But from the initial introduction to the prop, it appears that he likes the red chips a lot better than the black chips. 🙂

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Good Vacuum Cleaner for Birds

February 2, 2008

I’ve been doing some research on vacuum cleaners because my floors are always a mess now (because of the bird, d’oh). The challenge is that it needs to pick up all the crap Stewie throws on the floor (seed hulls, seeds, whole nuts, pieces of fruit) as well as hair; however, my whole apartment is less than 600 square feet. The size of my apartment means 1) something really powerful and expensive is overkill and 2) I have no room to store a big vacuum cleaner (none at all!).

After some research on BirdBoard and getting some input, I put in an order for a small (1.5 gallon) ShopVac. But then someone mentioned the iRobot Dirt Dog. The Dirt Dog is like the Roomba but designed for garage workshops. If it can pick up bolts and pieces of wood, it can handle the detritus of Stewie’s eating and playing, I figured. And I have hardwood floors, so it seemed like exactly the right machine for me. It’s so small, I can store it under Stewie’s cage and it easily goes under the couch, too.

So I got one, and it arrived this week. Tonight is the first time I’ve set it loose and let me tell you… this thing is hilarious. It’s like a big toy that you watch rolling around the house running into things, but it cleans at the same time! At first, of course, Stewie was wigged out! But I put him in his cage and gave him a treat and then showed him that I wasn’t afraid of it. I followed the robot around like I thought it was fun and soon Stewie calmed down about it.

I’ve only used it once (in fact, it’s still running right now) but so far I’m liking it. It does take a lot longer to vacuum this way than with a regular vacuum cleaner, but that’s no problem since it runs itself. So if it can hold up to heavy use, this thing will have been well worth it!

Two thumbs up for the iRobot Dirt Dog!

Update: I’ve discovered a drawback. Unlike the regular Roomba, the Dirt Dog doesn’t have a spot clean setting. That means there’s no efficient way to clean just around Stewie’s cage and underneath the playstand – where the majority of his mess is concentrated. For this, it seems I still want a small handheld vacuu — or I keep using the dustpan.