Introducing Shy and Scared Birds to StrangersDecember 5, 2011
What a fantastic positive reinforcement training video. I really like everything about this training and the instructions the narrator/trainer gives:
Note how (aside from the initial couple of seconds in the opening that establish that the macaw is uncomfortable), the woman doesn’t push into the bird’s space. She holds her arm or hand steady and allows the bird to come to her, rather than the other way around.
When the bird is encouraged to get closer, but walks away instead, the trainer narrates: “It’s really important to realize that he’s not being stubborn. He just doesn’t have the confidence [to step up.]”
The majority of animal training is really about training the humans. So many people would just keep moving closer to “encourage” him. But once you realize the bird is scared or uncomfortable, instead of obstinate, you’re going to have a lot more sympathy and you’ll realize you need to slow down — that means not getting any closer and allowing the bird to be the one to decide when and how to close the distance.
This video does a wonderful job showing you how to use food rewards and positive reinforcement to work with a shy or fearful bird to get them to come closer and interact with you or a stranger. Notice how the trainer emphasizes being predictable, giving the bird choices, and allowing the bird to associate the visitor with only good things (great foundations for good training, and the opposite of the truly terrible training advice you might come across on some other sites).
These precise steps won’t work, however, with a bird who is aggressive and who attacks strangers. In that case, offering your hand will likely get you bitten. (It’s also worth mentioning that this video doesn’t show an example of clicker training because there isn’t a behavior-bridge-reward pattern. The treat is being used as a lure or bribe. But that’s fine. Nothing wrong with a well-used bribe every now and then, IMHO.)