Saturday, July 20, 2013
Portrait of Sarabi sitting on her favorite play stand, from the 15th of July. Now she is almost fully feathered again and she hasn't been chewing/plucking any of her new feathers so far! Let's keep all of our fingers crossed that this trend continues! We've beat the plucking issues once before and I'm feeling confident that we can beat them again.
For more information of how and when Sarabi's feather plucking problems started, read previous post titled feather plucking.
When Sarabi was a baby chick I trained her to wear a harness. Unfortunately, I did not keep at it and the harness training was left on the shelf for a couple of years. During this time Sarabi had already forgotten her training and the harness had to be introduced again, as a foreign object. I started by placing the harness (I had also gotten her a new kind of harness, Avian Adventure, instead of the previous Feather Tether) outside of Sarabi's cage. This enabled her to look at the harness, every day, and get accustomed to it. Because parrot's are escape/flight/pray animals new things can take a long time for them to get used to, especially when it comes to the sensitive African Greys, so everything new is often times interpreted as a threat and potential predator.
After a few months of the harness being placed outside of the cage Sarabi started to, on her own initiative, advance the harness. She then started "beaking" it and holding it with her feet. She wasn't very rough with it and more seemed to just get a feel of it, rather than playing with it. When Sarabi had been doing this during a month or so I decided to start introducing it to her, with my hands, placing the harness over her body and head.
When it comes to the pre-training in handling/touching the parrot, this is something I do daily in my handling. Making Sarabi step up on my hand, asking her to stretch her wings, asking her to go upside down on my hand and making sure that she allows me to touch her head and body and to lift her wings with my hands. In other words, the parrot has to be hand tame and accustomed to you handling it in different ways before you start attempting to harness train it.
One day, on the 12th of July (see the pictures in the previous post), I managed to put the entire harness on while I was cuddling Sarabi. She barely noticed it was coming on, at first, but then started to protest. As soon as the harness was on her, on the other hand, she treated it no differently than one of her own feathers. So I decided to first take or out on the balcony. There she started talking, walking around, preening her feathers and scraping her beak (signs of being happy/content/relaxed). Then I took her to the park, for some flying with the harness, and a short walk through town. Sarabi got a bit nervous/scared and I think it was too many new impressions for her at once. So I ended that adventure with some time on the balcony again, where Sarabi feels safe.
When the harness was to be taken off Sarabi started to protest again. And, unfortunately, I'm not skilled/quick enough with taking the harness off as to make it a quick/stress free experience. The next day I, after advice from another grey owner, attempted to put the harness on Sarabi again, as to not let her forget the experience. This time the protests grew larger and I got my fair share of bite marks. So I let the harness come off and Sarabi recooperate from the experience. Here I realized that I had been too impatient and excited, from my luck of getting the harness on the previous day, and that the training had to return to basic level again.
From this day I have now been, every day, introducing the harness to Sarabi. At first she was a bit mad at it but now she doesn't react much. She still intitiates exploring the harness, on her own, and climbs over to beak it.
Our daily routine is now to get the harness loop over her head, to hold it there for three seconds (counting out loud), and then taking it off. At first Sarabi kept trying to evade the loop. Not in a agressive maner or out of fear, just not really wanting it over her head. So I kept advancing, while talking calmly, until the loop came over her head. Then I quickly gave her positive reinforcement by voice and by candy (cracker). Yesterday Sarabi, for the first time, popped her head into the loop as soon as I put it in front of her, while I was saying the command "put it on". She then willingly took the cracker. Today she did the same thing, putting her head into the loop to gain her reward.
This I will now continue with, daily, introducing the steps slowly, one at a time, with tons of positive reinforcement! One day Sarabi will, once again, be ready for the harness. Because she enjoys having it on and the adventures she then can go on, our only real obstacle is the putting on/removing it part without there being any protests!
One day at a time, a few steps forward and a few steps back... That's the challenge of parrot training (and impatient parrot owners)!