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A “Bird Attacking” Question

August 21, 2012 5 comments

Watching for subtle signs in body language such as the raised head feathers shown in this photos of Suki, the blue-fronted amazon.

Question: Hi Lara!  I have a bird “attacking” question.

I’ve had my Amazon since she was only a few months old.  I did have a couple of biting instances with friends and kids, so I’m pretty much the only one who handles her now.  In the last few months the problem has gotten much worse.

She’s fully flighted.  26 months old.  I do not seek out interaction with her – at least not interaction where I am holding her.  But she flies at my face constantly, lands in my hair and attacks my ears.  She also attacks my hands repeatedly.  This is not nipping.  This is grabbing my fingers in her beak and grinding to the bone.  And this has become EVERY interaction.  I have a house full of other parrots and dogs and I spend 98% of my time trying to deal with this bird.

I’ve taken a behavior analysis parrot class.  Studied all the ABA papers.  I don’t  use any kind of punishment , I don’t force her into anything (well, only if she’s got me to the bone, and then it’s only prying her beak off of me). All of her physical interactions with me are because she flies to me.  Her diet is well rounded (chop, Harrison’s pellets).  Her meds check out fine with the vet.  When I train her with positive reinforcement, she actually gets more aggressive (tail fanning, eye pinning and snapping).  She’s also impossible to motivate unless it’s something she REALLY shouldn’t have like butter or meat.  I can spend a great time with her, working on staying on the hand without biting, doing something OTHER than biting like holding a toy or keeping the head up.  Nope.  She nails my hand over and over again.

By the way, she does also express breeding behavior with me.  Wings down, panting, regurgitating.  I don’t encourage it, but it’s hard to get her off me at times and since there’s always a huge bit involved, I’m gun shy.

I’ve done everything.  I’ve tried to be quiet and calm.  I’ve tried to be peppy and upbeat.  Everything seems to upset her.

I’ve asked for help – but am shamed by the behaviorists who tell me that “I’ve created the problem.”  It’s humiliating when I’m trying to do everything to save this bird.  I’ve always wanted to be part of the parrot solution, not the problem.  I have excellent relationships with my other birds (even hard cases from rescues).  I really don’t want to give her up since I’m afraid she’ll be passed from home to home, but I don’t know what to do and my hands are sore and bleeding constantly.  I need to give some attention to the other animals in my home.  I need to read a book or watch TV without being attacked.

I’m tired of crying my eyes out.  I’ve spent thousands of dollars on behavior classes and books and everything I do seems to make matters worse. I need solutions, and fast because I’m running out of options.  😦

Thanks, Julia

Answer:

Hi Julia.

So many areas to begin but first I want to commend you for seeking help. Your determination is obvious and I admire your dedication and persistence in working with your amazon. You definitely have a serious situation and let me see if I can offer a few different things that may help.

I am sorry to hear that anyone in the field of giving behavior advice has shamed you for or about seeking help. I’m glad their intention has not worked because what does this solve? Our goal as behavior analysts and modifiers should be focused on the best for the bird and their caretaker and giving the help needed to help create a stronger relationship so the bird keeps it’s home and the family can live happily as a whole.

Let me start with body language. You may already know your amazon’s body language well, but I would encourage you to look more

Watch what your birds eats from its food dish first. Those are potential valuable reinforcers that could be delivered throughout the day to reward behaviors you want to see increase.

intently at it. Body language can be so subtle but it is one of our (as owners/caretakers) biggest clues as to what the bird is trying to tell us. Julia, when I first meet a bird and before I begin interacting with it, I watch it. I observe how it’s body language changes as it interacts or observes its immediate environment. What does the bird look like when a loud sound startles it? How does that bird react when someone stops near its cage or playstand? What does the feather placement look like when it is preening, sleeping, or relaxing? What does the feather placement look like when it is not relaxed? I need to learn as much as I can about the bird’s body language because I am more than likely getting ready to interact with it.

I also sit back and observe what the bird’s body language looks like when it is interested in something or what the body language

looks like when it seems to be enjoying what it is interacting with. I look at all of this as a form of communication from the bird to myself and how I respond to that body language is a form of communication to the bird.

I pair learning the bird’s body language with use of the bird’s reinforcers. If the bird walks to his food dish I try to look to see what it first picks out of the food dish. Was it corn? Was it a nut? Or was it to make one swipe of its beak and push the majority of its food to the cage grate? Each of these three items are very important and we can learn from each of them. If the bird first goes for the corn, guess what the bird doesn’t get in his food bowl tomorrow morning? Yeah, corn! If that corn is valued by the bird, it is going to be of more value to the bird if it hasn’t had any in several hours.

The sound of your voice, the tone of your voice, or how enthusiastically you deliver attention can be a very effective reinforcer for behavior. Photo courtesy of Viki Bullock.

As you have learned from taking the classes you have, reinforcers can be more than just food. One of my bird’s most delivered positive reinforcers from me is my voice. Actually it is more than just my voice. It is my tone of voice and the variance in how I use it when interacting with my birds from different rooms. I’m mentioning this because our interaction with birds and beginning to rebuild that relationship with our bird does not have to be ‘hand’s-on’ in the beginning. I am suggesting this is one of the approaches you take with your bird. When your bird makes a cute noise, respond to it vocally. You don’t have to get up. You don’t have to walk over to the bird’s cage. Just repeat the cute sound and watch how your bird reacts to it. When it does it again, repeat it. How does he react to it? Does he react to it? Try it again. If he begins to react to it and repeat the noise, guess what? That noise is being reinforced and if your bird keeps doing it, he might be enjoying this ‘hand’s-off’ communication and interaction with you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t touch your bird again. This just starts paving a new form of communication between you and your bird. Touching and physically interacting with the bird needs to be re-shaped as I explain below.

Remember that corn or that nut that he first ate from the food dish? Begin incorporating that by pairing it with yourself. Keep those favored foods and ration them out throughout the day and incorporate them into your training plan everyday. What I mean by this is, when you need to walk into the room, or by the cage, set a piece of corn (or whatever the favored food item is) on the cage, the furthest distance between you and your bird or at a distance where the bird’s body language remains calm. You don’t want to push this area of comfort to where the feathers raise on the back of the neck, or the eyes pin, or the feathers begin to stiffen up. Begin at a distance where you know the bird is going to stay calm and comfortable while you place the corn, nut, etc. on a cage rung and pass by. Bingo! That was a training session. Training sessions do not have to be long. Most of mine last ten seconds to a couple of minutes. The importance is not in the length of the training session but the frequency throughout the day.

Repeat the walks by the cage while pairing yourself with the bird’s favored reinforcers as long as it takes. You can feed a piece of corn

Rebecca target training Suki, the blue fronted amazon from inside the cage. She’s delivering the reinforcer between the cage bars to better learn Suki’s body language before getting her out and interacting with her by recall training her.

or a small sliver of a nut several times a day. Then take it to the next step and begin setting the food reward closer and closer. Then get to the point where you can hand it through the cage bar. The cage bars are nice and a place to really learn to see if your bird will take the food from your hands without biting you. Hold the treat far enough away that the bird can’t bite you just in case you misread the body language. You don’t want the bite to happen at all, but this is a great way to make sure you are reading body language correctly before moving to the next step. Soon, you can open the cage door and set the food reward down on the perch and then walk away. Soon handing the food to the bird inside the cage, etc.

There is more training that can happen but it could take me several pages to write. Remember, the bird is always the one that decides the reinforcer, never us. We can reserve the reinforcers and give at times of training and this is how we can make that reinforcer of higher value to the bird. Just as it is the bird that decides the reinforcer, it is also the bird that decides the aversive. An aversive is something the bird doesn’t like, as you may already know. Watch the body language and the bird is going to be the one that tells you if he or she sees something as an aversive and when he/she does, you really don’t want that paired with you if you are trying to re-build a relationship.

Julia, if you go to my youtube page (LaraJosephBirdLover) you will be able to see several videos of me working with birds that have a long history of aggressive behaviors being reinforced. Take a look at some of my training videos of me with Molly, my eclectus. Take a look at some of the videos of me working with Willy the turkey vulture. I know it’s a turkey vulture, not a parrot but the approaches in training and use of reinforcers and arranging the environment for successful outcomes is the same.

Hailey training a blue and gold macaw to touch its beak to a stick. This is also called target training and is a handy tool to use, especially working with birds who have a history of showing any signs of aggressive behaviors. This allows the trainer to request behaviors with no contact and the target can guide the bird to different areas of the cage or room.

Without turning this reply into a book, I wanted to mention target training her. Train her to touch her beak to an object on cue, such as a stick. If she doesn’t like the stick you can re-shape the behavior of her staying calm while touching her beak to a stick. You can also shape the behavior of her touching the top of her beak to the stick if she is tending to want to bite the stick and pull it in the cage. This would help not only in redirecting her attention when you think she’s getting ready to bite you, this will also help when you think she might be getting ready to drop her wings and start panting. Don’t wait until either of these behaviors happens. Ask her to target when you think the chances are high of either of these behaviors happening. And just like crate training, don’t wait to begin crate training when it’s time to go to the vet. Crate train when a vet visit isn’t even scheduled so that way when it’s time to go to the vet, the training is already set in place. Don’t wait to target train when she’s on your hand and getting ready to drop her wings. Target train her after you have already trained her to stay calm when you pass by her cage.

As far as working with reinforcers that aren’t the most nutritious for the bird, start with what works while gathering and making a list of others. Watch what she eats first out of her dish. Watch what she eats second. Pull those and reserve those for reinforcing throughout the day. Mix those in with what already works while slowly weeding out the not-so-nutritious.

Once again, I want to commend you for all of the steps you have taken so far to attempt to make a difference with your amazon. I understand your pain, frustration, and this emotional roller-coaster ride. I know that first hand. You, and situations like yours, are the reinforcers behind why I continue to do what I do.

Before I bring this post to a close, you may want to join me on my Avian Behavior, Training, and Enrichment page on FaceBook. I try to post behavior issues, training approaches, and different videos several times a week to help people.

Sincerely,

Lara Joseph

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A Question About an Issue with Nipping

June 2, 2012 11 comments

Rewarding small steps in teaching a new behavior earns the trust between the bird and the bird owner. Keeping the training sessions short and frequent can result in obvious progress.

Question:

Hi Lara.

Two people have highly referred me to you. I have a blue-throated macaw and she is really nippy and pulling new feathers out.    Her worse times with me is nipping.  She turned three on February 21st. She needs to trust more and needs more enrichment activities.  She free flies and has an aviary. From the time I got her until about the time she was a year old, I applied the positive rewards, her nipping just got worse.  Then I did the earthquake and things were better.  There are times she could be as sweet as can be then in a blink of the eye, she screams and nips.  I am the only one living in my house. I don’t  take her outside because I can predict her reaction (she flies and is scared) and I have not moved my hand. Actually I am not even touching her, just holding her against my head.   I was advised to spray her even if she doesn’t like it.  Well I did but now she shakes so I am not doing it anymore.  She does need to be sprayed.  An overhead mister that goes off if I am not around would be great.

Thanks,
Melinda – Ohio

 

Answer:

Hi Melinda.

There are several things that can be addressed from your situation. First, you mentioned see needs more enrichment. Enrichment is unique to each bird just as it is to us and it is the bird that decides what is enriching, not us. It is up to us to identify their forms of enrichment and then offer them to the bird and in the bird’s environment. I was just telling someone yesterday that my birds’ favored forms of enrichment are flight games and flight training, positive reinforcement training, and foraging. I know this by watching my birds’ behaviors.

If you read other entries in my blog, you will find how I define finding reinforcers and rewarding effectively. If a behavior is increasing, it is because it is being reinforced. You mentioned you’ve tried positively rewarding other behaviors but the nipping increased. If the nipping increased, it is being reinforced. It is easy to take bigger steps than what our birds are ready for. The steps need to be small and at the bird’s pace. It is also the bird that decides the reinforcer, it is never us. If behaviors aren’t changing, make sure you are not taking too big of steps and make sure the reinforcers you are offering are of high value to your bird. The best form of communication from our birds is their body language. As you are interacting with your bird, ask yourself “Does this bird look completely comfortable?” I not, you could be pushing your bird too far. Take a step back in what you are training and reward from there.

If you are holding your bird and she bites for no obvious reason, I would try target training her. There is a reason and training may help you in identifying it. Target training is one of the first things I train with a bird because it develops a line of communication and it teaches the bird what you are asking and learning the new positive consequences. Positive reinforcement training is the best form of communication I have found to use with an animal, which is why I am a huge fan of it. Target training is when an animal touches a specific object with a particular body part. A very common form of target training is asking a bird to touch its beak to a stick when the stick is presented.

Here is a video of Rebecca, who trained Suki the amazon to target her beak to a stick during A Day With The Trainer.

I’ve target trained all of my birds to put both feet on my wrist when I ask them to step up. Yes, this is a form of target training. If they step up, I reward. I have several birds that had issues with biting or nipping and I used this form of training to train them the behavior of stepping on my wrist without biting. This is what I am training the green-winged macaw in the photo above. I’m not pushing him and I rewarded him for even putting his foot up before he stepped onto my hand. Once they do this, I reward and then ask them to step off and reward again when they do. If I know a bird has a nipping issue, I definitely do not want them nipping when on my wrist so one of the places I’ll begin is to ask them to step back off immediately before the bird has the opportunity to nip. If the bird nips twice, it is being reinforced so I want to ask the bird to step off of my hand before he has the opportunity to nip. Then I slowly begin increasing the amount of time the bird is on my wrist and then reward that amount of time. Once I ask the bird to step up and it does, I reward. Ask it to step off and it does, reward. Ask it to step back on, reward. Have it sit there for two seconds, reward. Ask it to step off, reward. Then reward for sitting on the wrist for four seconds, for six, for ten, twenty, etc. Do you see how this works?

Keep training sessions short and frequent. I often train a bird for 20 seconds to a couple of minutes and then the training session is over. I’ll then come back and train again thirty minutes later and have another quick training session. Training short and frequently often is more effective than training long periods of time infrequently throughout the day. With every interaction you have with your bird you are training it. The key question is “What are you training?”.

I don’t use the earthquake method if I don’t have to. The only time I’ll use it is if the alternative is worse, and even then, if I have to use it, I’ll use it once and then make sure I then work on the behavior issue causing the problem versus having to use it again. Here is the reason I don’t use the earthquake method, it doesn’t build the trust and the relationship between you and the bird when the bird is on you. If this method is used once in a while, it could keep nipping behaviors very strong because the bird may know when that method is coming, and may get nervous in the anticipation of it which could result in the sudden bite or nip. Using the earthquake method doesn’t teach the bird what you really want it to do. Teach the bird to do something else, like target it’s beak to a stick. This way if you think you may see a nip coming while the bird is on you, ask it to touch the stick instead. This way the bird knows if it touches the stick, the reward is coming and you can direct the bird’s beak away from your arm. I would then ask the bird to step off of you so a nip isn’t accidentally reinforced.

When you begin the target training, I would begin when the bird is not on you, this way if you see a potential nip getting ready to happen you can avoid being accidentally bit. This way, when the bird is actually on your arm and you ask the bird to touch the stick, it is already familiar with what you are asking.

How water is introduced to the bird and the consequences will be the underlying factor in the bird’s future acceptance of how it is presented. This is often how I introduce a bird to allow the hose in close proximity, prepping the bird to accept taking a shower from it.

I’m glad to hear you have stopped the spraying if the bird doesn’t like it. You can train her to like it taking the same small steps in positive reinforcement training that you’ll use in target training her. I’ve trained all of my birds that the mist from the shower or the mist from a hose is a good time. The approach was different for each bird, because each bird is its own individual. Often times I’ll take the hose and shower another bird that likes it and have the bird watch. That doesn’t always work on its own though. Many times I’ll have the bird drink the water from my hand to introduce it to the water coming from the hose. Then I’ll introduce the hose in close proximity and reward the bird for allowing the hose in close proximity. Then I’ll reward the bird from drinking from the hose. My goal is to reinforce calm behavior while in close proximity to the hose. Once the mist gets so close to the bird, I may have a few droplets of the mist touch the bird for a quick second and then reward with the bird’s positive reinforcers. If that is too much for the bird and it shows any sign of nervousness, I take a step back in introducing the mist to the hose and start over. Often times in this house, the bird’s positive reinforcers are attention from me and for the bird to hear how good they are. Slowly I begin having a few drops of mist hit the bird’s wing very quickly and frequently, each time reinforcing heavily. This pairs the bird’s most valued reinforcers with the mist hitting its wing. If I use the reinforcers effectively, the bird will begin looking forward to the presentation of the hose.

After positively reinforcing the introduction of the hose into the bird’s environment at the bird’s pace, I’ve seen most birds enjoy the opportunity for a shower.

Question on behavior . . . Bird showing sudden signs of aggression after change in routine.


Hey Lara,

I learned enough from your behavior seminar to know that SOMETHING is reinforcing this behavior but I was wondering about your input as to what started it. Boo (my african grey, male approximately 8 years old) has started being REALLY aggressive to the point of not being able to handle him. He shows all the signs and gives me warning (eyes pinning, feathers fluffed). There hasn’t been any trauma to speak of. His schedule was disrupted for the last week when my hubby was out-of-town. He usually gets him up and fed, etc for the day as he works from home. Boo likes to sleep very late most days….11 or so. He has his own (laundry) sleeping room/cage. While Dave was gone I had to get him up @ 7ish everyday that I worked. Boo wasn’t crazy about that but now we are back to the usual schedule.  He has been the same way to Dave since he got back. I thought maybe it was just ME doing all the care for the week that Dave was gone that threw him off. Then, just to throw a monkey wrench into the mix…he’ll be really sweet. Sometimes he displays aggressively, then when I ask him to step up he does willingly  (for which he always receives great praise).  It seems to be cage/territory related as it’s always when I am putting him back in the cage and sometimes when I’m getting him out, a lot of times to his request to get him. “Wanna come here?”  I try REALLY hard not to respond when he nails me but sometimes it’s so quick and hard that it’s hard not to yell out….I thought that was the game….and tried not to respond, I’ll just leave him on the door and walk out of the room to de-fuse the situation but it is escalating.  I thought that once he got back to his old schedule, it would die down….but not so far…(since monday) I’m using a perch to move him around because he has drawn blood a number of times.  I also noticed he is not eating near as well as he usually does.  He has plenty of enrichment opportunities.  He does not appear sick…is still vocalizing and whistling and interacting with us as long as we’re not in/around the cage.  The other variable is a new puppy that we have…I try to spend a little one on one time each night with Boo. I’m getting very wary of that because I don’t trust him…so, it’s kinda a catch 22…the less time I spend the more “wild” he gets….and the more “wild” and nippy…the less I want to handle him.  The other things I have considered are: 1) Don’t they reach sexual maturity about 8 yrs old?  2) The change in daylight hours lengthening…3) the new member of our “pack”…he seems to have accepted the new dog and they co-habitate well..meeting nose to nose (under my DIRECT supervision) and there is no striking. They have a healthy curiosity about each other than they go about their own way. Just wondering about any input you might have other than ignoring his strikes. I don’t know how to “punish” the behavior. He does say “Ouch” occasionally. No doubt he learned quickly from OUR responses but it’s really hard NOT to respond when the bites so quick and so painful. Other than TRYING to ignore the behavior, what do I do to defuse the behavior?

Shelley

Columbus, Ohio

Hi Shelley!

It is very good to hear that you are recognizing the fact that something is reinforcing an undesired behavior you are seeing in Boo. It is also good to hear that you have recognized this through one of my workshops. It is good to hear from you and I’m glad you are touching base with me about your concern on where this behavior is going and what it is now turning out to be.

Before we move on in suggestions in behavior change, I always suggest a veterinary check up, especially since you’ve noticed a change in his eating habits. Once the veterinarian gives a thumbs up on health, it can rule that out of causing behavior issues.

You’ve noticed the correlation in the change in the environment (the disruption in Boo’s morning routine) and the change in his behavior. Environmental

Small variances in how we present food during feeding schedules may help in forming routines.

changes can and usually to have an effect on behavior. There are many things in which I’d love to share thoughts with you in your situation, so let me begin with this one.

Often times it is easy for us to follow routines in our daily lives. Routines help us keep on track and make sure daily rituals are accomplished. Schedules are great such as in the mornings we eat breakfast, in the afternoon we eat lunch, and in the evening we eat dinner. Routines are those in which become habit and we mostly stick to an order in how things are done in our daily schedules. Many times we can not avoid schedules but we do have the option to change routines. The reason I mention this is because when we stick to having routines with our birds, if there comes a time where life happens and that routine needs to be broken it may cause stress, confusion, or frustration with our birds such as you have seen with Boo’s routine with your husband’s daily work schedule.

Schedules still happen and we have the opportunity to begin varying routines. For example, every day Boo needs to come out of his sleeping cage and into a main living space to eat breakfast every morning. There may be plenty of opportunities to begin varying the time in which Boo comes out of his cage. For example, if Boo is used to coming out of his sleeping cage at 11a.m. change that routine a little by having your husband take him out at 10:45 a.m. one day. Fifteen minutes isn’t a huge change, but it is a slight one that may be able to be implemented in such a small step that it doesn’t cause stress to Boo. The next day take him out at 10:55. The next day 10: 40. Maybe on a Saturday you go in and get Boo out of his sleeping cage at 10:50. Once he starts getting used to this change, maybe one day you can move him from his sleep cage at 10:30a.m. Keep the time changes at small increments with the intention of incorporating change into his daily schedule.

Another change in a routine could be one day he gets his breakfast in his main cage. Maybe the next day he gets breakfast on his play-stand. The next day maybe he gets breakfast back in his cage and the next on the arm of the chair next to you. This allows us to still have a schedule while allowing us to break away from routine.

These are things I focus on in my household. I try not to keep the birds on many routines because if that routine is broken, I begin to see undesired behavior issues begin to develop. If Rocky was used to coming out of his cage and into his bird room every morning at 10 a.m., how would this effect him when I have a doctor’s appointment next week at 11 a.m. and I need him to stay in his cage until I get back? At this point, I feel my assumption of Rocky beginning to scream once he realizes his routine is being broken will be pretty accurate. I feel good about this assumption because I’ve learned from experience. Rocky used to be on small routines. I now focus on keeping daily schedules varied such as food variety, variety in presentation, in time, and in the time he comes out of his cage.

Providing individually appropriate enrichment in cages may help in keeping a bird occupied while varying out of a routine.

When I know I am getting ready to go out-of-town for an upcoming workshop, I will also start varying schedules in bigger increments to get my birds ready for a major change in plans. I am on my way home now from a workshop and last week I knew my birds would be spending a good majority of their times in their large cages until I got home. So, I began leaving them in their cages for longer periods of time at varying times of the day each day. I began varying which bird came out and when, and where they went when they did come out. I like to keep them used to change while paying close attention to frustration levels. I keep the changes small and varying based on the individual bird as to not cause stress or frustration. As they start getting used to the change, I start changing things on a larger scale to the point where I can really make large changes in daily schedules and watching how the birds adapt readily from it.

One never knows when life is going to throw them a curve ball and it has a major impact on our daily schedule. The more we can continually vary schedules into our bird’s lives, the better prepared for change they will be when change happens and the less amount of behavior issues you will see if any.

In your situation, Boo had a major and pretty big change in daily routine when you were having to get him up at 7 a.m. versus what he was used to. If Boo perceived this waking and moving as something he didn’t like, guess who this may be associated with? Yes, you. You also have seen that his behavior has changed toward your husband too. Why, without more detail I’m not sure, but the important thing is that you have noticed this. This gives us a place to start in changing behavior.

I’m a big believer in positive reinforcement training because of how great of an impact it has had on my birds’ lives, for the better and their behavior issues or lack of them now. When I ask a behavior from my bird, I always make sure there is something of value in it for the bird. Always. Otherwise, why would my bird want to give me the behavior I am asking if there is nothing in it for him? This is true with us also. Why would you want to go to work everyday if there was not anything in it for you? The reason most of us go to work is because there is something in it in return for us and that is usually the paycheck. Many people love their jobs and are willing to take pay cuts because their work environments offer other positive reinforcers such as a very rewarding boss, good friends, the ability to help others, etc. My point here is that each of our positive reinforcers is different and varies among person to person. Our positive reinforcers are decided by us. Not by our friends, our neighbors, or our bosses. You may like chocolate and would get up off the couch to cross the room to eat a piece of chocolate from the candy jar. I on the other hand, do not like chocolate and can’t think of one instance where it would ever be a motivator for me to expend the energy of standing up and walking across the room. If there was a bowl of macaroni and cheese across the room, that would be of high value to me and I would probably sprint to the other side of the room to get it.

This is the same for our birds. Make sure praise is of value to your bird. Is it a fair return for behavior performed from Boo and if so, is it of high enough value at that particular time? Praise may be of high value to Boo when you ask him to step up off of his play stand onto your hand so you can walk him across the room and deliver him to your husband, but that praise may not be of high enough value to Boo to give to him when you’ve asked him to step up onto your hand from his sleeping cage at 7a.m. Do you see where I am coming from?

The more we reserve a particular highly valued reinforcer or reward from a bird, the higher value that particular item or event becomes. For example, if Boo

The reward for requested behavior we ask from a bird coming out of the cage may be completely different from the reward given for the bird going back into the cage.

loves walnuts and he received walnuts at no other time than when you asked him to step up out of his sleeping cage and onto your hand at 8, 9, or 10a.m., my guess would be that Boo will be more willing to give you the behavior you are requesting with little time for him to think about it. The consistent pairing of this behavior and this highly valued positive reinforcer could be a fair trade-off for the behavior being requested and more importantly, this positive reinforcer is consistently being associated with you!

One of the many things I love about interacting with birds with positive reinforcement is you are consistently being paired with the ‘fair trade-offs’ for requested behaviors, often times the bird’s positive reinforcer begins to change from treats to you.

Shelley, I picked your question to answer this time because there were several great points you brought up and great areas to address which I hope help you and the many others reading this that are having some of the same behavior hurdles to jump. In the workshop I was involved in giving over this past weekend, one of the many things we addressed was a biting bird. Ignoring a biting bird is extremely hard to do, dangerous, and one I would never suggest a person try. If you remember from the workshop we defined many things and punishment and positive punishment were two of the terms. Punishment is an event that follows a behavior that decreases the future rate of that behavior. For example, Johnny sticks his hand on a hot stove. The behavior is Johnny sticking his hand on the stove. The punisher is the burn that the stove gave him. If the future rate of Johnny sticking his hand on the stove decreases, the behavior has been punished. The burn from the hot stove was added (+) to the environment. The hot stove is therefore the positive (+ added) event that caused the behavior to decrease, this is an example of positive punishment. When trying to modify or change the behavior of our birds one of the things we want to stay as far away from as possible is using positive punishment because the positive punishers are always things the bird doesn’t like. If we use positive punishment with our birds to change behavior, this means we are using something the bird doesn’t like to decrease the future rate of the behavior. If we are using things the bird doesn’t like to decrease the behavior, there are many reasons we don’t want to use these and one of them is the fact that we are consistently pairing ourselves with using things on the bird that the bird doesn’t like. More than likely with this pairing, the bird will begin to not look forward to our approach. I was just telling attendees of the workshop this past weekend, the only time it is ok to use a positive punisher on a bird’s behavior is when the alternative is worse. I would never suggest someone endure the duration and pain of a bite. Pull your hand away and into safety and begin your training plan in how to begin working on modifying this behavior.

Rocky flapping his wings on cue from a safe place on my arm. I positively reinforce the behavior of him perching where I want him to perch, on my hand.

For example, last week I was relaxing in the aviary and reading a book. I wasn’t paying attention and Rocky moved from my lower arm and up to my shoulder. Rocky is never allowed on my shoulder because for whatever reason, when he is behind me and higher by my head, he tends to lunge and bite. Why? I have no clue, but the important thing is to notice that he does it and to prevent situations from letting it happen again. I’ve used target training to ask Rocky to move to different safe areas and the use of punishment was avoided. On this particular instance though, once I realized Rocky was on my shoulder I immediately became very concerned. I couldn’t target him back down my arm because I didn’t have a free hand to use to target because my hand was now up and covering my face. I moved in front of a window to see what Rocky’s body language looked like and he was showing the same body language he does when he’s getting ready to lunge and bite. I had a quick decision to make, take a severe bite to the face or drop my shoulder and shake him off. I chose the latter. I dropped my shoulder and Rocky flew to the ground. I punished the behavior of Rocky standing on my shoulder. By removing a place for him to perch, I was associated with the aversive. I chose to take this route and then work and focus on not letting this happen again to make sure this behavior is not being reinforced.

If Boo bites you, I would suggest removing your hand and work on a training strategy such as using positive reinforcement for asking Boo to step up. Find his favored treats and offer them to him only at the times in which you need him to step up. Remember, Boo is the one that decides what these rewards or positive reinforcers are, it is never us. Ask for the behavior and then when he does it, give him the treat. That may sound easier than what it is. In the beginning you may have to show him the treat when asking for the behavior. Offer your hand, ask Boo to step up and show him the reward. This is a behavior called “luring”. I often lure a bird in the beginning stages of training a behavior. Soon when the bird realizes that every time you ask a behavior of it and it does it, it knows there is something of value in it for him and the future rates of behavior increase….positive reinforcement. If you are unsure of using your hand to request the ‘step-ups’, try beginning training with a perch. At the same time you are doing this pay very close attention to the body language. You will begin to better read when Boo wants to do something and when he doesn’t. Don’t force him to do something when he doesn’t want to do it. This often brings on aggression. Instead find a different highly valued positive reinforcer of his.

Target training is another behavior I highly suggest you try. This puts you in a safe situation while better learning the bird’s body language. It also helps the bird better read yours. Target training is when you ask the bird to touch a certain body part to an object. It could be asking the bird to touch its toes to your finger or its beak to the end of a chopstick as shown in the video below. Positively reinforce the behavior you want to see increase all the while by paying close attention to not push the bird in giving behaviors such as lunging and biting that you don’t want to see.

In this video is a workshop I co-hosted showing Connie teaching an amazon to target its beak to the end of a chopstick. This could come handy to Connie if she found herself in a situation with this amazon where she couldn’t read the body language to tell if she was about to get bit or not. If the bird was already target trained she could ask the bird to touch its beak to the chopstick while she repositioned herself in a safer position.

Oh dear. . .

May 6, 2011 5 comments

Rico chasing a squirrel in the aviary!

Well, I saw a potential behavior issue coming a while back and I barely did anything to change it. Well here it is and ah, shall I say it could be a wee bit of a problem?

Rico started chasing the squirrels in the aviary a few years ago as you see in the photo to the left and the video below. The first few times he did it, I laughed. My attention is a huge reinforcer for Rico. After the first few times of laughing, I realized I could very well be reinforcing a dangerous behavior. The last thing I need is for a squirrel to turn around and bite Rico if Rico gets close enough. Well, the summer soon ended and the aviary time was over for the winter. Hmmm, right.

So we found ourselves cooped up in the house playing training games to bide our time for the weather to get warmer. Can you foresee what behavior I’m getting ready to talk about if I tell you we have two cats? After a month of being cooped up in the house, Rico identified a new moving target. I literally saw what he was thinking one day. He was perch on top of the refrigerator and I was cleaning up the kitchen. My husband’s oldest cat, Ceno who is 24 years old came walking through the kitchen. I glanced at Rico and if I could put thoughts to what I saw him thinking, I saw him thinking “How cool is this? A bigger squirrel for my indoor target practice.” His body hunched down and his eyes got big. “Oh no!” I thought and all I could do was look at Ceno and say “Run!” Ceno didn’t even see it coming. That’s ok because he rounded the corner and ‘out of site out of mind’. Rico turned and looked around as if to say “Ok, what was I doing.”

Well it didn’t take long before Rico started his indoor target practice. One time my husband was home and Ceno came running through the house. Rico came flying through the house behind him. My eyeballs about popped out of my head and I looked at my husband. He saw it! His eyes were huge and he looked at me and said “Was Rico chasing Ceno?”. I pretended like I didn’t see it and I said turned to watch the black running by and the white hovering above. “My bird would never do a thing like that” I said. All I received was ‘the look’ from my husband. I knew he wasn’t believing one word coming out of my mouth. “What?” I said as I looked up and he was still staring at me. I’m chuckling as I’m typing this because me and one of my birds are always up to something we are trying to hide from my husband.

This past winter Rico and I had a new behavior to work on modifying. We did it. It worked or is working.

Rico tossing an empty roll of vet wrap on the dining room table.

Rico barely chases the cat anymore but it is something he has learned and I will always have to watch it. Rico knows when the cat walks through the room, if he stays still he gets pine nuts. I have to make sure to watch for this. We are now able to space out the amount of times that I deliver the nuts. Sometimes the pine nuts aren’t of high enough value though. So I began searching for other things he likes to do that are of higher value to him. For whatever reason, Rico loves to toss a roll of vet wrap. I’ve taught him to play fetch by tossing the vet wrap in the aviary also. It is great exercise for him both physically and mentally. I’ve often wondered if him chasing the vet wrap could be a reinforcer for him chasing the cat. It is something I am constantly watching. Regardless, he loves chasing the roll of vet wrap, it wears him out, and it is something fun for the two of us to do together. Did I mention how much he loves this? HE LOVES IT. Pulling a roll of vet wrap from the drawer is a guarantee that it will stop Rico from doing whatever other behavior he is doing.

The last few minutes of Rico perched calmly beside me on the back of the chair.

Fast forward to today. Ceno the 24-year-old cat was not feeling well today and went in for a vet visit. He is fine but it looks they did a blood draw from his hind leg. My husband took him to the vet, not myself. So how did I know they probably did a blood draw? Because I’m sitting here at my computer working with Rico perched

beside me on the back of a chair. All is calm and then Ceno walks down the stairs and through the kitchen. Something caught my eye and I did a double take looking at Ceno. Ceno has a good portion of his hind leg wrapped in vet wrap. My eyes grew huge. I turned and looked at Rico. HE SAW IT! He also let out the loud “HAW” of a yell they do as he moved into position. I quickly looked back at Ceno and Ceno hunched, stopped, and turned and looked at Rico and I. Ceno was looking at me for confirmation that all was ok. I stood and yelled “Ceno run!!!”

A video from a few years ago of when Rico first started chasing the squirrels in the aviary.

Training a Bird to Station & Its Importance

March 12, 2011 5 comments

A step in socializing Rico and Rocky with each other. A healthy benefit for behavior.

Many different topics come to mind when I think of something I could write here on my blog. I always wait and post something for when I’m really engaged in the situation. I was just talking about a certain training topic the other day and it was suggested many times that I write a post about it. That topic is stationing; training an animal, in this case a bird, to go to a designated area and stay there until cued otherwise. There are so many reasons this can come in handy.

All of my birds at home station and for different reasons. It may be as a cue to come out of the cage, preventing a bird scrambling up the side of the cage, or allowing me to open the cage door and change an object or clean. I taught one of mine to station while I’m out of the room because I was starting to have a problem with him dive bombing the cats as they tried to pass through the kitchen on their way to the litter boxes in the basement. I saw this behavior having the potential to turn into a serious problem in numerous ways.

I hate to admit it but I saw the almighty Rico, my Umbrella starting to become the bully of the house….dive bombing the cats and I saw him start to do the same with Rocky, my Moluccan. Having him do this behavior with my Moluccan had major potential for damage and not for Rocky, but for Rico. In thinking back about this behavior, it didn’t just start this winter. I have proof that it started or even existed last summer. Now it is to the point where it is dangerous for one possibly both birds. Below you’ll see my proof that this behavior existed last summer. What is reinforcing this behavior in this video?……me, and to be more exact, it is my encouraging tone of voice!

This behavior from the aviary has now shifted and perfected itself inside the house. First I identified what was reinforcing Rico’s dive bombing Rocky now that this was inside the house. Rocky is a runner, not a flyer. Rocky loves running through the house. The more Rocky runs freely, he squeaks a loud squeak that draws Rico’s attention. When Rico would see Rocky running through the house with his crest up and excited, this seemed to reinforce Rico’s behavior of flying near Rocky. It soon developed into flying and swooping closer to Rocky. Then eventually Rico would fly close enough I really started worrying about Rocky reaching up and snagging him out of the air, which is pretty likely if Rico got close enough.

I saw this starting to happen  and Rico was starting to get really good at it. I immediately came up with a behavior change plan through positive reinforcement training consisting of a few things at the same time. Before I move on, I saw the behavior of Rocky running in open spaces being punished, and to be exact it was being positively punished. By punished I’m referring to his behavior of running in open spaces decreased, hence the punishment. It was positively punished because the addition (+) of Rico flying in his environment caused the behavior of him running freely to decrease. Sorry, I’m not trying to get too involved, but for those following positive reinforcement, I just wanted to state what was being punished and how. The addition of Rico to Rocky’s environment was definitely becoming an aversive. I needed to nip this in the bud asap because my goal is to get Rico and Rocky interacting more without physical interaction so they both are socialized with other birds to help with any behavior issues.

Anyway, this behavior has since stopped. Rocky is now running through the house again with crest up and squeaking his very high-pitched squeak while Rico interacts with him vocally without dive bombing him. It is a pretty awesome sight to see.

I would positively reinforce (adding something to the environment that increases the rate of a particular behavior) Rico for other acceptable or desired behaviors like hopping across the kitchen table while Rocky would run through other parts of the house. He wasn’t standing still on the table but he was staying on the table. I positively reinforced him for staying on the table while Rocky ran. I stayed next to the table while first training this. I would reward him with “Good Boy Rico” every few seconds. Then I spaced it out to every 10 seconds. Then I would go over and give Rocky attention in hopes to increase his security in running through the kitchen again. I would keep my attention-giving to Rocky very short while looking over my shoulder to keep an eye on Rico making sure he wasn’t coming in for a dive bomb to Rocky again due to my loss of attention to him on the table. Initially I made sure I kept my interactions with Rocky short in order to be able to catch Rico watching and staying on the table. I would stand up and say “Good Job Rico” and give him praise and an added positive reinforcer for a job well done. I gave him a pine nut in addition. I was training Rico to station on the area of the table. I had to make sure I delivered positive reinforcers to Rico for this behavior, otherwise him staying on the table would soon prove to be of no value to him.

Reassuring Rocky.

I continued this process while paying close attention to the body language of both. If I saw the slightest change in body language of Rico while he was standing on the table I made sure to shorten my session with Rocky the next time to be able to catch the behavior I wanted to see in Rico and reinforce it. Because I caught all of this behavior pretty quick in the beginning before the undesired behavior got too out of hand, I was able to nip it all in the bud pretty quick. The concern is, Rico already knows and has seen consequences of him dive bombing Rocky. I state this because it could happen again. The more I pay attention to all of the precursors, the more successful I’ll be in changing the environment and training before it has the opportunity to happen again. I taught Rico to station on the table for a period of time in order to reinforce a desired behavior, Rico’s calmness, while extinguishing an undesired behavior, Rico’s dive bombing Rocky. This type of stationing was a temporary tactic used in a behavior modification plan.

With each time I interacted with Rocky, those times away from Rico became longer and longer. Soon Rico started doing other things like flying on top of the cupboards. When he did this, he would get other reactions from me, which resulted in him leaving Rocky alone. I gave this particular example to show how and why stationing could come in handy in working with two birds in an open space, such as the home. This particular behavior issue had every opportunity for the potential of aggression between two birds beginning to happen, and more importantly, with a dangerous consequence.

I still like Rico and Rocky to interact vocally with each other while paying close attention to body language. If I see the slightest change that may make me nervous, I try to identify the reinforcer and then make sure that reinforcer is no longer delivered, a procedure called extinction.

So back to stationing. I have 3 different scenarios of training a bird to station based on what behavior I was looking to increase. First, there is a video of Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo being taught to station on a boing hanging next to the kitchen while I’m walking out of the room and out of sight putting food in cages. I have a several videos showing how I shaped, or initially trained  the  pigeon to station on a particular perch in her cage on cue. (you can easily see how this could be trained with our companion parrots in the house). Last, I have a video of me training two Red-Tailed Hawks on the same perch. I want the one to station and stay perched while I call the one beside her to my glove, return her, and reward for stationing. This one also you can see how you could train the same behavior to two parrots, even two dogs. These same steps could be used to train a dog, a pet rat, a horse, and yes even the domestic house cat.

Let me begin with Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo. This is a video I shot last summer when I decided to train Rico to station on a boing hanging near the kitchen. Several things are going on in this video and there are a few reasons why I chose to train this behavior in this particular location. Rico is fully flighted and flies well. He is also quick to learn from his environment so it doesn’t take him long to figure out how to get into something I don’t necessarily want him to get into. Also, as Rico is getting older (almost 7) he is showing signs of nesting behaviors. I know these are natural behaviors but they are none I want to encourage as I see them causing frustration. Third, you will see the boing is hanging next to the cupboards that are full of bird food, treats, and toys. Rico loves to get into this cupboard and foraging through and eat all the treats. You will even see at one point where Rico moves toward the cupboard showing signs of thinking about going in, and changes his mind because he knows if he stays, the reward will be greater. So the training begins.

I edited this video to save time but to show the how I began training this behavior, showing real-time, and showing how I am bridging or marking the desired behavior from another room while I’m out of sight. Bridging or marking is the same as using the clicker in clicker training. My bridge is saying “Good” or “Good Boy Rico”. This marks the exact behavior I am looking for and lets Rico know that it is that particular behavior that is earning him his reward.

You see me rewarding him while I’m standing right there. He continues to stand there because he’s realizing if he stands there the treats are delivered. Another highly valued reinforcer for him is to hear me tell him he’s such a good boy. This has obvious effect, otherwise he would just walk down the boing and get the treats himself as he clearly sees they are within reach. If he were to fly off the boing or move on the boing, the bell that hangs at the bottom would let me know this from the other room.

Training him to station in this spot also comes in handy when I’m preparing dinner and opening cupboards. With each open cupboard comes the opportunity to fly into another lovely nest box. When I’m preparing dinner, I train and reward Rico for stationing on this same boing as I open and close cupboards reaching for spices. Yes, it comes in pretty handy and no need to use force or tell him “No!”. I can reward the behaviors I want to see and Rico looks pretty content sitting on the boing waiting for the goodies.

So, where to start? Ah, I have video of that too. These series of videos are taken by me with my cell phone while I’m training, so I apologize in advance for all the shaky video. In these videos I am training a pigeon to station. I make it extremely easy for her to give me the behavior I am looking for, which is why I start with a perch on the floor of her cage. Once she understands the cue, I begin changing the area of the perch. In the end, I placed the perch at the back of the cage. I did this because I heard a few people complain that Francis, the pigeon, was pecking people’s hands while they were trying to clean her cage. Time to put the ‘station’ cue to work. My intent was to get Francis to ‘station’ on the back perch, high above where people clean her cage grates and change her dishes. This way the undesired behavior of her chasing and pecking hands is not being reinforced if she’s stationing on her back perch. The key is to remember to reward her for stationing on her back perch. Otherwise chasing the hands becomes more rewarding.

Step 1: In this video you will see how I’m luring Francis to the perch. Here reward is a beak rub. I’ve placed the perch in an area easy for Francis to give me the behavior I’m requesting. This makes it easy for me to deliver her reinforcer. Francis will soon start doing whatever she thinks will earn her the reinforcer. In this video you’ll see she has no clue what I’m asking as she practically stumbles over the perch. I’m dangling my finger just above the perch, just above her head. She needs to step onto the perch to reach my finger.

Step 2: In this video, I am still saying the word “perch” ( which can be ‘station’, whatever word you choose) and you will see Francis doesn’t quite understand what it is that I’m requesting that will earn her the beak rub. What you do see in this video is her fluidly step up onto the perch. The reinforcer is quickly delivered to communicate to her that is the exact behavior that will earn her the reward.

Step 3: Wow! She’s getting it! Each of these videos were captured back to back and in one training session. Here you see she understands what it is I am asking that will earn her the reward. In this video you will also see where and how I have my hand in the cage to be able to quickly deliver the reinforcer when she gives the behavior. Immediacy in delivering the reinforcer is one of the four stages in reinforcer effectiveness.

Step 4: Just fine tuning the behavior. My goal is to ask her to perch and have her do it quickly, accurately, and consistently.

Step 5: By George, she’s got it!

Step 6: Here is where I took it further to put the behavior to work for the benefit of the cage cleaner’s hands. You will see that she now has a new perch and a new cue. I have now changed the cue to “station”. I could have and did shape the behavior of her staying put on that perch for long periods of time. In order to make sure I knew she understood clearly, I wanted to cue her off of it and say “station” again to make sure she would go back to it. She sure did! Here you will also see me target training her. Target training is training an animal to touch a particular object with a particular body part. I am training her to target to a plastic measuring spoon with her beak. This perch is directly above where I originally trained the behavior. You will even see that I leave her cage door open and she is choosing to stay in and continue training.

This is when I fell in love with Francis and our training continued well beyond that. Next was recall training and staying on my arm until cued off which we

Me training Francis the pigeon and Pete the blue jay at 2010's Meet The Flockers annual fundraiser for Nature's Nursery.

put to use in giving live flight demonstrations at a fundraiser with her and Pete, the blue jay.

In wrapping up this post, I’d like to finish with the video of how this training is also incorporated in training two Red-Tailed Hawks. You can easily see here also how this can be incorporated in how we would use this to train two parrots at home. We often call both of the Red Tails to the front perch in the enclosure to begin training. I am still working on getting the one used to a new trainer. In order to do this, the one Red Tail seems to give more behaviors if the other Red Tail is on the front perch with her. The problem we were running into was that the other Red Tail seemed to hog all the food. Another hurdle in the journey, but not one that can’t be figure out. So now we cue them both up to the front, ask the food hog to station, reward, and then train the other. This video was taken almost two years ago to the day. Kamikaze is the food hog on the left and Kamali is the one on the right. This video was taken back when I was the only one training. This was Kamili’s first time ever flying voluntarily to a glove. I was so excited but could now scream and jump for joy like I wanted to.

In this video you will see me reward Kamikaze for doing exactly what I want her to…..staying right there. I then turn to Kamali and call her to my glove. When she goes back, I turn to grab more food to once again reward Kamikaze for staying put while I trained the other.

Once I train an animal using positive reinforcement training, a piece of my heart goes to that animal. Positive reinforcement training paves a new pathway of communication between you and the animal, one the animal grows to respect and often times shows behaviors of wanting more. This is why I continue to train as many birds a week as I do. It makes a huge difference in their lives and when many of their choices lie in my hands, I choose to continue to offer this form of enrichment to them. I like to pay it back to them for allowing me to learn from them. They are nothing short of fascinating and I respect every ounce of that.


Ah, so its going to be one of ‘those’ days.

May 11, 2010 11 comments

Rico perching on my knee where I can better read his body language

I’m sitting here typing this with Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo on my knee. Why on my knee versus my head or shoulder? (hey, isn’t that a commercial?) He’s on my knee because it’s one of those days. Let me explain what I mean.

I was on the phone with my sister this morning. I went to get Rico out of his cage and he stepped right up as he usually does. He flew around the house a bit as I made breakfast. Flying to the top of the refrigerator to see what I was doing in the kitchen. Then flying back to his perch in the living room to check out the happenings out the front window. Then he flew to his favored or most frequented perch that hangs between the kitchen and the dinning room. I went to ask him to step up and he moved quickly in response to my hand with an open beak. I was a bit taken back by this action but respected it. Why would I respect this? Why wouldn’t I? Did I need him to step up? No. Did I want him to step up? Yes I did but it wasn’t a necessity. I was going to have him step up so I could pet and give him the usual neck snuggles.

I looked at him with a confused look on my face. He could have easily bit me if he wanted to as I was clearly within reach. I could have also gone in for another request to step up. I had a feeling if I did, he would have made his form of communication a little clearer that time. Yea, I don’t want to reinforce that behavior or teach him that the quick movement wasn’t clear enough and that maybe a step further, a bite I’m assuming, would do the trick. So I backed off, confused at the behavior.

I went on about my business and ate my breakfast. I walked up to Rico again, remembering his last action toward me. I showed him my hand without pushing it in front of him and asked him if he wanted to step up. I was going to see if he wanted to sit down with me while I ate breakfast. He sat on his perch obviously watching me. I saw his eyes move from my eyes to my hand. I paid close attention to his body language. You know what I saw? Some would describe it as nothing but I saw a lot. I saw him look at my hands, stand completely still, feathers up around the beak, and perched on one foot. Now that’s a lot of body language. My hand was held as an offering in front of him yet his body language or lack of movement clearly showed me he was not interested.

In a situation like this, I could have asked for more but why? Did I need him to step up? Like I said before, no I didn’t. I can’t read what is going on in Rico’s head so we rely heavily on each other’s body language. His body language pretty much told me “No, I don’t want to move.” or “No, I’m just fine where I am.” or “No, I find you and your human food pathetically uninteresting to me so please leave.” My point is whatever it is that was going through his head, I have no clue, but that body language can tell quite a bit. Rico has his own mind, his own life, his own opinion. This is nothing different than mine. Somedays I don’t want to be bothered with the telephone, the solicitor at the door, or someone touching me when I just want to be left alone. That’s ok and if you continue to force me or prod me to get me to get up off the couch because you feel like it, I may give you a piece of my mind after your continuing to try when I’ve thought I’ve made myself clear.

Rico eventually flew over to me at the dinning room table. I was happy to have him there. I wanted to reach out, grab him around his body with both hands, raise him upside down to my face, and kiss him on his back as I often do. Based on our previous two encounters this morning within the past few minutes, behavior was telling me this might not go off as planned or how I would like it to go.

I reached my hand over to him and rubbed my fingers together above but in front of his head. This is a signal that I often present to him at the same time when I ask “Can I pet?”. It is an added choice I can provide to them in their living situation with me. I ask them. If they don’t want to be pet, then I don’t do it. I rubbed my fingers and said “Can I pet?”. He turned his head and his eyes followed my fingers. Not a good sign for moving in for that pet. When he wants petted, he’ll usually slightly close his eyes or bend his head down in welcoming the scratch. When he turns his head and watches my hand, based on past experiences I know this means “Nah, not right now.” or “Just where do you think you’re with that thing?” or “That hand is better suited for putting that pathetic human food in your mouth versus on my neck right now.”. Whatever is going through his head, I don’t know, but that body language is clear. Very clear and I want to pay attention to that and let him know his message has been read loud and clear because if I push it, this teaches him that he hasn’t gotten his point across and he needs to make that message more clear.

So many times do I see people push the envelope with their requests. Actually, if the envelope is understandably being pushed, than is it a request? If you are telling me “No!” and I keep pushing, I think I’m taking your choice out of the situation and pushing the envelope. I know because I’ve pushed that envelope too and what I’ve learned is how effective, strong, relationship building, and easier it is when you don’t push that envelope.

I later went in for another request and Rico’s response was watching my hand and no movement of his feet stepping onto my hand. Yep, its going to be one of those days and by that I mean, his behavior isn’t the normal and typical bouncing, jumping, loving, and squawking cockatoo. He does this once in a while. I don’t know exactly why, but it happens. I know on days like today I really need to respect that body language because it means a lot to him and to my relationship with him. The more I respect the “Hey alright. You don’t want to be pet than I’ll go on about my business.” the more he respects that fact that I respect that. Did that make sense? Based on our behavior during and after days like this, I see our relationship getting even stronger as if that clear line of communication through body language on both parts are clearly understood and respected.

Our body language with each other is our language. It is our main form of communication with each other. Our language is “Rico/Lara” language. Just like English or Spanish, it’s unique and very strong and very powerful. It’s very effective if our sentences are put together properly, and just like English, if you use it loosely or get sloppy with it, you may see where your intention wasn’t well received or misunderstood. Hence the reason Rico is on my knee instead of my head or my shoulder. It’s days like today that I need to be able to see his body language and keep that communication clear. I don’t need the “Rico/Lara” language going bad or being used loosely when he’s on my shoulder. I try not to push the envelope to the point where I find myself saying “I knew that was going to happen.”

So here we sit on a dark, dreary, and rainy day in Ohio. I have a feeling its going to be a quiet day here in the house without a lot of action so I’m going to take advantage of it. Tomorrow, I bet will be one of those other days. You know, the crazy, jumping, squawking “Hey man, when are you going to pet me?” kind of days.

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