Friday, July 19, 2013

What Jojo Has Learned

Training a large 30+ year old Moluccan Cockatoo with an unknown history a trainer has to be very careful when working with a bird where over 22 out of his 30 years are missing. It could spell disaster for the unprepared and uncautious person.

Cockatoos, Moluccans in particular, can cause serious injuries to the people around them. I do not wish go into much detail as to what kind of damage they can cause, you are better off googling that yourself. Jojo has had at least two serious incidences where he has bitten someone, the rest is unfortuetly unknown.

Fostering Jojo for almost a month now I have gone without incident of a bite and I hope to keep it that way. 

Being cautious as a trainer means respecting the animal's desires. If I find that Jojo doesn't want to step up onto a perch I respect that and back off at the first sign of discomfort I see. I work on building a relationship with the animal's under my care and you can't have a relationship without communication and respect. Caution breeds respect which forms from communication leading to a strong relationship.

So Jojo is scared of stepping up onto a perch (and hands for that matter) and given his unknown history I'm not going to handle him if there is a possibility of getting severely bitten. It's just not smart! Is Jojo just going to sit in his cage for the rest of his life? How can I possibly respect his wish to not step up and not get bitten in the process? Through baby steps and lots of reinforcers.

Over the course of a week I learned what Jojo likes the most; attention, tug of war, spoons, phone books, eggs, warm oatmeal (or anything warm and mushy) and pretty much whatever I'm eating. I used these to my advantage in training Jojo with baby steps to stepping up. First step was clicker association, then target training in the cage, leading to target training out of the cage where I can then start introducing a perch.

My training plan looked something like this:


Target in and out of the cage

Target onto free standing perch

Target to perch with my hand near the perch

Target to perch with hand on perch

Move perch a little with hand 

Move perch in larger succsessions over time

Target to hand holding dowel perch 

Highlighted in green is what Jojo currently knows. He learned to step up onto the free standing perch today (yay!) and tomorrow I'll introduce my hand. It looks like a lot of steps to learn one behavior, but that's only because I had to write it all out into a list. In reality birds can pick up behaviors quckly and often skip steps in a training plan like this. They are intellegent animals after all, if you didn't know. :-)

By taking baby steps and respecting the animals we care for by reading their body language and responding approprately, we can have successful relationships with the animals we have been endowed with.

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

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