1. Veterinary Exams
Every pet needs a yearly exam so why not improve their lives and make this visit as stress free as possible? Stress has been linked to a cornucopia of diseases, both physical and cognitive, stress can be reduced by associating good things (ie. toys, treats, praise etc.) with travel crates, nail clippers, body manipulations, syringes, swabs, towels, and anything else you can think. Training for medical exams greatly improves our pets quality of life. Wouldn't it be amazing to have your pet making friends and earning cookies at the vet's office instead of learning that people in scrubs give scary, strange, and uncomfortable procedures? Yes it would!
2. Medical Emergencies
The one thing that is more stressful than a vet visit is an emergency situation. Vet visits don't happen just once a year, the potential to make an emergency trip is always present: birds break blood feathers, dogs scarf down chocolate, cats stop eating, and lizard hemipenes prolapse. Having your animal trained to walk into a crate or let you manipulate a sensitive area can mean the difference of life and death. Training saves lives!
Learning to teach your animal behaviors without using force or aversives trains you to notice the most minute behavioral changes in their routine. Knowing what makes your pet uncomfortable and making a commitment to avoid these situations allows you to see problems cropping up long before they ever get bad. Having regular training sessions gives us information about how much food out pets eat and the mental state they're in, any deviations from this norm is cause for concern (like biting, pets of aversive-free trainers don't get bit but pets in pain can bite). Its like having super powers!
4. Preventing Behavior Problems
Noticing subtle changes in normal behavior feeds into another skill, seeing the potential for behavior problems to develop. If you recently brought home a particulary mouthy baby bird you may notice, not unlike a human child, they like to explore their new world with their mouth. Fingers are especially fun for birds to chew and manipulate but baby birds may not realize how much pressure they are using and the pain they cause. I realized this when I recently brought home my baby parrotlet, Titan. At first he would begin to lightly chew the soft webbing between my fingers (everyone has this webbing). Realizing that sometimes Titan would chew a little too hard I wanted to nip this behavior in the bud as I did not want this to develop into chewing fingers whenever he sees them. That would get in the way of him happily playing with my freinds because I want him to be able to play with anyone. To prevent him from chewing on my fingers I make it a point to leave small, chewable toys that he likes in front of his cage and I use them when I take little Titan out. This allows me to easily grab a fun, special toy he only gets when outside his cage. I prevent him from chewing my hands by offering the toys to chew first, and if he did beak my hands I redirect his attention to a nearby toy to chew instead.
|Taco, a recent foster bird.|
5. Socializing is Easier
Birds get scared and it's often from new people. Being equipped with training skills allow you to teach others how to make your bird feel comfortable in their prescence and allows you to observe and prevent situations that will cause your bird to associate anything aversive with new people. You'll know to reserve favorite treats only for such visits and to heavily reinforce your bird for appropriate behaviors towards your guests. I do this every time I have a visitor interested in meeting my birds. Think of it as an interview, but the employer is your pet looking to hire new acquaintances. First impressions are very important for any interview and it begins when you walk in the door, the same is true for your pet bird. When my doorbell rings I open the door and ask the company that if they want to make friends with the birds inside the best thing to do is immediately sit down on the couch without making much eye contact or fuss (now that might not hold true for your hyperactive caique but it certainly won't make the bird scared of your visitors). I work with rescue birds that have a history of poor behavior habits and they have responded most positively to visitors that keep their space, keep their voice low, and offer lots and lots of reinforcers (special treats, toys, and activities for only when they are really good). My fosters have always warmed up very quickly to new people this way and it is easy to tell when a visitor has passed their interview.
Caitlin Bird copyright 2014