I received a question from a follower about whether or not it is possible for someone with a handicap/disability to put an Aviator Harness on a parrot with just one hand. I was about to just say the first thing that came to mind, "no!" But I had no experience with this either way so instead I said that I would look into it. After all, who better to try it out and find out?
I realize that there are many people with disabilities that keep parrots. Some are in a wheelchair or have shaky hands from PTSD. Others have trouble just from age while some are young and dealing with a temporary injury. So although the video included here is based on one single type of disability, I would like to use this as an encouragement for any physically challenged owner that there are ways to succeed in training your parrot despite your impairment.
Note that although this article is about one specific type of impairment and about one kind of training example, the mindset conveyed here may be helpful for all sorts of parrot issues and for any person having trouble with their parrot.
Granted Santina is fully harness trained already, this experiment was solely about whether or not it is even possible to consider harnessing a parrot with the use of just one hand. Well, I am happy to say that I learned that it is. Santina had not even worn a harness since last year and yet she was cooperative at putting it on. This is largely due to the fact that she was taught to wear the harness using positive reinforcement from the start and looks forward to it whenever she sees it. Since the harness was never forced on her, she has no reason to freak out when she sees it for the first time in a while. I did just one normal run with the harness to make sure she was still ok with it.
So I dangled the harness in front of Santina and she just stuck her head straight into the collar the way she was taught. Getting the collar onto the bird myself with one hand would have been much harder and simply impossible if the bird resisted. But since she actually wants to get it on, her assistance made it substantially easier! Pulling the straps through and around the wings was only more time consuming but no harder than usual. The hardest part I found was to pull all the extra material through the bird-proof clasp with one hand! Without the ability to hold the clasp in one hand and feed the material through with the other, it was a challenge of dexterity to do it with my fingers. But with practice it got better and by the second take, I kind of had it down. I would recommend anyone with a disability working with the harness, or any kind of training, practice all the mechanics of it ahead of time to reduce strain on the bird.
Besides a few nuts, Santina got to go outside for the first time this season, a reminder of how wonderful it is to wear a harness and go out. I didn't pester her further with my own clumsiness to take it off with one hand because she was eager to get back to her normal bird business when we returned. However, I am sure that the exact same process could be repeated in reverse. My conclusion is that if you can tie your shoe laces with one hand and go about daily tasks, putting an Aviator Harness on a parrot with one hand is at least possible!
The key part is the training. More precisely than ever, the bird with the impaired owner requires the most accurate of training. Yes, the parrot can be taught to fill some of the role of the owner and help in the harnessing process! But the training must be correct and thorough. More patience, self discipline, and attention will be required. But if your goal is to beat your impairment and achieve the same things with your parrot, then I think it can be done!
Sometimes I find myself impaired during parrot training even with two hands. Some things I do with the birds makes me wish I had three or four hands to accomplish all the training at the same time. But since that won't be happening, I have to make do with what I have. I find ways to either break behaviors down into smaller portions, devise tools to help me do more within my capabilities, or worst case scenario, I seek help from someone else to get more hands into the training scenario. No reason the same can't be done going from two hands to one, or working from a wheelchair, or dealing with a different impediment.
I suggest that anyone planning on having their parrot wear a harness to safely go outside, follow the steps covered in my Harness Training DVD. Further, it is important that the bird be prepared to begin this advanced training by performing the requisite basic training explained in my book. There is an automatic special discount built in on my online store. If you order a Book + DVD or Harness + DVD, DVD is 50% off. Book + Harness and the DVD is free.
What I found interesting was how not-unusual the challenge was! Although it was challenging, it was challenging the same way that any parrot training task is. There is a goal to accomplish x and y with the parrot with limited means and communication. So I work on solving the puzzle through trial and error, positive reinforcement, reading body language, and all the usual tools used to train behavior to the birds. What I discovered was that harnessing a parrot with one hand is really the exact same thing just with the added step of using less appendages and more patience. This turned out to only be one step more complicated than harness training a parrot in the first place. There are loads of other challenges in getting a parrot to wear a harness so this is just an extension of that and just adds one more challenge and nothing more. The same problem solving mindset that needs to applied to teaching the bird to wear a harness in the first place can just as well help overcome the added physical demands.
This system for overcoming disability and accomplishing things with our parrots stems far beyond just harness training. Target training, trick training, taming, flight training, and all that good stuff can be achieved through patient persistent application of the training methods that I teach. I'm not saying it will be easy. You will have to tailor these methods to your specific conditions. But following this system, you will find success with your bird.
Rachel the Blue and Gold Macaw loves getting sprayed from a water bottle. Marianna sprays mist on and around Rachel and Rachel just soaks it all in. She dances around her Training Perches with her wings flapping to catch the mist. This is pretty typical for a rainforest parrot. Parrots from dry climates on the other hand (like Senegal Parrots, Budgerigars, etc) don't really like to shower much.
While Rachel can get really excited about a shower, Truman the Cape Parrot prefers baths. Meanwhile Kili the Senegal Parrot and Santina the Green-Winged Macaw are pretty indifferent to water. Either they don't want to get wet and resist or at best they do nothing. They just never get into it like Rachel does but I figure that when they aren't mad about getting wet, that these are the times they like it.
The best way to get your parrot used to showering is with a gentle spray mister. Use slightly warm water. Squirt the mist above the bird and let it fall onto the bird. Avoid squirting at the bird directly unless it likes it. The important thing is never to use a spray bottle for punishment or make showering an unpleasant experience. As long as you keep it enjoyable, it will be a great activity for you and your parrot to enjoy together.
Here's a video of Rachel getting sprayed from a water bottle.
July 18/19 2015, a game-changing parrot training seminar was held in Russelsheim Germany outside Frankfurt. The seminar was the culmination of nearly a year's worth of online webinar sessions during the scope of which I was teaching training methodology and harness training for parrots of all levels.
The Germans accepted us with great hospitality. Bratwursts and pork chops were plentiful. We got to meet many members of the German flight club and their birds during the barbecue the night before the seminar.
During the Seminar we alternated between lectures, outdoor flight demonstrations, and feedback sessions for members. Flight club members would show me what they have accomplished with their own parrots and I gave them pointers and feedback on their training. Overall I was very happy to see so much progress and success since we began the webinar series.
During intermissions, there were outdoor flight training demonstrations. Most of the parrots flown were on harnesses with long leashes. But a few birds were even free flown. The Germans are convinced that flight and particularly outdoor flight is necessary to maintain a parrot's health.
In Germany, they have a particularly bad epidemic of aspergillus in parrots. The flight club, with the help of several avian veterinarians, maintains that outdoor flight is the only prevention/cure to the infectious lung disease. More and more people are learning to fly their parrots outside for fun and for health.
In the following video you can see some of the flights that were made. They use particularly long flight lines to fly the birds across a soccer field. Some of the flights by more experienced fliers were successful while some of the beginners ran into some trouble. In one case, a pair of blue and gold macaws flew to the end of the line several times in a row. One cockatoo somehow decided to turn around 180 and fly the wrong way. But in all cases of screw ups, the aviator harness prevented the parrots from getting into serious trouble and safely brought them down to the ground in a recoverable place. Further webinars and training will be necessary to improve recall flight reliability.
On the Sunday following the seminar, many of the attendees came on a historic parrot outing. Over 20 people and 15 parrots set out by ferry, foot, and by wing to explore the German countryside. A long walk was rewarded with a pleasant lunch at a tavern.
Flight club members received matching shirts at their seminar "graduation." They all proudly wore them to the parrot walk. If it wasn't obvious by the parrots on their shoulders, the matching shirts confirmed the group unity. Marianna and I received an honorary induction into their group after lunch.
Here is a video of the walking adventure:
After lunch, a few of us headed to a nearby field to fly some parrots. Florian brought his Harlequin and Blue and Gold Macaw with him. Before we reached the flying location, Saphira the Harlequin Macaw flew off of his shoulder and into a tall tree. Moments later, the Blue and Gold took flight to follow. While the Harlequin is accustomed to freeflight, the Blue and Gold would only sit with a harness. The force of the macaw flying off at full speed coupled with a badly chewed harness, broke the connection and the macaw took off into the tall tree. Florian watched the macaw flying away while I grabbed my camera and caught the moment.
The Blue and Gold tried to land on the branch with the Harlequin but somehow scared her out of the tree. Florian did not seem worried. He said this had happened before and he expected the two macaws to come back. After ten minutes of watching and calling passed, I realized the birds were not going to just come back. I said, "we need more birds" and ran back to where the rest of the club was relaxing. I grabbed a few people with macaws and told them to bring their flight lines.
The idea was to start flying other parrots (safely) to try to entice the lost parrots to come and join them. Unfortunately the parrots being harness flown weren't particularly enthusiastic about flying and the lost parrots were not eager to come back. Florian kept watching and calling but it was of no use. We watched leaves and branches falling out of the tall tree as the parrots were having the time of their life. An all you can chew parrot play ground is not an easy place to get a lost parrot to come back from.
Florian normally used the harnessed Blue and Gold Macaw as a motivator for the freeflight Harlequin to come back. But now that they were both gone, he could not even manage to get the Harlequin to come back. He tried to use treats and Saphira the freeflight capable macaw even came back once for a treat. But no sooner did Florian give the treat that the bird took back off into the tree.
The harness did not break for no reason. A new or well maintained harness would not have broken under similar circumstances. Other members of the group had noticed Zazou chewing on his harness and notified Florian. Unfortunately Florian did not accept that the harness was damaged until he stood there holding nothing more than the black end of the leash. An important lesson learned is not to leave parrots with harnesses unattended and to check them for damage prior to every outing.
More than an hour later, the Harlequin vacated the tree. First she flew to a shorter tree some distance away. But as Florian kept calling, she finally came to him. Florian hoped that Saphira would help call Zazou back. But it wasn't working. The group had to head back. So we left Florian and a few others to work on getting Zazou back. Some friends brought Florian's RV camper to the site so he could spend the night and continue his efforts in the morning.
We did not get to witness the recovery. But from what we learned, Florian was unable to recover Zazou all day. Zazou got rid of what was left of the harness and got driven away by predators. When all hope was lost and night set in, Florian went into his motorhome for the night. No sooner did he close the door that he heard Zazou outside. He came out to find that Zazou flew down and landed on the roof of the camper on her own. Here is a video of the parrots flying away and a discussion of the recovery effort:
Parrots are birds and birds fly. Allowing parrots to fly free in our homes is exhilarating but also poses some challenges. Without going into too much detail about other important things about flight safety (these are covered in my book), I want to focus on the training element.
Teaching a parrot to fly to you actually covers two different dilemmas. The first is teaching a parrot to fly controlled within our home at all in the first place and the second is actually about coming to you. What you must realize is that the bird has to actually learn how to fly to you as much as teaching it to want to.
The two best tools for teaching this controlled form of flight are a pair of Training Perches and a target stick. Luckily the Parrot Training Perch Kit I offer includes a clicker and target stick in addition to two perches so you'd be ready to begin the flight training out of the box!
If you haven't already done basic clicker and target training with a walking parrot on a perch, go back and do that first. Flying is harder so without understanding what you are asking and a high level of motivation, there is no way the parrot will break ground for just a stick. Begin the flight training process with a reminder of the walking target training. Set up the two training perches in parallel but so close together that the parrot can step and target from one perch to the other.
Continue to practice targeting the parrots between the two training perches until you start to build up a rhythm. The parrot will begin to foresee that you will target one way and the other and maybe even jump the gun a little and go before targeted. This isn't really what we are after but it will show good motivation to continue. Begin to spread the gap between the two training perches ever so slightly. Continue targeting the parrot between the perches without letting it realize that the gap grows after subsequent targeting attempts.
Eventually the gap will be big enough that the bird will have to jump or fly to get across. Hopefully the bird is a capable enough of a flyer to be able to realize to do this on its own. If it does not, you may need to trick the timid bird that won't fly into walking across but then spreading the gap enroute to cause the first flight to happen. A way to do this is to set the two training perches just slightly too far apart to walk. Then tip the remote perch toward the bird and target for it to walk. Just as the bird reaches the gap, return the distant perch to its original position. This will cause the bird to flap reflexively to catch its balance and make it across the gap. With sufficient rewards and motivation, after a few such attempts, the bird will begin to make the effort to fly across.
Progress will be slow at first but then pick up. At first the bird does not know what you want but also doesn't know how to control itself to make such a flight. Furthermore, the flight muscles may be atrophied or inadequately exercised. It will take time for the bird to regain the strength and motor skills before progress can be made. Continue spreading the gap between the two training perches and target the bird to fly bigger distances. The bird will develop skills and strength after a few days of these exercises. Adjust the height of the training perches to teach the parrot to fly up and down as well. Eventually replace the second training perch with your hand or arm. Phase out the target stick but continue giving treats for successful flight recalls. Instead of targeting, you can call your bird's name as a command to fly to you. Keep increasing the distance and challenging your bird and you will develop an excellent and reliable flight recall.
Keep in mind that very high levels of training motivation are required for flight training. You can use a combination of food management, trick training, and other techniques to achieve it. This is covered in great detail in my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots.
Now get a Parrot Training Perch Kit and follow these steps and you will be on your way to flight recall training your parrot. More videos and information about this flight training method are available on the Training Perch site.
After a long cold winter, spring has finally come. The weather is nice and getting the parrots outside is on people's minds. But for the parrots, wearing a harness is something long past. So what to do? This is where "reharness" training the parrots comes in!
My parrots all know how to put on a harness. They have all received the training to not be scared and know how to put the harness on. However, after such a winter that we didn't get to go out even once, their harness wearing skills are a bit rusty. They are less eager to put the harness on or don't quite remember how to get their heads into the collar. But all it takes is a little bit of reharness training to get them back to normal.
Out of my flock, Santina needed the most reminding and that is not surprising because she has least harness experience. After a treat or two, Kili already recalled exactly what to do. Truman, well he's a bit of a thick headed bird. In more ways than one! So he needed a little more work to help him remember how to get his big Poicephalus head through the collar. He was trying to assure me that he can get it in easily but that was for the wrong part! But with a bit of practice, he got it all sorted out as well.
The process of reharness training a parrot is quite simple. It's an expedited retrace of the steps it took for the bird to learn to wear a harness in the first place. If your parrot did not learn how to wear a harness in the first place, then there are no steps to retrace. First of all, if your parrot never wore a harness in the first place, you need to follow a procedure for teaching it in the first place. However, I am also addressing the people who managed to just get the harness on their parrot (like when it was a baby or maybe just by luck). If the steps taken to teach the parrot to wear a harness were not specific and memorable, then you have nothing to trace back on. In either case, my harness training solution is thoroughly explained between my book and harness training dvd. The book teaches you all the basic taming requisites before you can being harness training and the DVD has Santina demonstrate step by step as she learns to wear the harness for the first time. So if you have not followed this method initially, do that this time. Next time, the following reharness training steps will work for you.
Depending on how rusty the bird is will affect how much I need to go back to basics. Since none of my parrots were scared or uncomfortable with the harness, I immediately skipped the desensitization. Nothing bad ever happened with the harness or at least not since they've last worn them successfully so the good we initially established persists. All of the birds have remained tame through the winter because of continued handling so that required no work either. All they needed help with is remembering how to stick their heads in the collar and rekindling a desire to wear the harness at all.
Seeing the harness alone did not evoke a desire to put it on. However, the sight of the welcoming harness collar and a treat in my hand reminded them of the "harness trick" they had once learned to put the collar on. They quickly recalled the learning that had taken place some time ago and were back on track.
To aid with the harness retraining, I make the collar stick out in a more convenient manner so that the birds can find where to put their head. As they get better, I have them work a bit harder. Just like with all training, it has to start easy at first and then get progressively more challenging. I increase how much contact the harness makes and duration on subsequent success. If the process moves along smoothly, I move quickly. If I find any trouble spots, I slow down and work on those.
Not only has Kili been harness trained, but she has also been reharness trained so many times that it only takes flashing a treat to make her go back to putting the harness on right. This is the benefit of following reproducible procedures year after year.
When I get the birds outside for the first time of the season, I assume things will be a bit frightening so I take my time. I don't keep them out for too long at first. But it only takes a few minutes or sessions outside until things return to normal. The more years that this is repeated, the more quickly and easily it all comes back.
Three things I offer when it comes to harness training your parrot to safely go outside:
My Book - This will teach you what you need to be able to do before you can even begin harness training Harness Training DVD - Step by step procedure for harness training an already tame parrot Aviator Harness - Get your leash on sale from Parrot Wizard