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:
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
A few months ago, I went ahead against all odds and harness trained Santina, a 14 year old rescue Green-Winged Macaw. I wasn't sure how long it would take or how difficult it would be, but it didn't matter because I was determined to make it work. I went in figuring that it could take a month or more as Santina is not only older but also a rescue bird.
The most important thing going into the harness training was that for the 4 months I had her since adoption, that we worked on all prerequisite training that would be necessary. I had already taught her to step up, was confident she wouldn't normally bite me, was able to touch and pet her anywhere, could open her wings, and could grab and lift her. More importantly, I made sure that she learned how to learn and that training would work. I had already target trained her and built up differential motivation for different training tasks. I had not taught her a single trick though. So we were going into this more as a typical pet scenario than a performing parrot.
One thing I learned is that the parrot isn't going to wear the harness just because. They are all resistant to it and it will only get progressively harder to put a harness on a bird that doesn't want to wear it. This is why my biggest recommendation to everyone who hasn't put a harness on their bird before, and is going to do so for the first time, is to use this training method right from the start. Don't try it on to see how your parrot reacts. You will regret it. It will make the training many times more difficult and ultimately take more time and effort. Even if you think your parrot is ultra tame and easy about it, just don't. Kili had already been performing many tricks and was a superbly trained parrot when I stuck the harness on her the first time, well it was a disaster and I had to start much more behind than if I jumped straight to the training. Your parrot just isn't going to like it so teach it to like it preemptively for much greater success.
Santina's harness training took less than a week. Actually it was just 4 days of training and 2 days of preemptive harness desensitization. She wasn't really scared of the harness in the first place but I went through those steps just in case anyway to play it safe. Then I took my time and taught her to put the harness on. It is soooo easy to put a harness on a cooperative parrot that works with you as opposed to leaning against you. When I need to move her wings or move the harness certain ways, Santina leans with me to make it go easier. This is why, even with a tame bird it is really worth doing the training to make the harness donning easier and to prevent any chance of scaring the tame bird accidentally.
I'm really happy how Santina's Harness Training DVD came out because it shows the process in great detail start to finish on a bird that isn't a baby, a bird that wasn't raised by me, and a bird that isn't trick trained. If Santina can do it, then any bird can. And now this DVD is available for purchase. Get a copy of my book or a harness and the DVD is half off. If you get both a book and a harness from my site, then the DVD is free!
Here's the thing you must remember to be successful with the harness training approach that I present, your parrot must meet the taming prerequisites or harness training is unlikely to be successful. How can you expect a parrot to allow you to move and stuff its wings into the harness straps if it won't let you pull its wings open under normal circumstances? How will a parrot be comfortable with you manipulating a harness on if it isn't even comfortable with you touching it? These things should not create additional distress to the parrot on top of this novel harness. This is why these must absolutely be worked on first. Furthermore, harness training takes greater than usual motivation for training. These are extensive topics and far more than could possibly covered in a single DVD so the Harness Training DVD does not cover any of these topics. The Harness Training DVD is specific to taking that tame and prepared parrot and specifically teaching it to wear a harness. All of the basics required prior to beginning this harness training are covered in my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. This is why I offer that special combination of harness + book with free harness training DVD because this is the best combination to ensure success with the harness from the start.
In the 2 months since learning to wear a harness, Santina has made colossal progress with going outside. She went from being quite scared and choking my arm with her grip to enjoying outings all around the city. I've been taking her on the subway and to remote places and she is getting to enjoy time outside and together with me thanks to this awesome harness capability. Here's a video of Santina putting her harness on entirely for the very first time (2 months ago) and trailer to her Harness Training DVD.
It's been nearly six months since I adopted Santina from Lazicki's. The progress since then has been monumental and this is an update to mention most of it. I have gone from a bird that wouldn't even step up for me to being able to take my entire flock out to Coney Island wearing harnesses.
Here's a list of the things Santina learned during this period: -Step up (inherited) -Touch her (inherited) -Head scratches (inherited) -Go in carrier -Target -Grab -Flip over -Take medication -Open wings -Getting along with other birds -Put on Harness -Socialization (don't bite others)
Santina was already known to be able to step up and cuddle with certain people, but this certainly wasn't the case with me on first encounter. So not only did I work on inheriting those qualities she already had, but I improved them to the maximum extent. I improved her step up reliability to 100%, got her comfortable being touched anywhere as necessary, and went on to do a lot more with her. I set lenient goals and always exceeded expectations. For example I was ready to have to take weeks to get her to step up but she was already doing so within a few days, I was ready to take a month to harness train her but did so in under a week, I hoped to be able to take her to Coney Island before the end of the summer and was already doing so a few weeks since harness training her. All in all, progress has been very efficient and she is doing stupendously.
Santina has been learning to get along with the other birds
I would estimate that I spent an average of 10 minutes twice a day training Santina. Some days sessions were as much as 30 minutes but other days I skipped training entirely. It's not a lot of time but it was always a focused and goal oriented time. For each specific thing I taught her, we would have a burst of focused training and in between training new things we would just take time off or review known behaviors. The time off between training to let things sink in is nearly as important as the time training itself.
This DVD features Santina and covers the entire harness training process from start to finish. You can see the exact steps I took to teach her to want to wear the harness and assist me in putting it on. The DVD covers 6 days of training and the 50 minute section of harness training equates to about 1/4 scale. In other words, some repetitions were cut out and the real training was only about 4 times as much as what you see in the DVD. Put a different way, that's just 3 hours of training or 6x 30 minute sessions. That's nothing! In a single outing, I can spend more time out with Santina wearing a harness than all the training that it took!
The secret is, well watch the DVD for secrets. But what I want to say is that you really have to see the DVD in conjunction with my book. The DVD is strictly about harness training and does not teach how to do training, how to manage motivation, etc. The approach demonstrated in the DVD presumes a moderately tame parrot that is capable of at least step up, being touched, being grabbed, targeting, and having its wings pulled open. All of these things are covered in my book and are absolutely mandatory requisites to even think of beginning harness training. I don't know how some people think they will stick a harness on a bird that bites them and won't even step up. Not gonna happen.
But all things said, I taught Santina all those requisites in about 4 months really taking my time. Then I taught her to wear a harness in under a week and spent another week or two getting her used to going outside. Some days I would take her out twice just so she would be more used to being outside and wearing the harness. In 2 months since harness training Santina, I had already gone so far as to take her to Coney Island (a really busy amusement area), on the Subway into NYC, and out with my other two parrots at the same time. This article and video aren't meant to teach you what to do but rather to inspire what you can do with your birds. All you need is some love, time, patience, and some Wizard's tools to help you in the process.
As you probably know, I love using the Aviator Harness for taking my parrots outside. It's the easiest and most reliable harness to use. Now I wanted to mention all the different colors that these harnesses are available in. They come in Black, Red, Green, Silver, Blue, Pink, and Purple. The variety is good because it can help you match the harness to your bird.
There are two ways to choose a color harness for your bird. Either match the color to your parrot's plumage and outer appearance or get a funky cool color to match your parrot's inner personality. I would recommend sticking to a matching or bland color for your first harness so that it is least distracting to the bird. However, once the parrot is accustomed to wearing a harness, there should be no problem picking any color you'd like.
Here are some harness color recommendations by species: Green Cheek Conure - Petite Size Green Ring-Necked Parakeet - XS Size Green Sun Conure - XS Size Red Senegal Parrot - XS Size Green Galah - Small Size Pink or Silver Timneh African Grey - Small Size Silver Congo African Grey - Medium Size Silver or Red Amazon Parrots - Small or Medium Size Green Eclectus - Medium Size Green or Red Blue and Gold Macaw - Large Size Blue or Red Scarlet Macaw - Large Size Red Green Winged Macaw - XL Size Red Hyacinth Macaw - XL or XXL Size Blue