Marianna and I recently got to visit Steve Hartman from The Parrot University and learn about how the Aviator Harness is made. He took us on a personal tour of the production facility and shares with you in the video at the end.
This article is about how to make a bird harness in a professional way beyond just a nylon strap and some buckles. You will get to find out some of the hidden features of the Aviator Harness that you never knew about. Getting to see how the harness is made first hand, gave me an even greater appreciation of the product that I have been using and selling for years. Much more goes into making it than I had previously realized. Here are some things that you probably never heard about the Aviator Harness as it was pretty new to me as well:
It's all in the material. The strap material used to make the Aviator Harness is carefully chosen for a combination of strength and comfort. Not only has the company tested and rejected a multitude of materials, every batch of material is tested to conform to stringent standards.
Welded, not sewn.. I've known for some time that the Aviator Harness is "welded" but never truly understood what this means or why it is done this way. It turns out that they were originally sewn together but that the parrots would immediately go for the stitches and chew them out. The weld isn't exactly a weld. It's not like they take a hot torch or iron to melt the strap to itself. Instead, they have a special machine that vibrates a pin into the material so fast that it melts together locally. It's quite strange really. The machine does not apply heat. Instead, it uses the friction of the vibration to make the material melt itself. This creates a bunch of contact points that hold it all together that the parrot cannot separate.
One metal slide is all. There is only one point of adjustment on the Aviator Harness and that is the black metal slide. Not to be confused with plastic, the slide on the Aviator is made from black powder coated steel. I got to hold these in my hand and I realized that they are much heavier and tougher than they look. This would appear to be the single point of failure for a harness, but in all my years of using these harnesses, the slide is one part that never got damaged in the slightest.
Grooming is everything. They call it grooming but it's really just a process of smoothing everything out with a torch. There are naturally a lot of rough spots such as the ends, the welds, and contact points on the strap. Each strap is held up to a flame by hand to get it smoothed out wherever there is a rough edge. It might be hard to realize this with a finished harness in hand but when you feel how they come out before they are groomed, you would realize it would be quite uncomfortably poking the bird.
They're already stretched. The strapping itself is pretty firm, especially when scaled down for the smaller birds. I remember how I used to tell people to wash their new Aviator a few times before initial use to soften it up. Well, it turns out that now all of the Aviator Harnesses are per-processed to be ready for use out of the box. They are each stretched, shrunk, or washed as necessary to be soft and ready for use out of the box.
Each harness is tested. Not by a parrot but by multiple quality control checks built into the system. Because multiple different people are involved in the various stages of production, any mistakes or defects are caught early. There is virtually no chance that a bad Aviator makes it out to customers and breaks allowing the bird to fly away. They are pulled and checked over many times to make sure this does not happen.
They're made in the US. The Aviator Harnesses are made in the US by US employees. Steve employs local college students part time in addition to full time employees to produce the harnesses. He explained to me that he tried to have them made in China but that the quality was not sufficient or consistent enough to satisfy parrot owners. It is really important that each harness is safe and works out of the box but with outsourced manufacturing, it just wasn't possible to control this. So, the Aviator is put together in the US for the highest quality standards.
It takes a long time to make. By the looks of it, you'd think it could be made in a few minutes but that is not the case. There are over 20 steps in making an Aviator Harness. Multiply that by 8 sizes and 7 colors and that is a heck of a lot of steps! As the harnesses are produced, they can spend over a month moving from station to station to go through the various stages before they are finally packaged and shipped. If you wanted to make one yourself, it would take a really long time and even then, you would not have access to the specialized machinery and would have to compromise the quality. Basically, it would not be worth spending the kind of time it would take to make one from scratch.
I learned another secret during my visit, the price of the Aviator Harness is about to go up on November 1. If you don't have one or need another, order now before the price goes up worldwide at every store (including mine).
I have to say, I was genuinely impressed with how the Aviators are produced. A lot of thought, experience, and care for the parrots' welfare has gone into how they are made. It was a pleasure getting to meet Steve and his wife Judy. I'm as proud as ever to be one of the biggest vendors of the Aviator Harness in the United States. Every size and color is available for the lowest price at ParrotWizard.com. Also, please check out my own, personally made, support products such as my Training Perches, Book, and Harness Training DVD.
Here is a video of Steve showing Marianna the process of making an Aviator Harness for Parrots:
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.
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.
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