While at the IAABC conference in Warwick, Rhode Island this year, I got into an interesting discussion with some of the ‘non bird’ folk there, and some bird folk, including Dr. Susan Friedman. We were having some friendly banter on teaching birds, avian knowledge, and so-forth. I don’t remember the entire context of what we were talking about, but I mentioned that you don’t approach a bird like you do a dog. That led to some discussion on how all animals learn the same way.
I do believe that all animals learn the same way – there is no dispute. All humans learn the same way, as well. Educating ourselves as to how animals learn is of utmost importance for behaviors and trainers to understand, so we can dissect the steps and effectively and efficiently train a well behaved animal.
However, this is my personal opinion on the subject: All children learn the same way, but you have different levels of understanding, and different ways of handling the teaching. Certain children thrive in different situations, and even among the normal classroom set, there are children that are in special classes to help them learn in areas that they may exceed, or have difficulty in. I feel this is the same way for parrots.
My argument is not that parrots learn differently – no, it’s about the approach. You cannot approach a dog like you can a bird, for a very simple reason: one is a predator, the other is prey. You may be unknowingly sending signals via your body language that is frightening your bird. Prey animals and predators have an entirely different set of body language, and you must understand that to fully communicate with your bird.
I feel like this is why there are so many different theories in training birds. I personally believe it all boils down to not how the majority of mainstream trainers are teaching their birds, because in its most simplistic form, it is all the same. Instead, I feel like the avian community is getting hung up on the logistics of not the object of teaching; rather, we are focusing on each individual trainers methodology instead. If we got to a solid understanding of the scientific facts behind learning, and coupled it with easy-to-replicate methodology, you would have the perfect parrot.
There are so many factors to take into consideration when working with birds as compared to other animals. Not only are birds prey animals, but they are also not domesticated. Birds do not have the advantage that dogs do, which is thousands of years of breeding for the implicit purpose of a happy go lucky pet. Instead, today on the market we still have older birds that were pulled straight from their native, wild habitats and are forced to be human companions. Now that wild birds are no longer allowed to be legally imported in the US, that current is of course changing. However, handfed baby bird or not, you are still dealing with essentially a wild animal with very wild instincts.
As pet bird owners and enthusiasts, it is our duty to be well educated and well informed on current avian husbandry practices, and training methods. Realizing that everyone has a slightly different methodology, even within the same area of training, is the first step. Embracing everyone’s unique perspective that they bring is the next. Without a myriad of opinions, theories, and methods, we would not be where we are in aviculture today. It is always someone that has to take the first step, and I would like to thank all of our behavior pioneers who have brought their knowledge into the aviculture industry over the past 20+ years.
Want to check out some of the avian behaviorist pioneers?
‘New School’ industry leaders