Saturday, June 27, 2009

Expectations for Interaction

When we bring companion birds into our lives and our homes, what are our expectations?

We may be disappointed, if we expect

1. A bird should always enjoy "cuddling".

2. A bird is much like a dog or a cat, but with feathers.

3. A bird will always want to interact with us when asked.

4. A bird will be a 'low maintenance' pet.

5. A "hand fed baby" will not require any training.

6. A bird will not provide any unique challenges, opportunities for learning and growth, or even stretch our patience at times!

We most likely will not be disappointed, if we anticipate:

1. A relationship with a companion bird, as with a relationship with a human, takes time, effort, patience and understanding.

2. A relationship with a bird simply does not happen over night. I get concerned when I read:

"I just brought my bird home, and it will let me do anything!"

Two weeks later, the same person will relate:

"My sweet bird has taken a turn for the worse! We have had a "set back" in our training! When I first brought it home, I could do anything to it, and now, it tries to bite me every chance it gets!"

This bird has not had a "set back". It may have been compliant when it first came into the new home, and is now becoming more comfortable to express itself. Sadly, the first couple of weeks in the new home the bird has most likely begun to learn that its body language is largely or totally ignored.

3. For a variety of reasons, a bird may not always want to interact when we have a few spare minutes. This is one of the many times when observing body language is essential. If we have the expectation that every time we want to interact, the bird either will or should, and if we act upon that belief, we will most likely be disappointed, bit or both.

If we ask a friend to go to the movie, and they say "no thank you", we do not become bewildered and fear that they no longer 'love us'. We also do not immediately panic and think that their desire to watch tv or "veg" means a trip to the doctor is in order.

We do acknowledge that it may be a bad time for them, there is something they would rather do than see a movie, and for whatever reason, whether known to us or not, we will not be going to the movie with them. Asking twice is a possibility, but beyond that, we will be accused of badgering them, our relationship is likely to suffer and it might even result in future avoidance. It is nothing personal, they simply don't feel like a movie. Our relationship will be strengthened if both parties can openly and honestly communicate their feelings, be heard and be understood.

With our birds, we often want to make it personal, asking if we have done something, or contemplating that they suddenly "hate" us because they do not want to step up, or they fly away from us and return to their living space.

Instead, it is a moment to ask ourselves, what is in it for the bird to interact? And still then, there may be something they would rather do that is more reinforcing at that particular moment than interacting with their companion.

Recognizing and allowing a bird to have the option, the choice, and the empowerment to assert their likes and dislikes, including interactions, often results in a bird that wants more interaction with humans. Especially if its experience has been that when it chooses for the interaction to be concluded, the interaction will end.

What positive experiences have they had during interactions? What other things may they want to be doing instead (eating, napping, playing, etc.). How can we "sweeten the pot" and make each interaction as positively reinforcing as possible?

If I know that in taking a friend's phone call, I am facing a two hour marathon conversation, you can bet there will be times I am not up for taking that call. If on the other hand we can have some pleasant, and relatively non-marathon type conversations, ones in which I am free to say that I'm really not in the mood to talk, it is time for dinner, or I have something I need to get done, then there is a greater likelihood that I will not avoid the phone call.

One way to end a positive interaction on a really negative note is to prolong it beyond the point when the bird no longer desires the interaction. This often happens, either consciously or subconsciously, with the idea that by our efforts and persistence, they will get into it again, or change their mind, if only a bit of persuasion (aka coercion) is used.

No doubt we have all had the experience in human relationships, where someone make relationship demands without considering our likes, dislikes, needs or schedules. Their mere presence, or voice on the phone may immediately increase our anxiety level, we may feel on guard, and we may even lash out at the person. This is because of our experience with them... what we have learned will be the likely outcome of interactions or conversations. For example, under other circumstances, we may enjoy their company, but not if we sense we may be involved in a marathon session or other interaction that does not fit with our plans for that day.

When Coco steps up, I do not immediately dash off with her, but provide an opportunity for her to return to the perch if she chooses. This reinforces a number of things, including that it is ok to step up, say hello, and step back down again. And, she will usually get a treat for that. Note: She will get more treats if she remains with me, as well as other opportunities for things that are usually personally reinforcing to her.

I appreciate the interaction for what it is, because it is what she wanted to do, even if she returns to the perch. Nothing personal. And, nothing coercive. It has truly been my experience that a bird that learns that choosing to interact and for how long is within its control, the interaction increases. Naturally - because the results of the interaction are a positive consequence.

Appropriate expectations help us keep perspective when interacting and working with our companion birds.


wolfgirl1987 said...

Great blog, Robin!

Anonymous said...

I love this blog!

Robin Cherkas said...

Thank you!

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