Thursday, November 19, 2009

I've Got The Time!


Our canine friends (especially Barney) always have 'time' for us. They cannot wait to be called over for any tidbit of our attention. They hang on our every word, and wait for any sign that we may want interaction. They are anxious to accommodate our every wish, thus well deserving the "man's best friend" moniker.

When it comes to the felines in our lives, we may desire to interact, but often we have learned from experience that a cat may not be on the same page. And in that instance, it can well put a hurtin' on us if we ignore the telltale growling and hissing warnings.

To the extent the cat must further convince us by use of their razor sharp claws on our tender skin, causing us to finally back off this, in behavioral terms, is called positive punishment. All I can say is that I positively won't approach and/or push a cat that is hissing, growling and having a steely cold look in its eye!

When I see questions such as, "how can I get my bird to cuddle more?", or "how can I get my bird to enjoy being petted", it makes me wonder if some think of birds as dogs with wings and feathers.

Most children grow up experiencing dogs and cats in either their own home or those of friends or relatives. They learn that each animal is unique, having its own individual characteristics, in addition to some general characteristics of the breed. Most important, we learn what growling, hissing and foaming at the mouth mean, and how we should best react (or not). Children know that a dog or cat displaying these attributes is not interested in 'getting to know them' and it is best to step away immediately. Often this is discovered through trial and error, and real life experiences of a few scratches or bites!

We cannot imagine a parent encouraging a child to continue to pursue interaction with a dog or cat that is growling or displaying other clear signals and body language that it does not desire interaction. We also cannot imagine advising to allow the dog or cat bite and scratch, while holding the hand and body steady, in an attempt to 'teach' the animal that biting the cr*p out of the child will 'gain it nothing'.

The adult would know that the animal is sending a clear signal and further pursuit will only result in escalation of both body language and danger to the child. They would be quick to counsel the child to leave the animal well enough alone for the time being. We certainly would question advice to the contrary.

Common sense would dictate that proceeding with such an the animal will lead to harm and that the animal will not be "won over" with such tactics.

Equally disturbing, the advice to grab a bird, holding the grip until it 'complies' and realizes that the human means it no harm. (That would be - the same human that is holding it beyond its will and exerting power and control - means it no harm?)

When it comes to working with birds, we do often see an approach where someone is clearly pushing past the signals and body language of an animal not wanting to interact with the belief that if they can only 'convince' the bird to step up or sit on their shoulder, that the bird will see how wonderful and enjoyable it is. It is magical thinking... as if the bird will actually fall in love with them for forcing the interaction!

This is why learning about body language in general, and particularly the body language of each of our own unique birds, from little ones to big, is so very critical. It is about the development of a relationship, not the assertion of power and dominance.

Is it possible some misconceptions are borne from many not growing up with birds? I think there is also a direct correlation to the ability of the animal to potentially do harm to our delicate skin. If one bite from a bird was lethal, we would see a completely different approach to training. We don't see snake handlers that are determined to 'show the snake who is boss'... instead, they are called snake charmers for a reason. They certainly don't stick their hand in the snake's cage and let it bite them until it "realizes that biting doesn't gain anything and then it will eventually stop".

It is fairly common to see companion owners believing that if they have the time to interact with the bird, and the desire to interact with the bird, then the bird should be ready, willing and able to conform to their wishes. Or, to be 'made' to conform through alpha bird or flock leader mentalities.

We wouldn't treat a loved one with whom we had a relationship with in this manner. If they didn't want to go to a movie with us, we wouldn't expect them to comply with our wishes at any cost to, or without consideration of the effect upon, the relationship.

So it often boils down to time - and a belief that if we have the time and the desire, then our birds should be obligated to comply. Even the smallest of birds have quite defined personalities, desires, preferences and the full capacity for choice.

Time well spent is not just time interacting with a bird, but time observing and learning the body language of that bird.

A positive interaction begins with mutual respect and desire for that interaction.



Lorac said...

Agreed! I wanted a "cuddly" bird and got a cockatoo. She acts like a dog sometimes, pushing her head under my hand in a request for pets. But from my reading, cockatoos are an exception in the bird world with respect to hands on attention. On the other hand, cockatoos are a challenge - one I enjoy.

I enjoy reading your blog. Barney is a favorite - I'm a huge dog fan.

Arlene said...

Too bad this can't be imbedded in peoples heads by some science fiction-like mechanism when we're born. For me training now is simply spending time with them so they're not scared of my hands, and if they feel like coming to me for a treat that's great. I'm more than happy to oblige.

Getting ready for Christmas Barney?

wolfgirl1987 said...

I enjoyed this post very much! You are so right, Robin!

I remember being very pissed off prior to working at my current job at Petsmart when one of the staff 'punished' a bird for biting by grabbing it and forcing it to lay on its back in her hand. I quickly interfered and told her first off, punishing was not a good thing, and secondly, it takes trust for a bird to allow someone to hold it on its back... and to make it a negative experience is not a good thing. She was stunned to learn this, but thankfully complied and said she would stop doing it

Robin said...

What a wonderful thing to do for the bird and for her! Often, people just don't realize, and she will always remember that you took the time to provide that information!

Kathy Binns said...

Robin - I am a regular reader via RSS feed. I also edit a bird club newsletter in Colorado and really REALLY want to include this as an article for the December issue. Could you contact me via email and let me know how you feel about that? It's Rocky Mountain Society of Aviculture, Thank you so much!! binnskathy at yahoo dot com

Post a Comment