Training Tidbit – Help the Husband

At the Calgary Bird School, we focus on training our pet parrots. By teaching foundation behaviours using positive reinforcement, we set our birds up for success. This helps you create a strong bond with your bird. It helps make sure you are communicating effectively and able to enjoy each others company.

But what about the “husband”? Many of us have partners in our lives who aren’t as into the “bird thing” as we are. My partner had never even met a pet bird before meeting me. (Boy was he in for a surprise!). Many of us live with family, siblings or room mates. Whether you have had birds for many years or this is your first bird, many of us need help explaining and sharing our joy for these animals. Our partners need to live in the same house! How can we make the bird part of the family? (In this article I refer to “Husband” for simplicity, but I mean any human partner you share space with)

First, the Husband needs to have value to your bird. Often the relationship between them is not very strong. Why should he love the bird if the bird doesn’t love him? Start with some simple positive associations. Find a yummy treat (like a nutriberry) and keep them in reserve from your parrot’s main diet. These will be special treats from the Husband ONLY. He will be the only one to give the bird this treat. He can even drop the treat in a bowl and walk away. The important thing is that Husband = awesome. Nothing more. The bird doesn’t have to do ANYTHING. Just eat yummy treats, available ONLY from the Husband.

This starts to create value for your bird. What’s the husband good for? Nutriberries! When my grey Quentin first met my partner, they were not friends. After several months of cashews, Quentin would no longer leave the room when he entered. Soon, Quentin was seeking him out for a treat! They were starting to see each other in a better light.

Second, it can be helpful for the Husband to find some sort of joy in the bird. This can take more effort. What would be a fun thing for the Husband and Bird to do together? We started teaching Quentin tricks. Quentin was learning how to wave his foot, and I showed the Husband how he could cue a ‘wave’ and give Quentin a treat. This worked well for us, because the Husband could cue Quentin to ‘wave’ whenever he wanted. “Hey! Look what I can make him do! That’s so cool! What else can I teach him?”

Whether it’s a silly bird trick, singing a song, dancing together, playing catch, or anything else your bird enjoys, find something your Husband might like to interact with. Help the Husband understand how to cue it, and how to reinforce it with a treat. It can be helpful to start with a hands-off behaviour like waving or dancing, so that the chance of an accidental bite is reduced. Once the relationship has built up, start to work towards a step up or other closer interactions.

I’m happy to report that after many months of practice, Quentin and my partner are the best of friends. We can safely and confidently build up relationships with our families and set everyone up for success!