Siva was a relatively new member of the household when I purchased Jennifer Warshaw’s book, The Parrot Training Handbook. He already knew his basic commands of “up”, “down”, “it’s okay” and “no”. I began by carefully reading the book from cover to cover and decided to start with something simple. I had previously used the smallest room in the studio for taming and speech training for Cado, my “slightly used” Blue Fronted Amazon, a wild caught bird, rescued from a less than perfect situation. The room had one major drawback for him and that was the overhead florescent work lights which he found utterly fascinating.
I began by taking the t-perch into the room and placing Siva on it. He was already used to this perch, so it was quite comfortable for him. I opened the book and decided he should learn to wave and say hello. I waved to him and said “hello”. He waved back at me and said “hello”. I told him good bird and tickled him under his left wing, which has come to be his reward. I sat down in astonishment, thinking, “Wow, that was easy”, and thought I must have a genius on my hands. I repeated the exercise several more times and Siva responded with “hello” and a wave each time. Quickly I ran to get Ned, so as to verify this great accomplishment, and again with glee, Siva performed over and over again.
We moved on to a different wave for “bye-bye”, but this was met with the same wave as “hello”, which was side to side. I wanted “bye-bye” to be accompanied by a wave composed of opening and closing the fingers. Each day we worked this new trick, and each day Siva looked forward to performing for anyone and everyone he saw.
While I was still high from Siva’s immediate success, I decided to teach him to skate. I found what looked like excellent skates, made, I believe, of nylon, at Parrot Mountain. This would be the “be all end all” of feats for him. I determined that Siva would skate. I sent off what was quite a bit of money and anxiously awaited the arrival of the skates.
Shortly afterward they arrived and seemed to be huge and very high off of the floor. Directions came with them, or perhaps it was the book, but as directions for training involved a food reward, I had to become creative. Siva is not a very excellent eater. In fact he could care less about food, and there was no treat that would make him do anything at all. Applause, however, was the ticket and that motivates him to this day.
I thought about training for a day or two and developed a plan. We would use my larger studio in which there is a long wooden table. I removed all equipment from the table and presented Siva with a clear surface with as few distractions as possible. The skates were placed on the table prior to our entry into the room. Siva was placed on the skates and immediately became stiff with fear, letting out a blood curdling scream as he jumped off the skates. I then put him on my lap and proceeded to play with the skates, sliding them across the table smoothly. He watched while trembling, recovering from the terrifying event. The lesson was over, but not before one “hello” and hand wave so that we could end on a positive note.
The next day we returned to the studio. Siva was placed on the skates. They moved independently of one another and he once again screamed and jumped off. I played with them a while as he watched. The next day I rubber banded the skates together and again set him down on them. He sat there quietly, amazed at the lack of movement but still nervous. I did not move them, but praised his bravery.
Each day we returned and he would sit on the skates, which were still bound together, for a longer period of time each day. Daily he would receive praise and a scritch under the wing, many kisses and applause. After a time, he became more comfortable, so I added the training sticks to the front of the skates, while still keeping them bound together. I waited until he accepted the sticks, and then began pulling him along across the table counting from one to fifteen. He was regularly rewarded with a loud fanfare, and Ned was brought in daily to see the progress and give his terribly important praise. Siva ate up the attention and began to look forward to our daily training sessions.
Several months went by before I removed the rubber bands from the skates. Once removed I still moved the skates together while counting. Siva was getting used to the skates as a perch and in time became contented while sitting on them. Once that relaxation level was achieved, I began to pull the skates forward, while counting as each step was taken. Siva would ride them across the table and was delirious with pleasure with each reassurance of his brilliance. Several months later, I removed the training sticks and while holding the skates from behind pushed each foot forward, still counting. When Siva would get to the end of the table I would yell, “yaaaaay!!!!!” while clapping. In no time Siva was yelling “yaaaaay!!!” with great enthusiasm along with me.
We continued skating and counting until one day I started him off and let go. He took a step on his own, and was rewarded immediately with great fanfare. He repeated this and Ned was called to see it. Siva was thrilled with our reaction. Each day he would try to move himself after I would let go, but only after we had traveled the table together several times. He increased the amount of steps each day, but being pigeon toed, would get stuck as the skates twisted and ran into each other. This would bring him to a halt. I would then say, “straighten out the skates” and would set them straight for him, all the while praising him.
Before long he began to skate. As he would make his way he would yell, “threeeeeee” periodically missing my counting. I began to count again and we both would yell together on “threeeeee”. Now after skating for years, all I have to do is place the skates on the floor. He jumps on them and immediately begins skating. He has learned to straighten his skates out himself, and actually places them where he wants them, turns around on them to change direction and still yells, “threeeee” and sometimes, “yaaaaay!!” When we have people over and he wants badly to perform, pulling the skates out immediately calms him. He skates for them, gets his scritches, praises and applause and then is content to skate around while we talk. It is the one time he feels it unnecessary to attack male visitors, or protect his territory.
Had I stopped and given up when he first showed his terror and dislike for the skates, he would have missed this activity which he has grown to perceive as a treat.
We have worked on other tricks including “Banker”. In this game he is to take quarters from the floor and place them in a small stainless steel bowl. He would do this at first but then changed the game to “Yuppie Spender”, removing the quarters and flinging them across the room, chasing them and flinging them again. Presently we are working on playing basketball. This has been a total failure as Siva prefers to chew up the ball than to throw it in the basket. He will throw it, anywhere but the basket, and we continue to try to make progress. We are both older, but no less determined.
He now has mastered the “bye bye” complete with the proper wave and has added that to his repertoire along with wearing his cowboy and baseball hats for guests.
His favorite trick is “big bird” which he learned by watching Yaeger, a Triton cockatoo and former television star, both in person and off of a video tape which I put into the computer for his viewing. Siva is asked if he wants to do “big bird”. He then begins to bounce to the count of four. He then opens his wings wide, sometimes flapping them while shouting, and flaps until I shoot him with my finger while making a shooting noise, at which point he drops down to an inverted position. This trick gets a wonderful reaction from his audience and has become his favorite.
When Siva was terribly sick with metal poisoning, he had to go for repeated x-rays and blood tests at the vet. Knowing that he was in for more prodding and needles, he began to do “big bird” for the vet and his assistant, trying to get them off subject. When they wanted to get back to business, he tried waving “hello” and “bye bye” and tried, “I love you”. When all attempts failed and he was held down for a blood draw, he simply gave up and complied. He was beaten. We rode home in the car in silence, this defeated umbrella cockatoo, who had lost control, and me. It wasn’t until that evening that he returned to himself and accepted the fact that he cannot control everything all of the time.
I have invested countless hours into training Siva. We are always working on something. A favorite trick is a “parrot cocktail”. Siva is inverted over a glass or coffee cup and served to a guest. He will lay on his back and become a “dead bird”, extending his feet upon command for a ride upright. There is no challenge that we are not up for. Training makes his day and the results make mine along with the quality time we spend together. Parrot training takes patience, persistence and a mild manner. Positive reinforcement is a must. There is no greater reward than a happy parrot, at least not for me.