I needn’t have worried about working with Mavi’s wings! After three sessions of training – about 10 minutes each, max – I am now able to put my fingers under his wings, either hand on either side, and lift them up. We’re not quite there yet, but he has made enormous progress. I started by setting my hand over his back, fingers on the edge of one wing. Normally that’s a sexual touch to a bird, and one to avoid, but I made sure to watch that he wasn’t over-stimulated. He was focussed on treats, though. No issues. I clicked and treated for every handful of seconds he went while staying relaxed.
Once he was completely comfortable, I put my fingers under his wingtip and held for a count of three. Click, treat. Fingers back under while the beak is busy with treasured hemp seeds, a little farther towards the joint this time, and lifting a little higher. Count to three, click, treat. Eventually, once I’d got to where I was as far up as I needed to go, I started holding the wing for longer and longer counts.
I ended on a good note.
That was session one. Session two, I started lifting much higher, but for slightly shorter times. Session three, I started really extending the length of time I held the wing for. If he yanked his wing away, or went to nip, no treat.
Personally, when I’m training, I always ask myself, ‘If I treat or respond to him now, what am I reinforcing?’ If you offer a reward when the bird yanks away, or when he goes to bite, you’re actually reinforcing those behaviours. Good timing takes practise, but it’s so important.
I had thought that Mavi might actually bite me at one point, as he did twist his head all the way round, but he knew what I wanted. That bird was focussed on his treats. So he just looked, and I held until he turned back round. Click, treat.
I think something that really helped speed the process along was simply letting him know if I was going to touch his wings. I’d just say, ‘Wings,’ so he wouldn’t be surprised. If he looked really uncomfortable, we’d stop that and work briefly on ‘Stand tall,’ instead. I never pushed him if he really didn’t want it – but most of the time, he was happy to let it happen because it meant treats were forthcoming.
We also worked a tiny bit with the harness itself. Through every session, it was on the couch beside us in plain sight. At the end of the third session this morning, I brought it towards him, let him look at it. Click and treat once he was relaxed. I practised brushing the clicker over his head and back. Click, treat (away from his ears!). When he was okay with that, I took the harness, and brushed it over him. He got treats for every few strokes. This is just building an association of good things with the harness.
One final exercise we did was me making an O shape of my forefinger and thumb and slipping it round Mavi’s neck – a bit like the neckpiece of the harness. Hold, click, treat.
Anyway, so far, so good! Hopefully training continues to go smoothly.