Food and Weight Management – follow up

My post about Food and Weight Management has drawn a few comments that I would like to address. Don’t forget that if you have any questions related to the articles posted here you are invited to use the email address  (TrainingBlogatAvianAmbassadorsdotcom)   set up specifically to receive those questions. I can’t promise to address everything but I will read them all and do my very best to at least address the points you raise in a future article if at all possible.

One of the problems of blogging is that it is generally an unedited medium, by which I mean that most, if not all, of the posts people make to blogs are a stream of consciousness rather than a formal structured work that is ultimately edited by a third party. This means that sometimes a statement is made without the meaning or intent being completely clear to a reader. Great editors pick those mistakes up before they reach the reader. The Food/Weight Management article had a couple of those that a diligent reader picked up and rightly questioned. Also, I was asked “how do you decide if you need weight management rather than food management?” So, let’s get to it …

Let me address the last point first; how does a trainer make the decision to begin using Weight Management? The decision is really quite simple if one is always focused on behavior and that was one of the key points of the previous article. Let your observation of the behaviors you are training guide your training decisions. Also, don’t forget that adjusting diet is going to be the last tool you pull out of your toolbox. Be sure that you are setting up your bird for success by arranging the environment so that the bird is relaxed and comfortable. A critical aspect of starting out training is that the trainer and the bird have a history of positive interactions; don’t expect to bring home a new bird and start training a step up right away. It may take several days of walking by the cage and dropping treats into a bowl before one can even think about starting to train any specific behaviors. Always ask yourself “why should the bird interact with you?”, “what’s in it for the bird?” And remember that we want the bird to choose to be a partner in the training process.

So, back to the original question about when to use Weight Management; use it if the behavior you are training is just not shaping up the way you want, the response just isn’t there. However, only begin Weight Management after you have made sure that all of those things on the “will not perform” side of the motivational balance have been explored and if necessary corrected. Plus, be patient; do not withhold large amounts of food just to get the bird’s attention for training. I have heard of novices getting frustrated because their bird didn’t respond just the way they wanted so in their frustration they withhold a complete meal. This is just not necessary especially if the trainer is managing the food of the bird correctly. The need for gross changes in diet in my opinion are a reflection of the trainer’s lack of good diet management and rarely, if ever, justified or needed.

A phrase I used “relax the criteria” caused a little confusion. The context in which I used the phrase in the article was when a bird was in a new environment with lots of new potential distractions. Here I meant that I would relax my expectations of performance for the bird, e.g. if the behavior was a 20 foot flight to me I would start in this new environment just asking for a hop, then a flight of a few feet, gradually building the bird’s confidence in these new surroundings and for sure only raising my criteria as I observed good behaviorial responses. What I did not mean was that the trainer should continue to cue the behavior that was not working and accept the latency (delay to perform). Part of the process of generalization (performing behaviors regardless of environment) is to build the bird’s confidence not only in itself but also in the trainer. By setting the bird up to succeed (short hop and then short flights) the bird’s trust in the trainer is raised so that in the future in new environments this trust should increase the likelihood that the bird will perform the behaviors cued. Also, by relaxing the criteria and enabling the bird to perform a behavior we increase the number of times we are able to reward the bird, always a good thing! Repetition builds confidence – bird and trainer.

Another question related to how to remove some of the “will not perform” items from the motivational balance. As an example how do you train the bird to fly down from heights at a steep angle? Remember that we can always lower the weight of the bird and increase motivation to overcome the bird’s apprehension in making a steep downward flight. However, just because that works doesn’t make it the right choice for me. Reducing the weight again should be the last thing we think about doing. I will repeat a phrase here that should be one of the trainers’ mantras, set the bird up to succeed. First, before we placed our bird into an environment where it might have spooked up into that tall tree we should have trained it to fly down from high places. New trainers often forget that birds learn their flight skills through … flying. Therefore, in a safe environment we place our bird on higher and higher perches and allow them to learn to fly down. We train our bird to fly to places on cue and then send them into higher and higher tree branches (or meeting hall rafters!) and allow them to learn how to fly down. We set them up to succeed so that when they find themselves sitting high in a tree they already know how to fly down. The second part of the answer is for every trainer to observe and understand the limitations of their bird when it comes to its flight skills. No matter how much we fly our birds they never get as much “air time” as a wild bird, because of this their flight skills, while impressive, may never reach those of their wild cousins. Therefore we need to once again set them up to succeed by only asking them to perform behaviors we know they can perform. So, when your bird is high in a tree don’t stand right under the tree calling it down, move away from the tree and give your bird the “glide angle” it needs to make the flight.

Don’t forget:

  • Repetition builds confidence
  • Set your bird up to succeed
  • Ask yourself “What’s in it for the bird?”
  • Assume responsibility for all your bird’s behavior


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