Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Two Nerds Walk into a Petstore

So as you've probably noticed (or maybe not), I haven't been posting lately. Between the new job and grad school, I don't have much free time anymore. And when I do, well, spending more time in front of a computer doesn't seem to be a high priority for me. I'm going to try to write at least once a month from here until the end of grad school, but the content is probably going to shift a bit from information promotion to what's on my mind at any given moment. You've been warned.

Hopefully you'll still love me anyway.

So here's what on my mind: I bought a parrotlet from a breeder a couple of weeks ago. Her name is Auri (and yes, I did name her after the Patrick Rothfuss character - naming birds after crazy people is always appropriate), and she's just about the coolest critter ever.

When I was in college, a little art shop in Canal Park had a parrotlet named Kirby. I fell in love with Kirby, and every time I went down to Canal Park, I would spend what was probably a creepy amount of time just watching Kirby do his thing. The shop closed a few years ago, but I've thought of Kirby often, and wanted a parrotlet for about a decade now.

And now I have Auri, and I couldn't be more smitten.

I've had parakeets and cockatiels for most of my life, but it's been a while since I was actively involved in the parrot world. So when I found myself with a few hours to kill on the other side of the cities, I stopped in at a local parrot-oriented pet store to catch up on what I'd missed.

It turns out that the owner of the store is an IAABC parrot behaviorist. We spent the next two hours chatting about parrot behavior, dog behavior, and the training of both species because sometimes when two behavior nerds meet, they can't shut up to save their lives.

One of the things that has changed since I last looked at the world of birds is an increase in positive reinforcement training. I've always been a little confused by the amount of positive punishment historically involved in bird training. I mean, they're not killer whales or komodo dragons, but I still feel like it's a bad idea to piss off an animal that can literally bite your finger off when it's feeling cranky.

Not only have bird training techniques changed, there's also more of a focus on understanding and working with bird behavior rather than working against it. This is really important because parrots are not a domesticated pet. Parrots are not dogs - they're not even cats. For the most part, their base behavior has not changed with their closer association with people. This means that unlike dogs, there is no innate desire to "be good," act in accordance to our wishes, or mold their lifestyles to fit with ours. So it is people who should change if they wish to share their lives with parrots.

What does this mean for me and Auri? It means that there are more resources for us going forward. I'll be able to understand my parrotlet better and therefore be better able to meet her needs. I won't be the only person I know who has clicker trainer their parrot, so if we run into trouble, chances are here will be someone to help us out of trouble. If possible, I'm even more excited to have added a parrotlet to the horde.

And as I've said before - this is a great time to be a trainer. For any animals.