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Author Topic: THE PARROT HARNESS - - by Christine Wagner  (Read 689 times)

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THE PARROT HARNESS - - by Christine Wagner
« on: June 28, 2016, 11:13:56 AM »
THE FIRST TIME you saw a bird wearing a harness you probably thought, "Wow! What a great idea! But harnesses are not suited to every bird.

First, you need to look at the reasons why you want to use one. A properly used harness is a last-resort safety device worn to prevent an unexpected attempt to flee. A harness should not be a method of control. In fact, a bird should hardly be aware of its presence. Unfortunately, more often than not we see harnessed birds that are tugging at the end of the line or being pulled by their owners in different directions.

This it not the right way to use a harness. Although few people are willing to invest the time required, dogs, cats and even ferrets can be trained to walk comfortably by your side. Your bird should be trained to remain in your proximity, too. Rather than pulling on a harness line to control him, you should train him to stay put using positive reinforcement.But, there are times when we bird owners cannot predict when something is going to frighten our birds. This is when a harness earns its keep as a backup safety device.

We think of harnessed birds as ones that can fly. Clipping flight feathers has long been a common practice among bird owners. However, a trend is to allow birds to fledge and remain flighted for their entire lives. For some birds this can help prevent feather picking. (These birds seem to find the ends of the clipped feathers irritating.) Other birds seem more confident as a result of being allowed to fly. In general, flying can improve a bird's health by keeping it active and physically fit.

Clipped birds taken outdoors or other places can benefit from harnesses, too. It takes only a second for a clipped bird to startle and flutter off a hand or shoulder and into the path of an oncoming car or some other danger.

Whether your bird is fully flighted or clipped, it's natural to want a safe way to expose him to sun and fresh air, not to mention new people and places. Harnesses give birds an opportunity to engage in many types of experiences while at the same time reducing the risk.

Is your bird a harness candidate?
Pictures of birds happily wearing their harnesses makes it look so easy. But harnessing a bird is not as simple as it looks. First, you should ask yourself if your bird is a good candidate for harness training in the first place. Not all birds are.

Not surprisingly, the best candidates are birds that are comfortable with being touched all over. Young parrots that may have recently been weaned, the larger cockatoos and some macaws tend to be more open than other types of birds to touching beyond the head scratch.

If your bird does not fit into any of these categories, it does not mean he can't be trained to wear a harness. It does mean you probably will have to invest more time and patience into training him. For some people, it's just not worth the effort.

Many times people manage to harness their bird a few times, then the bird learns to detest the harness and either flees or displays aggressive behavior at the first sight of it. If this has happened to you, it probably means you weren't paying attention to your bird's signs of discomfort; you simply strapped him in the harness and expected him to get used to it.

Most birds don't respond very well to this training method. They bite at the harness, try to escape it or even squawk. The end result is a bird that fears the harness.

Even if your bird eventually learns to tolerate the harness, this "get-used-to-it" strategy relies on negative reinforcement and learned helplessness and I don't recommend it.Successful harness training requires sensitivity to a bird's body language and a good positive reinforcement training strategy. When a behavior is particularly challenging, such as harness training, it is important to use a training process known as shaping with approximations. This entails breaking the training down into small steps or approximations that are easier for the bird to learn. Eventually all those steps together lead to the final goal behavior of wearing the harness. If your bird shows any discomfort, you go back to a stage in training where the bird is comfortable and try the next step again.

One challenge which can be found with harness training is the potential to scare the bird if the harness is not fully secured. Once you get one of the snaps snapped, the bird is only wearing the harness partially. It is important the bird does not fly away with the harness dangling around him. This could cause the bird to be frightened of the harness in the future.

Each harness training session lasted only about 5 minutes and always ended with the 'jackpot.' (A nice treat )

Flying in the harness

Once your bird is successfully harness trained, your work should be done. (Remember, your bird already should be trained to stay on your hand and not depend on a harness as a controlling device.) However, if your bird is accustomed to flying freely around your house, or is trained to stay but accidentally frightened into flying off your hand while harnessed, here are a couple of tips for a safe landing. Let the tether reel out a bit so hes not jerked to a stop. Gentle resistance on the line will slowly bring him down. If the bird is heading toward a specific perch, you can let him land, then call him back to your hand.

Some owners train their harnessed birds to fly outdoors or in large indoor areas. This can be done, but it requires that the bird be a very good flyer and trained to return on cue.

Also, managing the line is a bit of an art form. If you manage the tether well, your bird should not notice its presence or get tangled with other objects. Be very careful or you can put your bird in a dangerous situation, such as dangling from a tree branch.

Purchasing a harness

There are a number of commercially available harnesses for parrots on the market today and you will need to buy the correct size for your African Grey.

As with any behavior involving flighted birds, it is important to consider the risks of taking your bird outdoors. Give your bird plenty of opportunities to wear the harness inside the house to ensure you have the right fit before taking him outside. Fully educate yourself about outdoor risks, such as dogs, fumes from cars and exposure to the elements. Set yourself up for success by focusing on preventing problems. Choose safe locations and conditions for your harnessed bird.

Harness training when done with positive reinforcement and safety in mind can be a pleasant experience. It can allow your pet bird whether he is flighted or clipped - the opportunity to experience a more enriched life. 

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