Laka's Harness Training Story ----      (narrated by "Mum")

 
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Window Warrior Harness Training for Laka  

Where do YOU stand on the issue of clipping vs not clipping a bird?  Me?  I prefer my birds to be unclipped.  Flight is a vital part of a well adjusted, healthy bird's life.

But if you (like me) want to take your bird outside (and not clip it's wings), you need to look into appropriate and viable restraint systems.  I'm a big fan of "The Aviator", a harness designed by my friend Steve Hartman.  I've used the "feather tether", but was never really happy with it (too many buckles, too complicated, too heavy).  The Aviator, as far as I'm concerned, is the way to go.  It's actually more than a restraint system, but more about that in a bit.

I had already had success with this harness, and trained our Catalina macaw Jesse with it before coming to Australia.  Jesse was a baby (only about 3-4 months old when we took her home), so training her was a snap.  Laka, however, was a 7-month old.  A very different situation.

With the harness is a DVD that includes detailed instructions of how to put the harness on - AND (perhaps just as important) how to approach the bird with it a bird when training.  The first step of the training (as the DVD will show you) is to pull the bird's wings outward, push the bird a little off balance, and get him/her used to you putting your hand over his/her head.  I started this part of the training on Laka's second day in our home.

 

I knew that we had to proceed carefully.  Properly introduced to the harness, Laka would accept it and all would be well.  If I managed, however, to upset her with it, we'd have a very difficult situation on our hands. 

I began showing her the harness and draping it over one corner of her cage.  As soon as she started to show interest in it (she'd grab it, pull it into the cage and start playing with it), I started draping it around my neck when I'd take her out to play.

Next I started draping it across one end of her T-stand.


Laka with the harness on her T-stand.  Notice that she's standing away from it - she WAS NOT HAPPY that it was there. 
(Feb, 2007).

 
(Feb, 2007).  This photo was taken on day 7 of her harness training.  Patience is important.  Older birds can take months to adjust to the idea of a harness.

Working over several days, I slowly began to move the harness closer and closer to the center of the T-stand.  She REALLY didn't like it... note the distrustful body language in this photo.


(Feb, 2007)  Wouldn't you just LOVE to read Laka's thoughts right about now?
Whew!  now it's REALLY CLOSE!  In the center of the stand (where she normally liked to sit).

I look at this photo and just crack up every time - look at her eye-balling that strap. 

At this point, she would glare at it, but wouldn't actually move away from it.  This is when I started to drape it on my arm and would try to stroke her back and head with the harness.  She didn't care for that, and resisted at first.


(Feb, 2007)  HAH!  Look!  She's actually touching it for the first time of her own volition.
Ah-hah!  Finally... although she still didn't exactly "like it", she was willing on her own to walk over the harness to get to her favorite spot (center of the perch).  

Now we were ready to put it on her.


(Feb, 2007)  The harness I ordered from Steve was an XL harness.  A mistake on my part.  I should have gotten an "L" size for her (I was thinking of Jesse, who was a larger bird and needed the XL size when I ordered Laka's)
This photo was taken about 15 minutes after the one above.

She'd shown me that she was ready to touch it.  I pulled the harness off the T-stand and stroked her back with my hand (with the harness draped over my wrist), and all the while told her what a "good girl" and what a "brave girl" she was.  She growled a little, but that was all.

I put her back on the T-stand and very quickly got her into the harness. 


(Feb, 2007)  Here we are strolling through the garden just a few minutes after putting the harness on.

Look at how relaxed she is!  She's never been outside with me before, and she's loving it all.  We were out for about a half hour.  As soon as she started fussing (picking) at the straps of the harness, I took her inside and removed it.  When the bird is more interested in the harness than the "bye bye" experience, it's time to stop (esp. with a bird who's not used to the harness).

 

The above happened in early 2007.  It's 2008 now.  I ordered a new harness for Laka (one of the appropriate size) and we continue to take her around.

These days, when Laka sees the harness, she gets very excited because she knows:   
Harness = bye-bye time

...and Laka loves to go "bye bye".  When we visit her breeder John (who, with his wife, have been come good friends of ours), we take Laka along with us - I generally hold her in her harness with a towel on my lap (for those mid-road accidents... Laka IS potty trained, but bye-bye time is a little too stimulating...).  And Laka looks out the car window and vocalizes happily all the way.  

I haven't yet taken her out to fly in it (we use the harness as restraint for the most part), but I've recently acquired a "Flight Line" from Hartman Aviary, and we'll be trying that soon!