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Please help me, my lovebird lost trust in me and won't let me handle her anymore

NataliaR

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Natalia Reece
This has been an ongoing problem for a year now, and I've been try to resolve this using different methods suggested to me but there seems to be little signs of improvement.

I've had my (single kept) lovebird, Mango, for just over a year now, and at the beginning things were amazing. We were best friends. I almost immediately gained her trust, despite her not being trained or raised by humans, and she was very comfortable around me. She used to fly to me, sit on my shoulders for ages, fall asleep on me, and preen me. I had trained her to come on command, and fly back to her perch. Wherever I set her down, she would patiently sit there until I came back to that spot and would be happily dancing to my music. However this all changed last New Year's Eve (2017/2018).

What happened was I invited some friends over to celebrate on the condition that there was absolutely no smoking allowed (of any kind) in my house or even near the property. No one was to go upstairs unless they needed the bathroom and most importantly they couldn't go into my room (where my bird was). I made this rule clear to all my guests and they had agreed. However there was one person who I used to be friends with (at this point in time we stopped being friends but I didn't want to single her out) who didn't care and decided to smoke weed in my back garden, right underneath the my bedroom window (where Mango was kept). She then accumulated a few other people to smoke with her. I was unaware of this until at least 5-10 minutes had passed (I was dealing with something else and they shut the garden door behind them so I couldn't smell it). A friend of mine told me what they were doing and I ran outside to stop them because my bedroom window was open because my room can get stuffy. This girl gave me attitude and was refusing until another of my friend's stepped in while I checked on Mango. I ran upstairs to see if she was okay. When I last saw her, she was peacefully sleeping, but now she was screaming, freaking out, and flying from each cage side, falling to the bottom of the cage and had a running nose. Mango has never acted like this before and was hurting herself by flying into the sides of the cage. She was hyperventilating and I thought she was going to die. My first instinct which, as stupid as it sounds, was to shower her so that she'd stay still and couldn't fly as quickly, and I was hoping it would get rid of the smell that was on her. The problem is at the time she HATED showers. So I took her to the bathroom and showered her. Eventually she calmed down and stopped flying into walls. I aired out my room and only put her back in it when she fully calmed down and the smell of weed left.

I shortly fell ill after this due to stress and couldn't physically move without being in immense pain, so I couldn't hand feed her like I usually would. I had to get someone else to feed her instead. I believe this is exacerbated the issue. Once I recovered I would notice that she didn't want to come out of the cage, and when she did, I noticed she has issues when flying. She would fall or would sometimes crash land, overshooting her target. Before this, she never had an issue flying and was actually quite good at it.

After that incident, she never trusted me. She stopped flying to me and even refused to leave her cage. She would bite me whenever I offered my finger and no longer cooperated when I took her downstairs to fly, and instead would destroy anything she could. She used to be such a sweet and gentle bird, being goofy and never screamed. But since then she is rarely goofy, and hates me. She rarely flies to me, (she only started flying to sit on my head/phone/laptop if I'm using them recently), she still bites me (no blood), and will only step up when I have a treat for her. But mostly, she now just flies away from me shrieking if I go ask her to step up (when she's already out) and is no longer affectionate to me- except for one time a couple months ago where she preened me. She was a natural shoulder bird, but now she refuses to go on my shoulder, often flying away shrieking when I ask her to where before I would just say "shoulder" and she would immediately fly to it.

Please, if you have any suggestions, please help me. I love this bird more than anything in the world and it breaks my heart to think she hates me. She is only friendly to me if I'm talking to her through her cage. We have our moments here and there, I most certainly don't want to give up on her, but she is very stubborn. Is there any way I can get her back to her trusting, goofy and affectionate old self? She was my best friend. I can post pictures of before and after the incident to show you all the difference. I just want my Mango back...
 

DoubleTake

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What methods have you tried? Will she take treats from you through the bar? If you play sounds of lovebirds chirping will she come over? Unfortunately, it looks like you might have to start back at step 1 if this issue has been going on for almost a year. After the "traumatic" shower incident and you falling ill, she may have reverted back to her aviary state. Guessing that since you stated she wasn't hand raised/tamed.
 

Sylvester

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I am sorry that you fell ill, and I am so sorry that you had a friend who couldn't respect your rules at YOUR house.

I think the advice you have been given is the best. You may need to start at the beginning again, and take baby steps with her. Instead of taking her out and pretending that she will act like she use to, you may have to just start talking to her while she is in the cage. Give her some treats while she is in the cage.
 

metalstitcher

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I agree with @DoubleTake and @Sylvester you are going to have to start from square one with her. She has been through a lot and it's hard to gain their trust back once you have lost it. Lovies are known for holding a grudge. She went through a lot in a short amount of time and doesn't know if this is going to happen to her again. She is trying to trust you again by landing on you but she is still scared. Just take it slow and easy with her and don't force her because that will only make things worse.
 

NataliaR

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Natalia Reece
What methods have you tried? Will she take treats from you through the bar? If you play sounds of lovebirds chirping will she come over? Unfortunately, it looks like you might have to start back at step 1 if this issue has been going on for almost a year. After the "traumatic" shower incident and you falling ill, she may have reverted back to her aviary state. Guessing that since you stated she wasn't hand raised/tamed.
I emailed a bird YouTuber for help, Marlene Mccohen, and she told me to put her cage in another room where the incident didn't occur in hopes she would calm down. She said to train her again in that room. So I put her in my brother's room (he lives at uni) and tried to train her again, but she barely improved. In the end my mum said I wasn't allowed to keep her in there so she's back in my room.
She takes treats through the bars, but sometimes hesitantly. She will now fly to me from a small distance if I offer her a treat, but not as far as before.
I believe that the sounds of other lovebirds stress her out, as she always seems alarmed and doesn't "reply" to them so much as she screams to drown the sound out. She will reply to me whistling normally, but for some reason she just shrieks and gets defensive when she hears other birds.
Thank you for your feedback, what do you find is the best method to gain a lovies' trust?
 

NataliaR

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Natalia Reece
I am sorry that you fell ill, and I am so sorry that you had a friend who couldn't respect your rules at YOUR house.

I think the advice you have been given is the best. You may need to start at the beginning again, and take baby steps with her. Instead of taking her out and pretending that she will act like she use to, you may have to just start talking to her while she is in the cage. Give her some treats while she is in the cage.
Thank you! I have been talking and singing to her while she was in her cage which she just sits and listens to.
 

NataliaR

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Natalia Reece
I agree with @DoubleTake and @Sylvester you are going to have to start from square one with her. She has been through a lot and it's hard to gain their trust back once you have lost it. Lovies are known for holding a grudge. She went through a lot in a short amount of time and doesn't know if this is going to happen to her again. She is trying to trust you again by landing on you but she is still scared. Just take it slow and easy with her and don't force her because that will only make things worse.
Thank you! I try and be as calming and still as possible so not to alarm her, and if I ask her to go on my shoulder and she flies away, I instead give her a minute and then ask her to step up and reward her for that. I don't know if it's the right thing to do but so far it seems pretty effective. I open the cage door when I am in my room with her to see if she wants to come out, and if she doesn't come out within ten minutes I offer a treat and slowly take her out to see if she'll fly back to her perch. Again, I'm not sure if I'm doing this right but it does seem to get her out.
 

Sylvester

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Thank you! I have been talking and singing to her while she was in her cage which she just sits and listens to.
That's a healthy approach, just taking it one step at a time. She'll come around.
 

Fuzzy

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So sorry to hear of this. It sounds like Mango paired you with many aversives, one after the other, particularly on that fateful night. She was "freaking out" (aversive) and you appeared. Then you catch her up and put her in the shower which she "HATES" (aversive). Then her world changed shortly after as you couldn't interact with her. Someone else fed her. Then the issue with flying/crashing. If you immediately ran to pick her up, she would again pair you with the "crashing" and any pain that went with it (another aversive).

Every animal can learn new behaviours. Your goal now is to pair yourself with as many WONDERFUL experiences for her as possible. Treats, toys, attention, etc (whatever is reinforcing for her). Start from the beginning: What CAN she do that you can reinforce with something awesome?

She is only friendly to me if I'm talking to her through her cage... and will only step up when I have a treat for her.
That's great!! So start building your relationship with her in her cage. If she will only step up when you have a treat for her, ALWAYS have a treat (reinforcer) for her! Then put her straight down again so that she is in control (control is another hugely important reinforcer). Putting her down again immediately will also ensure there is no screaming and flying away from you (AVERSIVE!!) Build up the time on your hand very, very gradually before putting her down again and never let it be so long that she shows uncomfortable body language on you. Biting is another way to say "no" - that is important information to tell you you are doing something that is aversive. So never push her so that she has to bite you. Think about how to ask her differently. If it's stepping up, she will be more and more willing if she knows she is going to get a treat EVERY time.

I think you are expecting too much from her too quickly. She doesn't hate you, I would be inclined to use the label, "phobic", from what you describe, and it is your job to re build the trust you had. The more you can positively reinforce behaviour/pair yourself with wonderful experiences/things, the more she will begin to trust you again.

Thank you! I try and be as calming and still as possible so not to alarm her, and if I ask her to go on my shoulder and she flies away, I instead give her a minute and then ask her to step up and reward her for that. I don't know if it's the right thing to do but so far it seems pretty effective. I open the cage door when I am in my room with her to see if she wants to come out, and if she doesn't come out within ten minutes I offer a treat and slowly take her out to see if she'll fly back to her perch. Again, I'm not sure if I'm doing this right but it does seem to get her out.
Yes, by giving her a minute you are not pairing yourself with an aversive, and then you are positively reinforcing her step up. Even better would be not to evoke flying away like that in the first place. If she is willing to come out eating a treat. Great!
 
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