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Trying the bird diaper.... Did we ruin our bird?

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maimaie

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I have a green cheek conure, Luca, and he's the first bird that belongs to me (as opposed to a 'family" pet, which really meant that my mom took care of them), and the first bird in my house since I was a child so we are kinda learning as we go. We (my boyfriend and I) got him straight from the breeder (at a show) and were warned that he wasn't "the sweetest" bird he had, and after a few minutes it was very obvious why. (I really shouldn't judge, because I'm not sure if this is normal but at the time I was horrified.)

When we first saw Luca, he was very scared (which is understandable considering the size and noise level of a bird show) and was trying to escape. Truthfully we wanted to play, and he wanted nothing to do with us. He flew off the top of the cage and rather than let him land safely on the floor and then grab him the breeder caught him by the base of the tail and held him up-side-down for several minutes. Seeing the horror on my face he explained that it was no different from holding a cat by the scruff of his neck and even told us this was an option for letting the bird "get some energy out". Maybe it was a bad decision, but rather than purchase one of the many other "sweet" birds we held that day we decided to take home the anxious, stressed, scared bird that wanted nothing to do with us. I felt like those sweet birds wouldn't have trouble finding a home, but this guy... this scared little escape artist, whenever he found a home there is no guarantee that those people would do the research and learn to love him properly, care for him, and finally rid him of his bad habits through proper actions rather than negative reinforcement. Making a long story short... it was only a few weeks before he was willing to hop onto our hands for a treat of millet, and over the past several months he has become very affectionate with both me and my boyfriend (I might argue that he prefers Doug over me, but that's for another time). He also has almost NO fear of strangers (at least not any that we've introduced him to)! Once we broke his fear of hands he'll step-up for anyone! Having said all of that good stuff, he is a green cheek, and saying that he is "nippy" is an understatement (I am currently wearing three band-aids)!

I will admit here that for a while we took the advice of a friend (I trusted this friend because they had a sun conure for several years, and do lots of research--like me) and used a second smaller cage (not his normal cage with toys, food, etc) as a "time out cage". This is actually how we THOUGHT we broke him of biting... When he bit we would say "Luca, no biting" as calmly as possible and if he didn't stop we would place him into the "time out cage" for 3 minutes. I was weary of this method when we started using it because I new that birds don't respond to negative reinforcement, but my friend insisted that it worked wonders for her bird. After discussing with the vet (who didn't give us a solid answer on wether this was OK or not) we decided that this probably wasn't the best thing to do and slowly phased it out, only to replace it later with "3 minute time outs" in the bathroom (there is a towel rack that we use as a perch). We thought we rid him of the biting. Occasionally he would bite, but not hard, and usually he would get into a "mood" that would last a few days then he would stop biting again. I never was able to tie the biting to a stimulus, food, activity, sound, smell, etc that might explain what was going on.

Recently we started the process of introducing him to his flight suit. We did this VERY slowly, over the course of several months. We want him to eventually have full reign of the house, and have the ability to go where he chooses. This past weekend was the first time we tried actually putting him into the flight suit. We followed the directions that came withe the flight suit and removed all food from his cage for 2 hours, then put it on him and immediately gave him treats, praise, and his food dish. Getting him into the flight suit wasn't easy. He bit us, struggled, and after a minute or so we got him into it. We gave him some space for about 10 minutes, until he looked like he had calmed down some, then I showered him with constant attention for the next ~4 hours. When it was time for him to come out of the flight suit he bit me again and didn't show much interest in coming out of his cage the rest of the night. He did come out of his cage, but didn't want to leave it. Normally if we spend time in his room while he's out of his cage he'll play for a few minutes then wants to be with us.

We discussed how this first attempt with the flight suit went and decided that he's probably going to be unwilling to wear it for a while, then eventually get used to it. So we decided to get through this "unwilling" period as fast as we could and put him back into the flight suit the very next day. We repeated the same process, no food, flight suit, treats, lots of attention. This time he struggled A LOT, he bit both of us drawing blood from both Doug and I and finally when the suit was on it was almost 30 minutes before he didn't run the other direction when we tried to pick him up. Since I was the one to spend time with him the day before Doug spent most of the day with him this second time. Of course when it came time to take his flight suit off there was more struggling, but luckily no more blood shed even though there was more biting.

Finally, to get to the meat of the problem. Luca wants nothing to do with me. He isn't thrilled with Doug either and has been biting the both of us pretty regularly, but actually runs away from me when I try to pick him up or get close. He only steps up for me when he has no other choice because he has something behind or to the side of him. I have been trying to keep my space from him because I don't want to stress him out, but I also don't want this to be the beginning of the end of my relationship with Luca!

Any advice that anyone can give regarding how to gain is trust back, what we may have done wrong, what we can do in the future... I am all ears! Also, since the last attempt with the bird diaper, we have put it away until we can figure out how to make him feel more comfortable with it, I am afraid that by forcing him into it we may lose all trust and love (if anyone has advice on this I am interested, but my primary concern is to gain his trust and stop the biting)! Also, since I'm not sure if I made this clear earlier we have stopped all "timeouts" and don't use punishment aside from placing him back into his cage when he is misbehaving (i.e. biting and screaming).
 

Milo

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I'd suggest starting back with square one. Give him space, which it sounds like you're doing. If he has a favorite treat, try dropping that in his bowl every time you walk by. Sitting near the cage and talking to him or reading to him softly may also help. It sounds like you were trying to move too quickly, which you realize. Take things very, very slowly with him and move at his pace. It may take months for him to trust you again, patience and bribery is the key.

As for the flight suit, should you choose to try it again, go even more slowly. If you're fighting to the point of blood loss to get it on, he's not going to have a positive association with it no matter how much you praise him after.
 

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I think first and foremost, you need to realize that some birds will never take to a harness. My green cheek I have been working with for 8 months on her, and it's still a no go. I don't think she will ever wear a harness at all. If he is biting when you are trying, it's time to lay off. Forcing it onto him makes it a negative experience, which is what you want to avoid. No amount of food is going to make him like it if he first has to be manhandled and is fighting against you.

Second, it sounds like you will need to start from square one, just like he is in your house for the very first time. Jingo and I had a falling out, and I don't even know why, but it took from November through July to win his trust back. I just had to give him his space. I found that the harder I tried to win him over, the more I pushed him away. When I ignored him, he came around much quicker. Allow your bird to set the pace for everything.

As for the biting, the best way to deal with it is to avoid letting it happen. My green cheek tenses and sort of hunkers down a tiny bit right before she bites. If I see her tense, I back off. Instead of looking for the trigger, learn the body language and give him his space. Avoid doing things you know will elicit a bite. When Koopa bites me, I put her down on the nearest object (perch, couch, playstand, etc), give her a really nasty glare, and turn my back on her for several moments. It has taught her to be more gentle with me, and combined with avoiding a bite in the first place, I rarely get bit unless I am doing something like trimming her nails.

I would avoid using the cage as a timeout for any reason. A cage is a bird's haven - the one place in the house they have for themselves. It should be a positive place for them so that you do not run into issues where they do not want to go back at bedtime, etc. Only good things should happen in the cage.

To sum up, start from the beginning, and let Luca set the pace. Good luck!
 

Ankou

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For now, give up on the flight suit. Don't even attempt to put that thing on him again until he is 100% comfortable around you again and then start over but more slowly.

Just like you did when you brought him home he is going to have to relearn you are nice people who don't want to hurt or frighten him, start over as if he were a new bird because you've just showed him, in his mind at least, you are different people, these aren't the people I've grown to like. Work slowly and don't force him to do anything he doesn't want to for the time being, that's how he got to this point after all, even if that means sitting next to his cage reading a book or something calm until he finds the courage to come out for you again. He's afraid and cornering him to force him to step up will only make that worse. Talk to him, bribe him with favorite treats, or anything you did to tame him the first time without putting too much pressure on him.

Once he trusts you again and it's been that way for even a few weeks I'd say you can start the flightsuit training again but maybe seek some more advice. Pinning the bird down and forcing them into it is not the way to go about it and he will likely even have an increased stigma towards it after last time. Let him see it, touch it, get used to it existing until he doesn't react to it and then start slowly. Simple things, like one day put it on your own hand and pet him with it, (stop if he's too afraid, he's loosing trust at that point) let it touch him and show him it's safe. When he's comfortable with that just drape it over him or put it on part way and take it off again, always stopping before he is too scared and praise.

Once he is too scared he has mentally shut down, no praise or treats really break though that terror and are not helpful at that point.

Be aware he may never accept the suit, many birds don't. It's very unnatural for them, as prey animals, to have something clinging on to them like that. It's usually a very slow process to get them to tolerate any form of harness.


Edit: Or I could learn to type faster. Anyway, I agree with what Jenny and Shawna said.
Especially on the biting, I know it may sound strange but by stopping bites before they happen it actually prevents future bites. The bird seems to learn that you understand their body language and respect their desires and will give more prominent warnings when before they would have just bitten.

For non-aggressive nipping I would teach a key word, like "gentile" when too much pressure is applied and just stop whatever interaction was going on (not necessarily a time out, but for example if he was cuddling in your lap and nipped a finger I would say "gentile" and stop cuddling him until he looked apologetic. If you're playing, the play stops, etc.)
 
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Mrcrowley

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With my Conure Nippie I give him space when he is moody I never come at ethier of my Conures I always talk to them first get close to them reach slowly towards then put finger out and give slow beak rub . I really can not show to much affection to them they come to me with affection .Example I can not sctrech there necks UNLESS they start scratching neck with there foot. The way I really know they trust me is when I can wrap hand around them and pick them up and not get bit. The point I am trying to make is take it slow and do not expect to much you really are at there mercy at least let them think that;)
 

maimaie

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THANK YOU! All of you, THANK YOU so much for your replies! Last night I was so upset, I thought I had lost my bird's love forever! I can assure you we aren't going to try the flight suit again for at least several months (if ever), and I will seek more advice before we do. I shared your tips on biting with Doug and we are going to try the gentle command. We used it before, and it seemed to work... we just didn't follow through (dumb humans).

Other than that, I think things are on the mend. After reading a few of your replies last night I went into Luca's room (which is also my office and our guest room) and sat on the bed and read out loud to him. After several minutes he let me know that he didn't care much for "Writing Science", so I opened his cage and sat back down to read silently. After about 30 minutes he caught me watching him playing and came over to the side of his cage (the side closest to me). As soon as I stood up he ran to the other side, so I sat back down an continued reading. After a bit longer he started yelling at me again (like he does when he wants to come out of his cage to play, or at least that's what I THINK he wants... who really knows what birds are thinking). I walked to his cage and when he didn't walk away I put my hand out (far enough away that he had to make the effort to step-up). I didn't give him a command I wanted it to be his decision, and he did! He sat next to me on the bed and played while I finished my reading. This evening he willingly came out of his cage and joined us at the table for dinner (that's our normal routine). He stood between Doug and I (his usual spot) and watched his fruit pieces fall to the floor as he took a bite and dropped them one by one (his usual routine). That's as far as we've gotten but I feel MUCH better knowing that the relationship can be mended.
 

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Very glad to hear that things are already looking up :) Just keep going slowly like you are and let him set the pace, and I'm sure Luca will forgive all when he is ready :D
 

JAM

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Sounds like you are doing well with him, I had to start from scratch with my little scaley and over time, she's coming back around. They like to do things at their pace. I thought I was stubborn, but the birds have been more than my match in that!
 

Wasabisaurus

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Let him guide you and move at his pace. I am horrified that the idiot breeder held the poor boy upside down. Where do people get such stupid and harmful ideas? Thank you for getting your bird away from that jerk!
 

Welshanne

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You are wise to go back to basics again with your dear bird. It has to be at their pace and nothing should be forced on them as you will ruin the trust and bond you have built up with them.
Everything we try to teach our birds has to be within reason to their behaviour as it is so foreign to them and lets be honest, for our benefit not theirs.
Your bird is slowly building up its experiences with you and sometimes it is not going to be the way you like it, but as we live together there has to be some give and take. He will look on you and your boyfriend as part of his flock and the dominant ones so by doing it kindly and firmly with lots of love but no forcing it will pay off eventually. Good luck.
 

lwis

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Like others have said, I think CHOICE is the most important thing when trying to regain trust, or build trust initially. We had to regain Darwin's trust a few times, as he became frightened of our hands after we had to grab him to look at his wing (he had a funny/painful feather growing in). It was not the most pleasant experience for him, and he associated that feeling with our hands. He would run away from our hands when we brought our hands toward him to step up. We wouldn't chase him around with our hands, and tried to let it be his decision to step up, but he wouldn't. He would just run away every time. We had a major breakthrough when we realized that he had no problem doing short recall flights to our arms and hands. Even though we were giving the cue/command for him to come to us, it was ultimately his choice, and there was no potentially threatening hands coming towards him.
It takes time and patience, and we are continually working with Darwin to strengthen the trust, and are very conscious of things that might set us back.
Good luck with your little guy! He'll come around.
 

greymatron

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You already got great information and already improving your relationship with your bird. I just wanted to say congratulations on the new baby and welcome.:)
 

Milo

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I am so happy you're seeing progress! I think once he realized you got his message your relationship will grow even more :) I know how exciting it is, but remember to let him set the pace and you'll do great!!!
 

Sharon

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THANK YOU! All of you, THANK YOU so much for your replies! Last night I was so upset, I thought I had lost my bird's love forever! I can assure you we aren't going to try the flight suit again for at least several months (if ever), and I will seek more advice before we do. I shared your tips on biting with Doug and we are going to try the gentle command. We used it before, and it seemed to work... we just didn't follow through (dumb humans).

Other than that, I think things are on the mend. After reading a few of your replies last night I went into Luca's room (which is also my office and our guest room) and sat on the bed and read out loud to him. After several minutes he let me know that he didn't care much for "Writing Science", so I opened his cage and sat back down to read silently. After about 30 minutes he caught me watching him playing and came over to the side of his cage (the side closest to me). As soon as I stood up he ran to the other side, so I sat back down an continued reading. After a bit longer he started yelling at me again (like he does when he wants to come out of his cage to play, or at least that's what I THINK he wants... who really knows what birds are thinking). I walked to his cage and when he didn't walk away I put my hand out (far enough away that he had to make the effort to step-up). I didn't give him a command I wanted it to be his decision, and he did! He sat next to me on the bed and played while I finished my reading. This evening he willingly came out of his cage and joined us at the table for dinner (that's our normal routine). He stood between Doug and I (his usual spot) and watched his fruit pieces fall to the floor as he took a bite and dropped them one by one (his usual routine). That's as far as we've gotten but I feel MUCH better knowing that the relationship can be mended.
Good for you! I have one of those "diapers" aka "flight suits" for Levi. I tried it twice. Levi will do anything I ask, so getting it on was no problem, but he was so clumsy in it that I didn't ask him to wear it again.
 

karen256

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If you got the flight suit just as a diaper (and not for going outdoors), why not just potty train him? Obviously, they are birds and potty training won't be 100%, but they will usually give you a bit of advance warning so you can put them on an appropriate perch for potty.
My GCC loves to be hugged and snuggled, but there's no way I could get a flight suit on without terrifying her (and I've tried).

About the time outs - they actually do work, once a bird is tame and likes being around you. Parrots are prey animals and don't respond to any punishment that can harm trust. "Punishing" with a brief time out is ok. In the wild, if he bit another GCC, that bird would just fly to another perch, it's just the same idea. However, no need to put him in a time out cage. It's better if the time out is immediate - if he bites try immediately putting him down and turning your back on him for a minute. They don't like being ignored.
 

maimaie

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If you got the flight suit just as a diaper (and not for going outdoors), why not just potty train him? Obviously, they are birds and potty training won't be 100%, but they will usually give you a bit of advance warning so you can put them on an appropriate perch for potty.
My GCC loves to be hugged and snuggled, but there's no way I could get a flight suit on without terrifying her (and I've tried).

About the time outs - they actually do work, once a bird is tame and likes being around you. Parrots are prey animals and don't respond to any punishment that can harm trust. "Punishing" with a brief time out is ok. In the wild, if he bit another GCC, that bird would just fly to another perch, it's just the same idea. However, no need to put him in a time out cage. It's better if the time out is immediate - if he bites try immediately putting him down and turning your back on him for a minute. They don't like being ignored.
We initially got the flight suit as a diaper, but after we got it we thought he might really enjoy being able to fly outside on a lead. However I was also concerned that he might get too comfortable with the outside and fly out an open window or door without his suit/lead on, so we couldn't really decide if we wanted to introduce him to the outside. As for potty training, Luca has already learned that we don't really like being pooped on, and will sometimes poop on command when we pick him up (sometimes...). He also has a weird wing stretch that he does before he poops and a posture that me makes, so you can sometimes predict it (sometimes...). I also noticed that sometimes when we are holding him he will start to bite a finger or an ear for what seems like no reason (not too hard, but enough to hurt and he usually stops when you say "no biting") and when we put him down he immediately poops. Is he telling us something? I don't know... but it occurred to me that putting him into the diaper could reverse whatever learning he could be doing. What I think I am trying to say is that Luca is much smarter than I expected when we got him, and he has already learned A LOT, and there is a good chance that unless we decide to take him outside we'll just work on potty training and forget about the diaper. :)
 

KatherinesBirds

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Potty training your bird can cause problems for the bird. They tend to hold their pooo when they don't need to causing unnatural stress on the organs. As for the diapers, Shadow came with several. I just don't get it I guess. Okay, no body wants to be messed upon but I have a whole selection of towels I use on my shoulders instead.
 

solo

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parrots poop and i knew that when i got solo my first bird so i never bothered with potty training or dipers:)
 

karen256

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I disagree that potty training is harmful. You don't potty train them like you would a dog and ask them to 'hold it'. You simply teach them that they get praised for flying to their perch for potty (or for clipped birds - they generally learn to lean towards the potty perch or get fidgety as a warning).
 
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