Yesterday morning I got up and had a long chat with my roommate about the fact that Loki doesn't seem to be thriving. I mean, sure, he's picked up touch training quickly, and he's eating and he's physically healthy, but he has an attitude problem. Most, if not all, of that attitude problem is my fault. I knew using scare tactics to get him back into his cage was NOT a good thing, and I knew that it was probably leading to where we are now. I just didn't know what else to do because Loki is terrified of all of the other tactics that most people have used. He won't step up onto a perch because a perch is a Stick and all Sticks are bad. He's terrified of towels. He's terrified of gloves. He's terrified of people's arms. On top of all of this, he's not really all that food motivated, so just putting treats in his cage to tempt him back inside won't work either. We need to find another angle to try.
After my chat with my roommate I went into the bird room to let Loki out. He came rocketing out like usual, but I could immediately tell something was different. He didn't greet me. He was all poofed up. I tried to scratch his neck and he just glared at me. I went about giving him and Mango fresh food and water, and when I came back I tried to give him one more scratch before I left. And that's when he tried to bite me.
It wasn't a lunge. It was just an open mouth moving slowly towards my hand, but his body language was reading loud and clear: "Fuck. Right. Off."
I'm not gonna lie, I was pretty upset. I knew it was going to happen at some point down the road because his attitude had been deteriorating daily since the introduction of the towel. A little less enthusiastic to see people. A little less vocal. I little less willing to play with people in the room. But it sucks feeling like you've hit rock bottom and have taken an animal that had about 30% trust in you and turned him into a 0% trust animal.
I had a good cry in my car, and then decided to take action. Friends who are parrot people were called. The internet was consulted. And I came up with a game plan.
May I present to you, Birdy Boot Camp.
1. The first and most important change is that Loki is not going to have unrestricted amounts of time outside of his cage anymore. I thought that I was doing a good thing by letting him out and providing mental stimulation and physical play for him. What I didn't realize is that the longer I let him out without "rules," the more Loki thought he was the boss. Why should he go back into his cage? Pff. Because he refuses to step up, it turned into a "YOU CAN'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO, MOM" situation. I am going to approach this new training angle as though he was a completely out of control, aggressive, un-tame bird (even though he's not) because I want to build the basics first. I need to be the one in control of when and how he goes into and out of his cage, and the only way that's going to happen is by him learning to step up onto my hand.
2. We are continuing touch-training through the cage bars, and when I feel that he's not going to try to rocket out of the cage, with the cage door open. He is not allowed to exit the cage on his own again until I'm confident that I can get him back in by having him step up. Right now he KNOWS that I can't make him go back into his cage without scaring him, and I want him to know that I'm not a scary person. No more Hot Lava Stick, and no more towel (which is what my roommate was using to get him back in). No more fear-based training. Praise and treats when he does something good. 100% ignored when he does something bad.
3. I am switching his diet in a much shorter period of time than I originally planned. The reasoning behind this is that currently, the only treat that he will readily accept during training is seeds. If he's eating a seed diet as his regular food, that seriously diminishes the effectiveness of the treat. Why should he be motivated to work and learn if he can get the reward anytime he wants in his food bowl? If I ate Oreos with every meal and you tried to get me to run up a mountain by bribing me with Oreos, I'd just shrug at you while eating an Oreo sandwich. No more. He gets sunflower seeds from my hands only, and only as a reward for good behavior. For now I'm still providing unrestricted access to food (free-feeding), but that will change down the road.
4. Once he's totally switched onto a pellet diet, I'm going to have to work out a schedule where his food gets taken out for an hour or so before he's allowed out of his cage. When it's dinner time, food will go back into his cage, which is great motivation for returning to the cage. In theory, he should go willingly back into his cage because Hey! Dinner! Nom!
Today was the first day of Birdy Boot Camp, and Loki tried every tactic to get out of his cage. He bit the bars. He cooed at me and acted all cute. He screamed at me. He begged for head scratches through the bars. He threw a fit and threw his (expensive) pellets all over the floor. He tried the "I'm ignoring, but the moment you open my cage door I'm exploding out of this joint" (which I successfully blocked, thank you very much. Cat-like reflexes). Today was cage-cleaning day, which was slightly more challenging with an moody cockatoo in the cage, but we made it happen. I even gave him a mist-bath. Below are two videos, the first of him doing his post-bath fluff dance with accompanying dinosaur noises, the second of him grabbing pellets out of his food bowl and throwing them on the floor while picking out the tiny pieces of raisin that are included in the food (Asshole.).
I'll be posting an update on our progress in a few days. The longer I have Loki the more I've realized that I have to be extremely adaptable. If one tactic doesn't work, we're going to switch to another. We'll keep going until we find something that works or both of us, and someday we'll be all kumbayah and shit.