Posted: June 19, 2012, 3:50 p.m. EDT
Clickers, perches, foraging devices and speech aids can bring out the best in avian pets and promote bottom lines.
By Lindsey Getz
Gone are the days when bird owners kept their pet caged and on display all day. Today’s owners want to interact with their bird, whether teaching it to sit on a hand or shoulder, to speak or to perform tricks. As a result, industry participants reported, bird owners are increasingly interested in purchasing training products.
Interaction and Positive Reinforcement
Birds left in a cage all the time and not trained or stimulated can develop behavioral problems, said Stephanie East, owner of Stephie’s Exotic Birds in Greensboro, N.C.
“They can become barkers, biters or screamers if ignored, so it’s important to interact with pet birds,” East advised. “More and more people are realizing this and wanting their bird to become socialized. If you start at an early age and train them, they learn quickly. A lot of people like clicker training and find it to be an effective training tool.”
Clickers and other training methods that use positive reinforcement are gaining in popularity among bird owners, said Julie Gordon, a spokesperson for Karen Pryor ClickerTraining in Waltham, Mass., which offers a clicker training kit for birds.
Another company that promotes positive behavior reinforcement is Caitec Corp. of Baltimore, which recently designed a new training perch.
“When training a bird, one never knows when an opportunity will present itself to reinforce a behavior that is desirable and get it on cue,” said Terry Gao, the company’s president. “To have a totally portable perch that can go on any surface while also catching the poop is convenient. It has a solid, wide base that keeps the bird feeling safe and comes apart for cleaning and transport.”
In addition, Parrotopia Sandy Perch Products of Grants Pass, Ore., is working on a new version of its training stand to incorporate java wood, a tropical hardwood.
“We’ve also converted a lot of our rope and toys to abacá fiber, which is a natural native product that is much stronger than traditional fibers,” said JoAnne Stuckey, the company’s international manager.
Tricks, Treats and Talk
Many customers at Mega Bird Store in Cocoa, Fla., express interest in teaching their birds to do tricks, owner Dona Austin reported. Clicker training and other positive reinforcement methods get the job done best, she said.
“We get a lot of customers who want their bird to learn to play dead or roll over,” Austin stated. “Learning to ride the skateboards and scooters is also popular.”
Mango Pet Products Inc. of Smithfield, R.I., noticed growing demand for the company’s bird scooters and as a result is expanding the line.
Which avian skills or training products are bird owners most interested in?
“Potty training, controlling noise levels and speech. For speech training, CDs can help, but I like the old-fashioned use of high voice and movements to get the bird excited.”
—Omar Gonzalez, owner of Omar’s Exotic Birds in Lake Forest, Brea and Santa Monica, Calif.
“Speech training is very popular. We sell a lot of the CDs that you can play when you’re not home. Customers like ones with barnyard noises and songs, but all of them sell pretty well. No matter what training is being taught, the key is to always end on a positive note.”
—Dona Austin, owner of Mega Bird Store in Cocoa, Fla.
“Noise control is a customer’s biggest training issue. That can be a psychological issue, so there’s not always a quick solution. Books written by behaviorists are most popular. They can help the customer figure out what their bird needs.”
—Barbara Hobbs, owner of The Feathered Nest in Williamsburg, Va.
“People love our scooters and basketball sets,” said Erik Christopher, company president. “We will have a scooter, called the Choo Choo, that can accommodate two birds. We will also be releasing the Trolley, which is a simpler design of a product we already offer.”
Food can be a great reinforcement tool for training birds, said Caitec’s Gao, who noted his company offers more than 50 foraging devices.
“We have a new foraging/ training unit called Mastermind that has more than one application,” Gao added. “The cones that come with the unit are made to hold food, which the bird can see and must manipulate by sliding it to the one place that will allow the treat to be dispensed. The other application for Mastermind is teaching colors. Colored cones will be available for purchase as an add-on to the unit.”
Greenfeather Bird Supply in West Hartford, Conn. also has released new foraging toys that help train a bird through positive reinforcement.
“I design toys that encourage the bird to want to forage,” said Dena Tucker, designer and president. “I want to encourage a bird to use its body and mind to complete a task.”
Some of the new foraging toys from Greenfeather include Rattle Revolution, which offers creative ways for birds to make noise and engage in other activities, according to Tucker. The Candy Cup Foot Toy hides a dwarf sunflower head and is designed to encourage the bird to work at getting inside.
Also new from Greenfeather is Finch-Tastic, a willow ball stuffed with eco shredding that is good for finches, a category that is often overlooked in the toy market, Tucker said.
Learning to Teach
In helping customers learn more about training and related products, retailers may need to focus more on education, industry participants reported. Mega Bird Store holds training classes, for example, and Stephie’s Exotic Birds won’t sell a bird to an uneducated customer.
“We do a lot of consulting with bird owners to make sure that they have the right environment for the bird to thrive,” East, of Stephie’s Exotic Birds, reported. “I try to educate my customers on everything that’s involved in owning a bird.”
Education is critical and bird retailers play a vital role, said Susan Friedman, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Utah State University who pioneered the application of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to captive and companion animals.
“Retailers are very influential people,” Friedman said. “They are the first people that pet owners will come to for advice, even before veterinarians, so they are very important people in the success of that animal in the home.”<HOME>
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