What's your bite pressure training technique?

Greenclaws

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Jul 1, 2014
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Raja has been with me for five days now and she's making huge progress. Ill have to start a thread soon for all her progress and training videos.

I want to ask everyone how they prefer to train their macaws to know what proper bite pressure is.

I thought beak play was a natural thing for macaws to do so I've been gently grabbing her beak with my fingers, letting her hold my fingers in her beak, etc. when she starts applying pressure, I say "be gentle" but don't physically react. She is quickly learning that "be gentle" means to ease off. When she gets rough, I quickly thrust/jerk my hand upward into her mouth and sternly say "no bite!"

I thought she was doing great with this training. However this morning we were playing on the ground and she's started grabbing my fingers and then rolling onto her back to play with them. This is really exciting to me cause I've always hoped my macaw would like playing on it back. However it seems that this position really gets her excited and she almost always immediately starts biting rough and hard. I do the same "no bite!" approach which makes her stop and flip on her back. However she goes right back for my fingers and flips over and does it all over again.

I asked her former caretaker and she said she never let's her macaws mouth her fingers because one day something might scare them and you'll end up in the ER from a serious bite. So I'm confused, should I train my bird to gently play with my fingers or teach her they're off limits? Since I've started playing with her beak with my hands, she is always reaching for my fingers to hold and chew on them, I'm concerned this behavior will scare off people who aren't familiar with her.

Another thing I do that I realized I need to change is, after she bites hard and I say "no bite" and she stops, I immediately start playing with her beak again. I should probably step away and ignore her for a short while after she bites right?
 

weco

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You've already taught her to play with your fingers, but I, like her former owner/caretaker might be concerned about a sudden scare issue, especially with someone else's fingers.....maybe, since you've already taught it to her, just let it die & figure out something to replace it, maybe a perching dowel, maybe of ironwood or one equally as hard so it doesn't end up like a toothpick bent between your fingers.....

I've never really taught any of my birds a bite pressure level, rather I just taught them no-bite, when the pressure got to the uncomfortable point, though it didn't always prevent a little blood letting with a excited or anxious bird, however, none of mine have ever walked around with the neighborhood butcher's cleaver hanging under their nares either.....
 

SilverSage

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I can't speak specifically to macaws, and I am not sure about the wisdom of the whole thing, but I can tell you how we trained our conure not to bite when she is "preening" us. They say conures are similar to macaws in tiny bodies.

When giving scratches, flick will often give them back, at first, she would sometimes chomp down really hard. When she crossed the line, I would yelp, pull my hand away, and turn my back on her. A few seconds later I would put my hand near her. I would not give her any more scratches until she came and touched me gently. It actually worked really fast with her, and stuck. Se knows she can mouth us for preening, but she knows that if she bites too hard she will get ignored.
 

Timothy

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i guess i was lucky with my blue and gold. I got her when i really didnt know about training, and positive reinforcement. What i'm about to say usually teaches them that if they bite you, they get a rise out of you and will do it thinking your saying Owww! is a reward If she was a little too rough, id say "owww!" in a high pitched voice and she'd immediately fluff up and want to be petted.
(Not knowing this was just teaching her she'd get a rise out of me if she did that)(in most cases)
 

SilverSage

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It really depends on why the bird is biting. Flick simply didn't know how hard was too hard. I was careful to observe her and find out what she really wanted, which was to be snuggled. I observed how the birds communicated which each other when something happened, and based my behavior on that.
 

Birdman666

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Sep 18, 2013
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San Antonio, TX
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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
That's the technique I always used. Since you know the bird gets a bit too wound up when he rolls over, perhaps pull your hand away for a second and let him calm down a second before resuming the game. Maybe dangle the hand over the head with the bird laying on it's back. And then grab the beak and shake it. (Instead of the bird holding onto your fingers. You hold onto the beak.)

Always pause the game for a second when the bird is getting too rough. If you want to keep playing you have to be nice...

As for that OTHER advice. Yeah, we didn't handle the bird because we were afraid something might happen...

We didn't llet the bird out of its cage because we were afraid something might happen..

THEN DON'T GET ONE!!! Seriously.. Having a mac and not playing with it?! I can't even imagine that...

BAD THINGS HAPPEN BECAUSE THEY DON'T GET HANDLED AND PLAYED WITH ENOUGH AND THEN THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO CONTROL THEIR BITE PRESSURE!!!
 
OP
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Greenclaws

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That's the technique I always used. Since you know the bird gets a bit too wound up when he rolls over, perhaps pull your hand away for a second and let him calm down a second before resuming the game. Maybe dangle the hand over the head with the bird laying on it's back. And then grab the beak and shake it. (Instead of the bird holding onto your fingers. You hold onto the beak.)

Always pause the game for a second when the bird is getting too rough. If you want to keep playing you have to be nice...

As for that OTHER advice. Yeah, we didn't handle the bird because we were afraid something might happen...

We didn't llet the bird out of its cage because we were afraid something might happen..

THEN DON'T GET ONE!!! Seriously.. Having a mac and not playing with it?! I can't even imagine that...

BAD THINGS HAPPEN BECAUSE THEY DON'T GET HANDLED AND PLAYED WITH ENOUGH AND THEN THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO CONTROL THEIR BITE PRESSURE!!!

Thank you Birdman! Your advice is great and I always hope you'll chime in on certain topics. It's tough being a first time macaw owner because, although I've been researching everything I could for a year, there's so much conflicting information out there.

Raja is definitely only biting now because she doesn't know her own strength. I was really proud of how she's been doing with my fingers at least when she's on her playstand or I'm holding her. It's just once she flipped over that she forgot all that. But I haven't even had her a week so she's still learning exceptionally quickly. I might just hold off on the rolled over playing until we can perfect our bite pressure training in more calm states.

I'm glad you mentioned the handfeeder's advice. They have 18 macaws at their house among other parrots. I just can't imagine that someone with that many attention-demanding birds is giving each and every one of them the training they need. They told me I just needed to push my arm into Raja's check to force her to step up. She pinched me every time because she wasn't used to it and was scared of losing balance. I decided to do what felt right for ME, which was holding my arm out as a lateral extension of the perch and luring her to step on it with treats. She was effortlessly stepping on and off after fifteen minutes, and now I can stick my arm down at her chest, and she happily steps up and is now confident enough with her balance to not even need her beak to steady herself. And that training, from start to finish, happened within two short training sessions in one day.

I'm glad I can continue to do beak play with my baby girl! I was hesitant about it initially but now I really do enjoy it. It's so sweet when she holds my fingers with one foot and another finger on the same hand with her beak! Makes me feel like she is learning to love me :)
 
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Greenclaws

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I can't speak specifically to macaws, and I am not sure about the wisdom of the whole thing, but I can tell you how we trained our conure not to bite when she is "preening" us. They say conures are similar to macaws in tiny bodies.

When giving scratches, flick will often give them back, at first, she would sometimes chomp down really hard. When she crossed the line, I would yelp, pull my hand away, and turn my back on her. A few seconds later I would put my hand near her. I would not give her any more scratches until she came and touched me gently. It actually worked really fast with her, and stuck. Se knows she can mouth us for preening, but she knows that if she bites too hard she will get ignored.

Great idea to turn your back! I've heard so much of the "don't back down, don't show fear" philosophy that I just naturally thought I should go right back to beak playing after she let go from a hard pinch. I think that's the only problem with blanket-statement advice like that. It doesn't address the reason behind the behavior, whether it be fear, naivity, aggression, etc. I think that how you respond to any one behavior should change based on your bird's motives. I will definitely turn my back and step away briefly after hard pinches now, to let the lesson sink in for Raja and allow her to calm herself. Thanks for sharing!!
 
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Greenclaws

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You've already taught her to play with your fingers, but I, like her former owner/caretaker might be concerned about a sudden scare issue, especially with someone else's fingers.....maybe, since you've already taught it to her, just let it die & figure out something to replace it, maybe a perching dowel, maybe of ironwood or one equally as hard so it doesn't end up like a toothpick bent between your fingers.....

I've never really taught any of my birds a bite pressure level, rather I just taught them no-bite, when the pressure got to the uncomfortable point, though it didn't always prevent a little blood letting with a excited or anxious bird, however, none of mine have ever walked around with the neighborhood butcher's cleaver hanging under their nares either.....

Butcher's cleaver sounds a little intense. Ill admit, that big beak is intimidating and even strong pinches can hurt like hell, but I also have to remind myself that my dogs have big scary teeth that could tear and puncture flesh, and my cat's bites could lead to nasty infections and send me to the hospital. And yet I don't fear them and they've never hurt me or anyone else. I've seen videos of gentle macaws who use their beaks sweetly and I want my bird to be that way. I've also seen macaws attack their own mates when danger is near. I don't think that in that case, I could avoid a bite by happening to not have my hand near my macaws mouth. Seems like the only thing you could do to prevent fear bites is to train and socialize your bird and eliminate as much fear from its mind as possible.
 

Jumpingtadpoles

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We are looking for a bird for our family. It's very much like we are pregnant and waiting for the day the new addition comes to the family!
I'm just branching into trusting my new girl with my fingers in her beak.
But as for Rico, we enjoy playing together. I just say "be gentle" sternly. It's what comes natural to me. And I stop playing for a moment. Sometimes it because he's too excited. Others it's because he is done, and wants to stop. I usually let him reinitiate play afterwards.
That being said he really understands human language well.
He came to me trained if he nipped hard he would get "oww! That hurt!" And would sob after. To him it was a game, fun to play, not emotion. So I retaught him to "pretend nip" and I would give him the reaction he was looking for. He no longer attempts to hurt anyone for that outcome.
I honestly have found this to be the same as with dogs. There are chances of getting hurt. For both human and bird. We can't always stop our reaction ( like flinging our hands) and we both have to learn to respect each other. They know what's it like to get hurt, physically, as well as emotionally, I think.
We just have to bridge the gap together with communication.
 

Birdman666

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Sep 18, 2013
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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
Seems like the only thing you could do to prevent fear bites is to train and socialize your bird and eliminate as much fear from its mind as possible.

Startle training does that. Progressive exposure to things that would ordinarily startle a bird, until you could set off a bomb right next to the bird and it would only give you a quizzical look like, "that was kinda loud."

My Red Lored Amazon went with me to San Francisco Carnaval one year. Picture this: 350,000-400,000 complete strangers, floats, drums, loud live music, firecrackers at one point, none of it phased her. Never flew off once. (She was fully flighted, and recalled at the time.)

THAT particular bird though, had been trained to the NTH degree, was fully out and about trained, plus startle trained, plus recalled, and bonded to me... and went quite literally everywhere with me for about half a decade at that point. (Now for over a dozen years.)

I've got three I would trust out and about no matter what, and two that I don't.

We've had motorcycles roaring past, kids running up to us, dogs jumping on us, traffic sights and sounds, including horns honking, bicycles and skateboards whizzing past, etc. NOTHING phases them. And that's why you do that.
 
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