Harness training is a great way to allow your parrot to experience the outdoors safely, is a fantastic form of enrichment, and allows exposure to essential natural sunlight. Harnesses are also a very popular alternative to wing-clipping.
Harnesses are a great experience for parrot, if they are comfortable wearing one. Depending on your parrots age, temperament and previous history with a harness, training your parrot to wear one can be fast or slow. Young birds being hand-reared are often the easiest to train, as they are generally very tactile, less mobile and once the harness is paired with positive experiences, they are much less likely to develop fear responses to it later. We encourage all companion parrot breeders to gently introduce harnesses at an early stage, prior to them heading off to their new homes. There are many different types of harnesses on the market. However, we recommend the Aviator brand (www.theparrotuniversity.com).
Before you harness train your parrot, make sure that your parrot is of the temperament, or the level of training where they will enjoy going outside on a harness. Outdoor environments can be scary for a bird that has spent most of its life indoors, so careful thought needs to be put into desensitising your parrot. Nervous, flighty or non-hand tame birds may need a lot of prior training with handling before the harness is introduced. The best candidates are those birds that sit calmly on hands or shoulders already, and have previous experience in outdoor aviaries.
Harness Training Stages:
- Practise manipulating your harness (away from the bird) until you can deftly put it ‘on and off’ a pretend bird (soft toys work well!)
- Using rewards, train your parrot to accept touch in the same technique that you will put the harness on, on the head, under one wing, under the second wing, then on the belly.
- Desensitise the harness by holding it away from your parrot and slowly bring it closer until your parrot looks at it, but doesn’t move away. Reward then move the harness away. Depending on your bird, you may have to start across the room. Repeat, bringing it a bit closer each time as your parrot is ready. Once there is no reaction, you can loop the harness over your forearm or hand and commence point to point training with the same hand, so the parrot is walking towards the harness to obtain a treat.
- Continue point to point training, but now with your second hand hold the harness and offer a treat through one of the larger loops. Each repetition, the position of your treat will be further back through the harness, so your bird must reach through the hole to get the treat. Reward heavily for new advancements, and introduce an ‘in’ and ‘out’ cue for putting the head in and out of the harness, rewarding for both separate behaviours. Over time reduce the size of the larger loop until your parrot is reaching through a ‘head hole’ sized loop, then you can move straight onto the real head hole.
- Extending the duration your parrot has their head in the harness by offering several treats at rapid, then slower intervals, only rewarding for ‘out’ when asked. Once they are calm with that you can begin slowly introducing new stages such as one wing in, and then the other wing, then securing the harness in small stages as your parrot is ready.
- Once harnessed, walk around indoors briefly before removing it, increasing duration and environments as your parrot is ready.
- Use a training harness first (available at www.parrotlife.com.au/parrotlifeshop) to train your parrot before using the harness with the leash.
- Don’t rush, the more patience you have teaching this behaviour, the more long-term success you will have. If you are having trouble, book in for a coaching session with the Parrot Life® team!
Article written by Rachel Riley of Parrot Life