Building Trust, Creating Cooperation, and Reducing Aggression at Any Age
Even a five year old can teach an animal not to bite. This well documented video shows a very young boy teaching the family parrot how to feel safe around him, which results in the parrot no longer biting him.
What makes this video so amazing (and why reward-based training should be the goal when working with any animal in our home, or in a captive environment) is the safe, slow, and steady progress you see without using force, punishment, or intimidation. Perle, the parrot was asked to participate in every step. She was never forced to participate. Perle was given choices. She was able to decided what she felt comfortable with in every step; this allowed her to have control over her environment, which increased her trust and helped her to feel more secure around Noah.
You’ll also notice a bonus to taking the positive reinforcement training route: the boy and the parrot gained a relationship based on trust and respect. They had finally created a clear, open, and honest dialogue. They were communicating together, in a new language they could both understand! If the boy and the parrot continue this kind of safe interaction and positive training, they will continue to build their relationship together, because they will both learn to trust one another much more deeply.
This video is one of the best examples of what we must ask ourselves: Why force an animal to do something out of fear or intimidation when you can just ask them calmly?
Force-free training is not a fad; it’s based on decades of research and science. These positive methods are what many professional animal trainers have been trying to teach the public (and fellow “old school” trainers) for years. Thankfully, we are now seeing it being used with almost every species, and now in our homes! These training methods work on cats, rats, dogs, horses, pigs, ferrets, and every animal in between!
With the right tools, patience, and determination, we are all capable of making positive impacts and lasting improvements with the animals that we share our homes with. We can do this without fear, force, or intimidation. Our children can, and should, be a part of this process. We can teach children safe boundaries with our pets, while helping them to increase their trust, and to help the animal to learn to trust as well. This is how we build long lasting bonds for life!
If you are interested in learning how to using these methods in your home or at your facility, please check out Steve Martin’s workshops. He was one of my greatest animal training mentors and teachers. His training skills, and compassion for people and parrots are recognized and respected all over the world.
The year is 1979. The town is Wichita, Kansas. I am three years old. Playing outside is one of my favorite things, but playing with friends outside is even better.
Samson and Sheba are my favorite friends. They are beautiful. Samson’s hair is light blonde like mine. It’s wavy, but gets really curly when wet. Sheba’s hair is short, sleek, shiny, and black.
They are my very best friends in the whole wide world. We do everything together. We play. We laugh. We explore. We run. We nap. Sammy even lets me have piggybacks on him and Sheba offers me an endless supply of kisses. I love them. And I love my life.
Life seemed so simple at that age. Playing outside for hours on end and getting dirty with friends was it for me. I loved my best friends more than anything. And they loved me. They were mine. They were loyal.
They were dogs.
Sammy (that’s Samson’s nickname) was a golden retriever and shepherd mix. Sheba was a black lab. Sheba was calm, reserved, and regal. Sammy was goofy, happy, and always smiling. They both exuded love, and of course, slobber and kisses.
My mother rescued them when they were only a few weeks old. You could fit each one in the palm of your hand. They were part of our family, but strictly “outside” dogs – a concept that seems so strange and foreign to me now.
Sammy and Sheba ruled the back yard. I remember the path along the fence line of our yard that Sammy had created from casing the perimeter of the yard multiple times a day, wearing down the grass to what eventually looked like trails. Sammy was our protector. Sheba was our soulful girl.
Playing with my best friends in our backyard was heaven. We would play for hours. They were always one step in front of or behind me, always watching out for me. I would crawl into their simple but sturdy wooden dog houses that my father had built. Once I had squeezed my way into their house they would come in after me, excitedly licking my face then squishing me with their massive, warm, furry bodies. We would sit there until I was too hot or had enough and was ready to get out. Then we would run and chase, play and hug, and get dirty some more.
They were my family.
We communicated with each other as if they were my real brothers and sisters. I knew how they felt. I understood what they wanted, and they did the same for me. There was true peace and happiness being in the presence of those two animals.
That was bliss to me. Still today, when I am running, playing, or find myself covered in soil, hair, feathers, scales, or slobber I am happy and at peace. Being with animals is one of the greatest enjoyments on Earth for me. And yet, somehow, even at three years of age, I knew that I wanted to experience that happiness and connection with animals for the rest of my life.
Nearly 37 years later this is still true. Even looking at the picture of my two best furry friends from childhood brings me to tears. That was joy.
Animals of all shapes and sizes have been one of the greatest joys in my life from the moment I came into this world. As early as I can remember when I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was emphatically, “A veterinarian!” To me, a veterinarian was someone who helps and heals animals. I just knew that I wanted to be like that.
Well, three decades later I am still someone who helps and heals animals. Whether it’s an insect, a dog, or frog, animals have always been on the receiving end of my assistance. All species of life are near and dear to me; I have never seen them as lesser than me; they have always been my equal. But I have noticed that the roles have changed a bit nearly forty years later.
They are all helping and healing me.
The passion I had at three years of age has taken many forms throughout my life, from exploring vet school, completing a degree in Wildlife Management, working in nature centers, a highly accredited zoo, and beyond. I accomplished that little girl’s dream, but I still have many more dreams to fulfill with animals and nature.
I think back to being a little girl. I had no fears. I was filled with a sense of adventure, exploration, and complete adoration of the animals of the land, sea and sky. That fire was ignited as a child and it will always be in me.
I am still on that mission.
I have created this blog to explore the many adventures, mishaps, and lessons that I have learned from my animal companions (and nature) and to share them with others. By doing so, I hope to help others better understand their animal companions and improve their relationships with them. I also hope to help other Empaths better understand the delicate balance that we need, and how animals and nature can in fact, help us heal and grow in ways we never expected.
There is always more to learn and explore and many adventures to be had.
But for now, I think I’ll go outside and get dirty with my dog.
Dogs are our link to paradise. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace. ― Milan Kundera
Safety Note: Riding on dogs and smothering them with hugs is not in a child’s (or dog’s) best interest. Fortunately, Sammy and Sheba were very patient, accommodating, and inviting with the way I showed them affection. As you can see, Sheba’s moth is open – a behavior indicating she is at ease with me leaning on her.
But most dogs are not this tolerant.
Today I teachworkshops on how to safely and respectfully show our canine companions affection without compromising their stress levels or a child’s safety.
If you are interested in learning more about canine body language, please visit these links: here and here and here . And I invite you to learn about dog and child safety here.
“Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole”– Roger Caras