Mon. Feb 26th, 2024

No Means No

by The Pet Pro

This week I had charge of a middle-aged Macaw named Gatsby. Every morning I would let him out of his cage while I walked the dog and got food and water for both. Gatsby would be hanging out on top of his cage, or walking around on the floor (a pretty funny sight). Then would come the daily adventure of getting him to go back into his cage.

Gatsby knew what he was supposed to do, but being bright and a wise guy, he would make things as hard as possible. Sometimes I could offer him my arm, and he would eventually step on and allow me to put him in the cage. Sometimes he would play hard to get until I finally got fed up, and using the large umbrella from the stand by the door, I would gently push against his feet until he stepped on, and I could transfer him into the cage. Things went more smoothly if I sang to him, and gave him pets and praise, and showed him a little attention and respect before insisting on compliance. A few treats didn’t hurt either.

Gatsby is a funny bird; he says hello and bobs his head up and down as if saying an emphatic “yes” when he’s happy. Sometimes he would shake his head from side to side, but I somehow never connected that he knew the gesture meant “no.” One day, after the usual routine was finished and it was time for me to go, I approached Gatsby as he was perched on the open cage door. He tentatively extended one claw in my direction, so I put my arm out for him, but he withdrew the claw. After three or four tries, I reached toward the umbrella, saying, “I guess we have to do this the hard way.” Gatsby looked me right in the eye and shook his head firmly. In that moment, treating him as if he knew what it meant, I stopped pulling out the umbrella, and said, “OK, I won’t if you don’t want me to,” as I put the umbrella back. Gatsby immediately climbed delicately down and went right back into his cage. After I picked my jaw back up off the floor and finished kicking myself for my lack of faith in his intelligence, I gave him much praise and several treats, and apologized for not understanding him better. I will try to never again underestimate him again — after all, he is the great Gatsby, and he clearly knows that “no” means “no.”

Training Tip: When giving a command, if you get frustrated or angry at the lack of result, your dog will react by losing respect for you and may become agitated. They can feel it immediately when you are out of control, so they won’t look to you for direction. If you feel impatience rising, turn away for a moment or two and take a few deep breaths. Then calmly start again from the beginning. Learning takes a lot of repetition, so keep your sessions short no more than 10 minutes at a time when working on a new behavior. And don’t forget to make it fun!

Happy trails,

The Pet Pro

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Ken Carman
14 years ago

I lost the respect of a dog we had in the 60s when I was a kid that way, so I know what you mean. Years later I was trying to train one of my collies, Cobalt, how to jump up on the porch. I thought he was just being stubborn, as Cobalt tended to be. Later we discovered he had a back condition. At 55 and with a serious congenital condition an MRI just uncovered, I can really appreciate that now. Back then I lost patience, but didn’t respond as poorly as I did with Gordie in the 60s.

We all learn, sometimes too late to save some relationships, but we do. That’s why it drives me crazy when people always act as if anyone but them is to blame when things fall apart. Many, many animals have more patience with us then we have with ourselves, I suspect.

A bird named, “Gatsby?” I love it.

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