My mother likes to remind me that I was drawn to animals even as an infant, and I still am today. That’s one of the reasons why I have so many different animals at the Dog Psychology Center.
You’ve probably read about my horse, Conquistador, my llama, Lorenzo, and my tortoise, Jon. I also have goats, ducks, chickens and, of course, dogs. But a few months ago, I added another new member to my extended , and you’re about to meet him.
He’s a bird, a type of parrot known as a blue-and-gold macaw, and his name is Valentino. Like Lorenzo, he comes from South America and, like dogs, he requires a lot of as well — two or three hours a day outside of his cage to stretch, climb, and play. And if you think that a big dog can be very destructive of toys, you haven’t seen what a macaw can do with its beak!
And yes, Valentino will be able to talk, although he’s only just starting now and hasn’t managed to learn how to say “Tsch!” yet.
Now the interesting thing about training a macaw is that it’s exactly like training a dog. You have to engage their instincts, while remaining calm and assertive. And yes, it is possible to potty train a bird so that it does its business on command.
The other really interesting thing about Valentino is that, although he’s about as small as a, people don’t make the same mistake with him that they do with small dogs, which is to treat them like little babies and give them way too much . Maybe it’s because of the beak and claws, but people naturally approach parrots with caution and respect.
This is why it’s so important to me to have lots of animals besides dogs up at the DPC — to teach people how to understand instinct, and how to show respect for an animal’s space. You can pet a macaw, but if Valentino isn’t in the mood for it, he’ll let you know very directly by grabbing your hand with his beak.
People seem to get this instinctively when approaching other animals. Nobody walks up to my horse or my llama and gets right in their space the way they would with a strange dog. That would be a good way to get bitten, kicked, or spat on. And yet, what’s the one thing that a lot of people do the first time they meet a dog? They move right in to pet it, whether the dog wants it or not.
When you’re meeting a strange dog, ask yourself, “What would I do if this was a different kind of animal?” How would you approach a horse, or a raccoon, or a snake differently than you would a dog?
The other important thing is to pay attention to what the dog is telling you. From the moment a dog picks up your scent, she has begun communicating with you through her energy and body language, and that wordless conversation continues as you move from the public zone (more than twelve feet away) into her intimate space (six to eight inches).
All animals know this. It’s my job to help humans realize that they know it as well. Remember, a dog thinks of itself in this order: animal, species,, name. Humans try to put name first, and then put way too much emphasis on breed because of our unique relationship with dogs.
But with a bird, it’s much easier to perceive in the right order: animal, parrot, blue and gold macaw, Valentino.
Animal, dog,, . Animal, human, Mexican, Cesar.
When you perceive things in the right order, then it’s easy to remember that we are all animals. Humans are the only animals who regularly forget that, though, so we need to have reminders around — dogs, llamas, horses, parrots — to help us perceive the world with our instincts.
Stay calm and stay in touch with Nature!