Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Ekkies Reinforce Gender Stereotypes

Stereotypes generally given to people, that is. I was just thinking  that over this week during the ekkie training sessions. Obviously I had noticed their personalities before, but this week it suddenly struck me (the things you laugh at when you live alone, right?) that they were playing right in to the oft-quoted "standard" man and woman  personalities.

Both Claudia and Chester are trained to target to a stick. This means they are to go to and touch the tip of the target stick, so I can get them to go up onto or into whatever I need them to without coercion (not really an issue with the ekkies, but useful with more difficult parrots), and even tricks like turn around, etc. It is useful for a huge number of other behaviors, so definitely something to teach. But the key thing here is that the parrot is supposed simply to touch the stick, not attack or splinter it. Optimally, the bird would not bite it at all, but that is rather a hard concept for me to get across to some birds, so I settle as long as they immediately let go on their own- no intent of playing or destroying.

Claudia very quickly picked up on the touch, not play, concept. During training, she displays unusual grace (for her, anyway) as she make her way with deliberation and great seeming concentration to the stick. She always just barely touches the stick with the tip or top of her beak. Very gentle, quite correct. Chester now... I have a bit of trouble with him! He knows the stick is not a toy, that much is clear. But to watch him during training is, well, a real treat for anyone with even a speck of humor in them. It is clear to anyone that he loves his training time- he goes charging for the stick, grunt or screech optional, heaven forbid anyone get in his way! When he gets to the stick he jumps (second grunt optional) and almost grabs the stick with his beak, occasionally giving it a little twist.  Not quite a full bite, more like a smack, but very forceful. It is always quick, and he lets go right away, and looks at me, hopping around for his treat and/or next cue. I try to move the stick quickly so he just touches barely and praise that, but he usually forgets halfway through training.

So, there you have it. Claudia, the gentle and delicate female, following directions carefully. And Chester, the rambunctious guy, using force to accomplish his task. And just for the record, Claudia wins the day- she connects the dots from task to task faster, and gets to the finish line first. But Chester gets bonus points for enthusiasm.

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