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Respecting the Bite

Respecting the Bite

Respecting the Bite

By Barbara Heidenreich

I am a wuss. I admit it. Oddly enough I think it has worked in my favor when it comes to working with animals. I don’t ‘take the bite’, whether or not it is from a mosquito, a parrot or a lion. In fact I do everything in power to avoid a situation in which I might get bitten. With mosquitoes, sadly it usually means very little camping for me and when outdoors, I am bathed in massive doses of repellent. With zoo animals such as lions, it usually means training through barriers and offering reinforcers using utensils, and avoiding creating aggressive behavior. With parrots, believe it or not, I actually take an approach similar to what I do with lions! Not because I think parrots pose a particular lethal threat to my person, but because I respect a parrot as much as I respect a lion. Let me repeat that, “I respect a parrot as much as I respect a lion.”

To understand this better, perhaps I should elaborate on what I mean by ‘respect’. I interpret this as showing consideration for what an animal is telling me with its body language. For example, if my close proximity to an animal is creating the slightest fear response or hint of aggressive behavior, I recognize it and acknowledge it. I then do whatever I can, which may include backing away, to put that animal at ease.

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