The Towel Game

If you read bird publications or listen to behaviorists and trainers, you’ve undoubtedly come across something called “The Towel Game.” It seems self-explanatory and easy, even comical – but what precisely does it signify, and why is it so significant? It’s something I always propose to people, whether I’m training a new baby’s parents, counseling with a client on a behavioral issue, or putting an adoptive bird in a new home. Why? Because this simple activity, when performed on a daily basis, is one of the most effective methods for dealing with companion parrots, second only to “The Step Up” in creating trust and bonding with your bird.

As a groomer, I’ve discovered that the majority of birds are terrified of towels when they first meet them. Why? “There are NO predator towels in the wild!!” claims Sally Blanchard. This is entirely a fabricated worry. When birds are inspected by a veterinarian or groomed, they are usually wrapped in a towel to make the procedure more comfortable. Unfortunately, many toweled birds are treated brutally. Furthermore, since most birds only see towels during these “scary” treatments, they soon link toweling with unpleasant things being done to them! Birds who have been nurtured from an early age playing “The Towel Game,” on the other hand, seldom get nervous during a vet inspection or grooming session (providing, of course, that the handler utilizes gentle tactics!) To summarize, playing The Towel Game with ANY companion parrot gives interactive play fun for the two of you, strengthens your friendship, and results in a generally stress-free experience anytime your bird gets toweled by the doctor or groomer.

So, just what is The Towel Game? First, consider normal parrot behavior. Remember, parrots are prey animals, not predators, so they are naturally afraid of being “swooped” down on from above and behind. I like toweling birds from the front since it is less scary, and you can readily reposition the bird once within the towel. Keep in mind that all encounters with parrots should be both enjoyable and trust-building. Avoid anything that can jeopardize the trust link as much as possible. As a result, the simplest and least threatening way to play with a towel is to simply spread it out on the floor or bed and invite your birdie to play ON it first. Spread out some toys and play with them together. Gradually, pick up the ends of the towel and play “peek-a-boo” – I’ve yet to meet a birdie who doesn’t enjoy “peek-a-boo” games!

As you go, start flipping the towel ends up OVER the bird – eventually, the bird should be completely comfortable with being completely wrapped in the towel. Keep sessions brief, lavish with verbal praise (and a few favorite snacks! ), and make them enjoyable! Many nervous or biting clients completely relax when I gently wrap them in a towel and stroke the “special” spots on their faces and heads! With these birds, gentle toweling has never failed me.

I’m always perplexed by clients who bring a bird for boarding but refuse to have me do a wing or nail trim for fear that the bird will “resent” me while he’s boarding! I try to explain that gently toweling and grooming techniques have the exact opposite effect! Not only do the birds harbor no grudges, but they frequently request a kiss and cuddle right after grooming! Why? Because I strive to make the toweling/grooming process as gentle and non-threatening as possible. I also wrap them in a towel before and after, talking to them gently and petting them.

Regular towel cuddling and “peek-a-boo” sessions can do wonders for increasing your bird’s trust and comfort level when it comes to being toweled for exams and grooming. However, I don’t think there are many games more enjoyable than mutual “peek-a-boo” or more endearing than a birdie completely wrapped with only his face exposed, eyes closed, and softly cooing for your attention!

So, regardless of whether your parrot is a baby or a “second-hand rose,” Make The Towel Game a regular part of your play sessions, and you’ll be happier and more confident in future interactions.

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