Well, it’s finally happened. I knew this day would come and have been dreading it with nervous anticipation for awhile now. Paco has officially started to lose interest in most of his favorite things about the indoors. Suddenly, flying back and forth between the tops of the windows and pillow wrestling are not enough to hold his attention. Just as some of his most obsessed-over toys have lost their entertainment value – the slinky, the sponge, the Tiger Balm cap, (I could go on and on) – so has the everyday sameness of the indoors.
While I fully expected this transition to arrive, I wasn’t sure how long it would take and was hoping I could ride the novelty factor for as long as possible; especially since he only comes inside for a few hours at a time, a few days per week. However, toucans are so incredibly intelligent and boundlessly energetic, they tend to get bored of pretty much everything much more rapidly than your average bear.
Paco’s ease with the indoors has been a gradual one. Those of you who have been following our adventures from the beginning will remember how he used to be incredibly fearful of coming inside the house, I suspect because he had probably never been inside before in his life. But with time and training, we were able to overcome his fear together and replace it with a sense of wonder. If I really think about it, we’ve had a good run just exploring every little household item and its new-to-him-ness over this past year or so. Now, the things in the house that were once so full of intrigue have become mundane: the mirrors are now just mirrors, not another invading toucan in our midst; the pillows are still sort of fun to wrestle with, but because we’ve now determined that they’re not monsters, they no longer need to be attacked with such vigor.
Our house is not very big. We live in a two-bedroom apartment whose best feature is the bright turquoise sea that surrounds us and shines its way through every window. I would never dream of housing a toucan inside with us completely not only due to the lack of space, but more because I am finding out just how high-maintenance having a toucan share your living space can be. Now that Paco’s interest in his original keep-myself-busy-in-a-safe-way activities has waned, he is looking for more and because “more” is not easily discovered, he’s starting to move on to a get-myself-into-trouble-in-places-I’m-not-supposed-to-be phase. There are not many more obvious things left for him to explore on his own. And until we move house altogether someday, that leaves me to get creative and MAKE something else to explore.
It is very important to me that the time Paco spends in the house is always associated positively in his mind. I want him to think of it as a fun, non-scary space that he looks forward to coming to. A big part of that is avoiding any punishers during his time inside, while still maintaining dependable obedience in the times it’s required to keep him safe. I strive to maintain a consistently positive reinforcement style of training, which means I don’t want to constantly be telling him “no!” or pushing him away from things I don’t want him to touch. So a big part of what I am working on now that he is in a bit more of a mischief-mode is setting the environment up for success.
My main strategies for keeping Paco out of trouble are redirection/distraction and removing troublesome stimuli altogether. For example, I have three small tabletop plants that would be unsafe and/or damaging to the plant if he were allowed to “play” with them; but of course, they are irresistible to him. So instead of testing his resolve each time he’s in the house and putting myself in a situation where I create a negative experience by scolding him away from them constantly, I simply move them out of his reach for the periods of time he is inside. The same is true for when he goes to places I don’t want him to be (ie. the stove-top, the floor, the desk). I am hyper-aware that I don’t reinforce/reward him in any way while he is there and am sure to give him big rewards (exuberant praise and/or treats) when he hops on my arm when asked away from those places.
Redirecting his attention onto activities I have deemed suitable is by far the best way I have found to keep him out of toucan trouble-making. Here are some of the things that I am doing now to keep Paco safely entertained in the house:
FOCUS ON FORAGING
Prior to bringing Paco inside, I set the house up as a foraging zone for him. I hide toys in all of the places that I’d like him to focus his attention: behind the pillows and the couch cushions; on the tops of our two highest windows that he likes to sunbathe on; in the ceiling eaves; on top of the TV armoire; and on a couple of shelves that he can easily access without knocking everything down. This activity keeps him engaged in his surroundings and rewards him for spending time in the spots that I’ve pre-selected for him. Plus, as an added bonus, finding things on his own, rather than having them simply handed to him, has sparked a renewed interest in old toys previously shunned.
Here is a video of him in foraging action:
PLAYING HUMAN JUNGLE GYM ON THE FLOOR
I discovered while I was doing some quick yoga stretches with Paco in the house that my body, bent in two, apparently makes the ideal toucan jungle gym. Now one of Paco’s favorite activities is when I roll around on the floor with him, creating tunnels with my body for him to craw under and through. I think he would agree with John Mayer that My Body is a Wonderland.
Initially, I was worried about encouraging this activity because “No Toucans on the Floor” has always been a rule of mine. Paco has a tendency to want to attack feet and I have heard of unfortunate accidents of birds being tripped over while hanging out underfoot. However, I have instead used this game to reinforce Paco’s “up” behavior. When we’re playing on the floor, I will sporadically get up and cue him to come “up” onto my hand. When he complies, I reward him ecstatically and thus, the consistent obedience of this behavior has become even stronger than before.
Paco has been really into crawling under and out of dark spaces lately. It’s not in a nesty way, but more out of a curious desire to explore the mysterious crevices of the house. Because he is not behaving hormonally when he’s doing it, I decided it was okay to encourage the behavior and create more opportunities for him to tunnel. Also, by creating safe tunneling options, I am able to redirect him away from spaces I don’t want him exploring such as underneath the couch. Besides striking the aforementioned yoga poses for him, I have also started building forts for him out of pillows and blankets.
Here is an example of one I made by simply draping a blanket over two chairs:
INVOLVING PACO IN HOUSEHOLD TASKS
Because he mostly only comes inside for a few hours at a time, I often leave most tasks to be accomplished for the times when I don’t have Paco in the house. Besides work on the computer which is in the same area that he plays, I leave myself free to give him my full supervision (and he needs it!). But lately, while searching for things to keep him occupied, I’ve started to integrate him as my “helper-can” in some basic household chores. Surprisingly, he has found some of these to be highly entertaining and it’s been easier than I thought to find him a role to play.
One of Paco’s current favorite chores is when he helps me water the plants. Splashing his beak in and out of the stream of water each time I fill the watering can and then chomping at the spout as we water the plants is an exciting purr-fest. He also enjoys attacking the paper towels and shredding them as I clean the mirrors and tabletops that he’s smeared with his papaya juiced beak. Lately, he also gets a big kick out of watching me chop vegetables in preparation for cooking dinner later, especially when he is given pieces to play with – chunky carrot sticks being a particular treasure.
As with everything with these curious Three-Cans, I fully expect to have to keep creating new activities to keep Paco’s time in the house focused on positive pursuits. While it’s certainly a lot of effort, it is well worth it for him to be so enriched both mentally and physically. Our bond has continued to strengthen and it’s really amazing to see how much he trusts me as we explore new things together. At the end of a day inside, nothing is more rewarding to me than to watch my exhausted toucan head up to his sleeping perch a bit earlier than usual, tail up, ready for bedtime.