Tonawanda News

January 16, 2014

Setting some trends for the new year

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I don’t think one year makes a trend, but it is a good start. In 2013, I bought a few new pets, an amazing home and continued using the least coercive training techniques with all of my critter companions. 

This year, I will strive to continue giving my pets the best care available, as well as learn and share with you the most positive training techniques.

In 2013, I also published my first book: A Tenrec Named Trey (And other odd lettered animals that like to play) which was many years in the making. The book is a collection of eight stories each centering on non-popular lettered animals (e.g. Q, U, W, X, Y, Z etc). Maybe the sequel can be published this year. That would be a great trend for me to get in the habit of doing yearly.

Some of the new pets I had acquired this year were hermit crabs, one of my favorite childhood pets. I dedicated an entire column titled “Crab Chronicles” to these crawly pets, which can be read on our Facebook page.

Another pet I acquired this year was Eartha, a year-old savannah monitor — a potentially very large lizard native to Africa. With any luck, she will be trained to walk on a leash this year to get some adequate exercise. Last year, I focused on training her to be tractable. Currently, she is a little more than one-foot long, but has the potential to reach around four feet.

Recently, as you may have read, I also adopted five bantam chickens. These hens are miniature and will hopefully be laying three or so eggs each a week. They are approaching six months in age and should be ready to start producing.

When I need to move them or relocate them to a kennel or different part of the yard, I have trained them to step up on my hand — just like a parrot — through positive reinforcement. I present my left hand palm up and they walk on it. I can lift them up to eye level and then my right hand has cracked corn or minced fruit for them to be reinforced with. I was very pleased that when my parents come over to visit, the chickens even stepped up on my mom’s hand.

Buddy, the Moluccan cockatoo, is in the process of learning some new behaviors as well. She is 24 years old and has been in my care for about four years. Recently, I have been training her to wave with her left foot as she already knows how to wave with her right. She is also being trained to turn around on a branch, which is going well. I started showing her the food under the branch and she turned around to follow it. I then quickly hid the food in my hand and she followed just my bare hand. Now we are at a point where I just need to put my closed fist near the branch and she turns around.

All of these modest milestones in my household are adding up. I want to continue to be a trend-setter for myself. Training animals is addicting. When we can teach our critter companions’ behaviors that help them stay calm under our care, get proper exercise and mimic their natural abilities, we should be very proud of our accomplishments.

When you reach these milestones in 2014, share your stories with us. All of us can benefit from each other’s experience. After all, you could be a trend setter.  

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior and is a certified professional bird trainer through the International Avian Trainers Certification Board. Please send your email questions to

or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.