Playtime with an animal is worth more than just a few minutes of cuteness and entertainment. It offers mental stimulation, a chance to build your relationship, and a window into their mind.
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an animal enjoying itself, especially when you get to be a part of that fun. Though many species will teach their young important hunting techniques, or social interaction etiquette, or even dangerous scenarios to avoid within the context of play, it is not all business. Because animals kept by humans rarely need to forage for their food or deal with a dangerous situation, much of their playtime serves the purpose to them of pure enjoyment while serving their keeper's interest of relationship building with them. Play is a time to build trust and a way to discover what an animal finds reinforcing. The only way to discover new reinforcements is to consistently introduce new objects and scenarios, while limiting known enjoyments to keep them novel.
Cher becomes very animated in the shower, but she is often a little more timid given a dish of water to bathe in. A Christmas gift I had bought this past year was a custom painted birdbath, and Ms. Flock Advisor and I had decided we should let Cher test it out to see if it was in fact satisfactory for her wild feathered cousins. It took a while for her to get familiar with the strange new device, but she did eventually dip her head in and go strutting around the shallow dish with her tail and wings dragging. It was a twist on a familiar concept (the shower) that challenged her to work out what to do. Sometimes a slight twist like that is all that is needed to bring hours of new enjoyment to an animal's life as they focus on how to confront the new ordeal.
Lennon is a very vocal male cockatiel and most of his playtime centers around that. He has four songs that he whistles a portion of, and Ms. Flock Advisor is forever offering him new ones to see if he picks them up. Music is not his only love, however. Lennon will often pick up on a strange sound that is far from melodic. But even the most ordinary sounds take on a certain flair when mimicked by the little guy. Lennon has imitated the crunching sound that we make while chewing, the clicking of our keyboards and mice, and one of his latest interests is the sound of a toothbrush in action. He began that one on his own while at the bathroom sink with Ms. Flock Advisor. She came out giggling and brushing while Lennon showcased his new sound to me in the living room. In the video you can hear several of his other mimics as well, and if you listen at the last second you will hear Ms. Flock Advisor say "Good Bird" followed by Lennon's mimic.
Learning what each animal finds reinforcing in playtime is extremely beneficial when it comes to making a new situation fun for them. Because Lennon spends so much time mimicking the sounds he hears, we can turn on a radio and instantly give him some fun stimulation on a long drive or in a new place. Sprite uses his feet to grab toys and roll around with them in his blanket. By offering these to him when he was first moved into Ms. Flock Advisor's new home on the west coast last week, we were able to bring something fun and familiar to a place with strange new sights and sounds.
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