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Again conditioning (April 12)

Do pigeons in Russia and France also listen when the fancier says ‘come come?’ my grandson asked. ' How come your babies trap so well and why do you never show your racers their partners?, a clubmate asked. It may sound strange, but these things have to do with each other! It is all a matter of 'conditioning' or reflexes.


In my childhood both of my grandma's had cats. If one said 'pussy, pussy’, her cat came running on. The cat of the other Granny came on when she heard the sound of a saucer with which she moved across the floor. 'Why do you not say ‘pussy, pussy' I asked that Grandma. She laughed and called ' pussy pussy '. The beast seemed completely deaf. ' How come Grandma? ' I asked surprised. Then she did her story: 'when the cats were little I scraped each time with the saucer on the floor when they got milk. Soon they knew what that sound meant: ' milk.

That first grandma had just as well could have said "dog, dog, dog" or "go away, go away' if the cat was taught so. It would have had the same effect. I used to have a teacher that treated us with a blow against the ears if we did not behave. With a great sense of theatre he took his ring off and we got one. Soon we became silent only as he stood up and gripped to his ring finger. We knew what this meant. We were conditioned.


The earlier you teach your birds habits the better. A child that is brought up badly is hard to get back on track. With pigeons it is little else. When we race youngsters I put some grit, sweets and peanuts in their boxes every evening. And let others play with my hands. Soon they come flying to their boxes when I reach out a hand. They 'know' that they can expect ‘a snack’ there. If other fanciers (some anyway) reach out their hand the pigeon flies away.


Their hands look little different from mine but yet the pigeons are afraid of them. Because of a boss who grabbed them between his legs or against a window before. Some are even worse. If they want to catch a bird they carefully hold both hands behind their heads and then all of a sudden 'boom', they strike. Got it. Or not. A cloud of feathers and pigeons that are frightened to death are the living proof of the ignorance of such a man, who is busy losing confidence forever.

They are the fanciers whose birds storm out of the loft as soon as they open the door. And it is naive to expect such pigeons to trap well when arriving home from a race. If you enter the lofts pigeons may show no signs of fear. A ‘welcome coo’ is allowed.


The hands of the fanciers play an important role in the life of the pigeon. They should not fear them. They should trust both the fancier and his hands. If I am hasty or stressed I stay away from lofts, because I know myself. If I want to catch a bird and I miss I do a second attempt which is usually rougher than the first. Wrong of course. You are doing well if you only need one hand to grab a bird.

Some always have sweets or peanuts in the pockets of their dusters. They never enter the loft without a treat. They do well. Much better than those guys that let the birds drop off their hands or (that happens too) even worse just throw them away! Such people should see what they do in delayed images. How much the pigeon is straining to balance on the feet. So always grab birds softly and respectfully.


It is well known that women who take care of the birds during the week are sometimes needed to lure them in after a race. Certainly the babies. When I write this it is early April. Soon the winter breeds should have discipline. I get them in by a temptingly 'come come', or a whistle. If they are taught it may also be ' pussy pussy’, although that is kind of strange when calling in pigeons.

Pretty soon seeing me alone will be sufficient to get inside. Also after the flights! What a difference with people who have to hide when their birds are arriving home. Now that seconds have become more and more decisive trapping has become part of the game. 'Conditioning' is the secret of men that have perfect trappers. Mostly they are men with quite a lot of time.


As for the role of the partner in the ‘widowhood game’ opinions differ. Would widowers on their way home from a race constantly have the hen in mind? Hmm, no widower will say. Even if so, I wonder if showing the partner before basketing makes sense. The stay in the baskets alone conditions the birds. After a few weeks they know the game. Seeing the partner will be superfluous then.

Just as saying ‘pussy, pussy’ was superfluous for that one grandma who had conditioned her cats by scraping that saucer on the floor every time the cats got milk. That sound associated with milk was sufficient soon. Would a stay in the basket not be enough as well after some time? Showing the partner will only bring turmoil, stress, brawls and especially unnecessary waste of energy.


Concerning this I still I remember that short distance player and his son. On Sunday they had two races, one from Quievrain and one from Noyon. The son basketed the birds for Quievrain.

The birds for Noyon were basketed by the father on Saturday at noon. He never showed the hens; too much turmoil. The son always showed the partner. Then came that day that the father had to go to hospital and the son had to take care of all the birds the whole week. Then something strange happened. When he wanted to release the birds for training none of the ‘Quievrain racers’ got out of the loft, on the contrary. They started cooing excitedly when they saw him. The ‘Noyon racers’ on the other hand trained normally.


What was going on? When the son entered the loft the cocks ‘thought’ they would see the hens. Like every Saturday when they were basketed. They were used to that. Sometimes pigeon sport is very simple indeed.