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Condtioning Pavlof response (23/8)

Conditioning (Pavlov response)

“How come your youngsters come in so fast, and why do you never show your hens to the widowers on shipping day?” a club mate asked me once. It may sound odd, but both parts of the question are related to each other! In both cases, we are talking about ‘conditioning’ or as an expert would say reflexive actions. Conditioning is applying habitual behaviour. Habitual behaviour or behaviour from habit or reflexes are ‘unintended reactions to stimuli.’


In my childhood, both of my grandmothers had a cat. When one of the grandmothers called ‘kitty, kitty’ the cat came running. My other grandmother's cat comes running at the sound of a saucer sliding on the floor. If she called out ‘kitty, kitty’ the cat may as well have been stone deaf. “How come, grandma?’ I asked in astonishment. At which she told her story. When the cat was young, I pushed the saucer over the floor every time I fed it milk. Very quickly she knew what the sound meant, ‘milk.’

The first grandmother could have said ‘dog, dog’ or ‘go away, go away’ when she was calling the cat. It would have had the same effect. I used to have a teacher who gave us a whack across the ears when calling us to order, if we did not come to a stop when asked, with great theatre he took off his ring, and we got one. It didn’t take long for us to learn that, when he grabbed for his ring finger, we had to be quiet and orderly. We were conditioned.


The earlier these habits are formed, the better. A child who has been poorly educated becomes a challenge and is hard to get it back on track, pigeons are no different. When I lived in Baarle Nasua and was still fanatic, I flew young birds and wished them a good night, every night. I put some treat seeds, grit and peanuts on their perch. Soon they flew up when I put my hand out to their perch. They ‘knew’ they could expect a treat there, for other fanciers (some anyway) the pigeon flies away when the boss puts out his hand.


Their hands don’t look any different than mine, but the birds are afraid of them. Some make it even worse. If they want to catch a pigeon, they keep both hands behind their head carefully and then suddenly ‘boom’ they strike. Gotcha! Sometimes they miss. A cloud of feathers and pigeons scattering in every direction are living proof of the inexperience of such a fancier. He is in the process of losing the birds confidence. These are the fanciers whose pigeons storm out of the loft in panic and fear as soon as they open the loft door. It is very naive to expect these pigeons to trap quickly into the loft when they come home from a race. When you enter your loft, the pigeons shouldn’t show any signs of fear. They should be cooing a welcome.


The hands of the fancier play a vital role in the life of a pigeon. With them, you feed and catch them. They should not be afraid.

If I’m in a rush, I’ll stay away from the lofts. Because I know myself. If I miss catching a bird, I’ll try again, but the second try is usually uncontrolled and rougher then the first try. Wrong, of course. You are on the right path if you only need one hand to pick up a pigeon.

Some fanciers always have some treat seeds or peanuts in the pocket of their loft coats. They never enter the loft without giving their pigeons a snack. That’s the right way, better than the lazy fancier who drop the pigeon from their hands or throw them down (it happens!). These people should see what the y are doing in slow motion and observe how difficult it is for the pigeon to gain its balance and land on its legs. Pigeons should be picked up and let go calmly.


It is well known how women that feed the youngsters during the week will also have to call them in when they come home from the race. Especially youngsters. As I write this, it is mid-March. Soon you will have to call the youngsters in after exercising, by shaking the feed can and/or calling “come, come.” Of course, you could also call “kitty, kitty, ” but that wouldn’t sound quite right, would it?

Very quickly, “only seeing you” will be enough to get them in. Even as they come home from a race. What a difference from those who have to get out of sight as the pigeons are dropping on the roof. In this day and age, when many races are won by mere seconds, fast trapping has become an essential facet of the sport. Condition is the secret of the men who have perfected trapping. Often they are men who have a lot of time to work with their pigeons.


Views differ on the role of the hen in the widowhood system. As the widowers are racing home, are they continually thinking of their hens? “Hmm!” No, the widowers can’t tell us. Even so, I wonder if “showing the hen before shipping” makes sense. Just the fact they are being basketed alone should be enough to condition them, to the point that the hen will be waiting at home. After a few weeks of racing, they know what’s waiting for them and showing the hen becomes as redundant as shouting “kitty, kitty” at milking time.

The sound made by the dish and “getting milk,” were so associated by the cats, that just the noise made by the dish sliding across the floor, became sufficient (the Pavlov response). Would being entered and shipped to the race point not be adequate and make all else redundant. As for showing the hens, it only creates unrest, stress, fights, and above all, it is an unnecessary waste of energy.


Many who would never have thought of entering a widower without showing him his hen before going to the club, no longer do so. Because they found that it makes no difference and possibly even has disadvantages. Not to mention all the extra work. It dates back to the last century. I still remember the Short Distance flyer and his son. They flew from Quievrain and Noyon, the pigeons all raced from the same loft. The son who no longer lived at home took the Quievrain pigeons too the club, and he clocked them.

The father never showed the Noyon cocks their hen, as those were shipped in the afternoon and, that would give them to much stress. The son always showed. Just by circumstance, the son had to look after the pigeons for a day. Both the Quievrain and the Noyon pigeons. That evening he phoned his father to tell his father what had happened. None of the Quievrain pigeons wanted to go out, on the contrary, they got excited and began to turn and coo when they saw him. The Noyon pigeons were out exercising as usual.

What was going on? When the son entered the loft, the Quievrain pigeons thought that they were going to see their hens. After all, they were accustomed to seeing him only on Saturdays, and when they did, they always saw their hens.

Sometimes pigeon racing can be very logical.