How to Clicker Train Your Parrot

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Train your parrot or break its bad habits with Clicker Training!

Clicker training is the most efficient way to teach your pet to behave in an acceptable way!  Even parrots that don't have behavior problems will enjoy interacting with their owners through clicker training.  Owners of problem parrots will be delighted at the ease with which they can effect change in their pets.  

Clicker training is a method of training an animal to perform an activity willingly.  It does not use force or punishment, and the results are impressive and quick.  It is commonly used to train show dogs and even zoo animals.  Dolphin training is based on the same principle, but whistles are substituted for clickers so that they can be heard underwater.

CLICKER or other "bridge".  Clickers can be purchased online- do a web search for Clicker Training.  You can click with your mouth, making the sound people use to encourage horses.  You can use mouth clicking exclusively or you can use it until you receive your "real" clicker.  You can also use the tops of baby food jars!

(What is a "bridge"?  The bridge can be any sound or action which lets the parrot know that she has done what she is supposed to do and will receive a treat for it.  Clickers or quick distinct noises are preferred over verbal bridges like, "Good Bird!" but that will work, too.)

TARGET STICK.  This can be a chopstick, a pencil, or any stick of this sort.  The bird will not be allowed to chew on the stick, but it is best to use one that doesn't have anything dangerous on the end that can suddenly be bitten off. 

PARROT.  Or another animal!

PARROT'S FAVORITE TREAT.  Most parrots have a favorite food treat that they will do anything to get.  This is the food you want to use during training.  If you aren't sure which is your birds' ultimate favorite food, place several choices before it, and see which one he is most enthusiastic about.  Gradually remove the ones that are not the most favorite and narrow it down to that one food.  From that point on that food will only be used during training and for special rewards.  It will begin sessions anticipating this treat, but eventually, training sessions will probably become plain old fun that just happens to include a favorite treat!

The treat should be made into tiny portions that the bird can eat in one bite.  Seeds (besides millet) and nuts should have the shells removed in advance, and depending on the size of the bird, they should be crunched up to little pieces that he will quickly devour.  This means you'll be able to work faster and longer without him getting full or wasting time on opening and eating food.  He'll still get a lot of his treat, so you're not depriving him.   

Treats for aggressive or biting birds must be offered on a spoon even if you think you can give him a treat safely.  Don't give him any chance to bite you because this will adversely affect training.  

TRAINING LOCATION.  A confident parrot who does not bite may be trained on a level table.  A fearful parrot can be trained in or on his cage.  An aggressive or unpredictable parrot should be trained inside his cage.  

WHERE TO START?

Sessions should be short- two to five minutes per session unless both parties are just having too much fun to quit.  Try always to end on a positive note if possible.

The first thing to teach your bird is Targeting.  Place the target stick in front of your parrot and slowly move it closer to his face.  If he moves toward it or touches the stick- even a bite, click the clicker and give him a treat.  If he is in his cage this may take more patience initially, but once he learns that the treat comes with the behavior he'll be waiting for you!

 
(If he is afraid of the stick, your first step is to click him for ANY movement toward the stick.  If he is utterly terrified of the stick to shorten the stick by hiding it in your sleeve or behind your arm so that only a tiny bit of stick shows.  When the bird approaches your hand, click.  Gradually lengthen the stick.)

Once your bird will do each thing you want-  get close to the stick, touch the stick, etc. you much increase your requirements slightly by waiting for the more specific behavior before clicking and offering the treat.  If your bird is consistently touching the stick, but it's more of a bite, you must now only click and treat when he touches but does not bite.  If your bird is consistently touching the "short" stick, you must gradually lengthen it and click for each successive increase in length.  

If your bird has trouble with a step, back up and go more slowly.  If your bird is particularly timid, make the sessions shorter and more rewarding.  Give bigger treats for less action until he's less fearful.  

Once your bird is consistently touching the stick without biting it or running away, move it so that he has to go get it.  In a few sessions, you should be having your bird running all over the tabletop or cage to touch the target and get his treat. 

NOW, WHAT?

Once targeting is learned, it's time to move on before the bird and its trainer become bored!  

The next thing is to get the bird to touch things after you've touched them with the target stick.  For caged birds use a toy within the cage.  For tabletop birds, place a toy or prop for a trick you wish to eventually train him to do on the table.  Touch the object with the training stick and hold the stick on the toy.  

The bird will go for the stick.  (Timid birds may need to be gradually lured closer to the object by clicks and retreats for each movement closer.)  Gradually reward him until he's touching the end of the target and the toy at once.  Click, treat.  Then, touch the object but pull back as soon as he touches.  Click, treat.  

Then touch the target and pull away BEFORE he touches.  Chances are he will go for the stick.  If he does, touch the object again, and as soon as he starts to touch, pull back so that he touches only the object, not the target.  Eventually, he will know that whatever you touch, he is supposed to touch. 

NOW FOR THE FUN PART!

This stuff is really fun even just this far, but now you can start training the bird to do tricks ranging from ringing bells to pushing toy cars to play toy basketball.  With each tiny movement toward the goal action, click and treat.  Then stop clicking and treating for lesser actions and click and treat only for actions that are closer to perfect.  Ultimately only click and treat for perfect actions.  

Finally, you'll be able to go one or two tricks without clicking and treating each time, although it is not recommended to do this very much.  After all, would you do your job if you didn't get paid? 

HOW DOES THIS CORRECT PROBLEM BEHAVIOR?

For some reason, much bad behavior in parrots stops automatically when clicker training is initiated.  If it does not, use the clicker and treat to reward desirable behavior (e.g. If your bird is screaming, click during the seconds when she takes a break and offers a treat.  Gradually the seconds will increase to minutes and longer.)  Biting may take longer.  You must not interact physically with a biting bird until its habit of biting is broken, but you can interact effectively through the cage bars until the aggression is diminished.  With some large birds, you may always need to move them from place to place on a perch rather than on your bare hand.   


WHAT IF YOUR BIRD SIMPLY WON'T COOPERATE TODAY?
Quietly put the training items away for now.  You can try again later or even skip a day or two. 

WHAT HAPPENS IF I MISS A FEW DAYS?

Your bird will remember!  Don't skip weeks on end, but a few days here and there is fine.  

Also, if you find things aren't progressing well even though you're adding new activities as needed, it is sometimes a good idea to take a couple of days off to make it interesting again!