Clicker training is a skill that every bird owner should know before handling their parrots. It is one of the best methods of teaching your bird to step-up and to stop biting. You can use clicker training for improving behavior, providing enrichment, or simply as a way to teach your bird new and exciting tricks.
I have outlined the steps involved on how to clicker train your parrot, as well as some tips and tricks to improve the performance of clicker training. Clicker training can be a long process that you can’t afford to skip once you’ve started, so it’s important to keep at it every day with your bird, even when it seems like no progress is being made.
What is Clicker Training?
The term “clicker training” may seem a bit confusing, for someone who has never properly trained their bird. Basically what it boils down to is, when your bird does something you approve of, you click a clicker and then immediately give them a treat, rewarding them for that behavior.
What happens is your bird will start associating the sound of the clicker with something very positive (being fed a treat), and then you can use this association to get them to do what you want/need simply by clicking the clicker and feeding them a treat.
The first thing you want to do is get yourself a clicker. You can find many good ones online, but I personally recommend the EcoCity Training Clicker. Unlike pure plastic clickers, metal clickers or hybrid clickers tend to last longer, in my opinion.
The second thing you want to get is for the first training lesson: target training. You should get a target stick of some kind like a chopstick, pencil, plastic straw, or dowel rod. You can typically find these lying around your house, which will save you money and hassle by avoiding expensive target training sticks online.
Step 1: Find a Good Training Treat
Your first step is to find your parrot’s absolute most favorite treat. This should be something you give them only during training, never as a side treat or as part of their daily meals. You can find an article on safe, healthy treats HERE.
What you should do is lay out several of the above treats and see which one your bird consistently goes for first. I find that nuts and seeds are typically their first choice, so I would choose options from that category when testing for which one if your parrot’s favorite. Since you will be handling these treats often, nuts and seeds will keep you from having a goey mess once you start training.
Once your bird has chosen their preferred treat, cut that out of their regular diet plan. You will only be giving them this item when you are training with them.
If you end up with a large nut or seed, like walnuts or cashews, you’ll want to crush these up before giving them to your bird. The treat should be able to be eaten very quickly, so the smaller it is, the better. Not crushed into a powder, mind you, but just enough so they could swallow it in one go.
Step 2: Teaching your Parrot that Clicking = Treats
This is big moment in training: teaching your bird that the sound of the clicker means they will receive the treat. Approach your bird with the treat and give it to them. As soon as their beak hits the treat, click with the clicker. This will start the connection in their mind that this sound is very positive.
Do this repeatedly for over 30 minutes, twice a day, and then follow up every day over the course of about a week. Do not start target training until you know they connect these two actions as one.
You can test if they’ve made the connection by clicking the clicker and waiting a second or so. If they get excited, lean forward, or seem expectant, then you know they understand the connection between the clicker and the food. Don’t forget to give them a treat after the test.
Step 3: "Target Training"
Target training is where you really put the above work to practice. What you are essentially doing is using the very tip of the target stick as a guiding point for your bird’s beak, and rewarding them when they touch it or approach it.
There are three steps in preparing for target training and only three steps in actually training your bird. It’s the easiest trick you can train your parrot to do and should, at most, take two weeks to fully get the idea into your bird’s head.
- Put your bird in a position where there are no distractions, like toys, a radio, or the TV.
- Hold the clicker comfortably, then place the stick directly underneath it in your hand. You should be firmly holding the stick with direct and immediate access to the clicker.
- Position yourself so that only the tip of the stick is pointing towards your bird. Don’t point it sideways, make sure the bird can only touch the very tip.
- Now for the actual training bit. Slowly bring the stick towards your bird. If they ignore it or run away from it, retract it slowly and then bring it forward again. If they move in towards it, then click immediately and give them a treat.
- At some point, they should get the message across that the stick = clicker = treat, and touch it with their beak. As soon as their beak touches the stick, even lightly, click the clicker and give them a treat (preferably a treat that is even bigger than the previous ones). Even if the beak touch was accidental, still reward them.
- Repeat this for up to 30 minutes, twice a day, until it is cemented in their minds to touch the stick without hesitation. You can now use a command alongside this training like “touch” or “target”, so that you can use the command for later on other objects.
And that’s it! You now know how to do target training, and so does your bird!
It’s important not to use loving phrases like “good boy” while in the middle of training. The clicker is the loving praise, and using “good boy” might hinder progress, since you’ll most likely use it outside of training and confuse them.
Step 4: Step-Up Training
Step-up training is basically target training with one extra variable: your finger. It’s just as easy as target training and is a super useful command for moving your bird in and out of its cage or transporting them to other areas of the house.
For step-up, all you have to do is follow the target training steps outlined above while placing your finger between the bird and the tip of the target stick. Say a command as you come close to the bird, such as “step-up” or “up up”.
If they avoid your finger to reach the stick or run away, then don’t reward the behavior. Step back and then reintroduce the target stick and your hand. If your bird steps onto your finger to reach the stick, then immediately click and feed them a treat.
Little steps towards your finger can also count for a reward. Say your bird touches your finger but doesn’t step up entirely. Reward this behavior. It will help move them in the right direction towards the wanted action.
Repeat this for up to 30 minutes twice a day. You should see fast results, if your parrot is properly target trained.
You're Ready for Anything!
With the basics under your belt, you can start working towards more advanced tasks like step-down, waving, rolling over, and playing dead. The sky is really the limit once you master these two tasks!
If you have any questions, training tips, or comments, don’t hesitate to comment below!