Clicker training a parrot is really no different than clicker training a dog, cat, or other pet. Hailed as one of the most positive and efficient ways of training animals of all species, clicker training is easy to do and can literally be performed by any pet owner. In this article, we’ll take a look at how clicker training works, what you’ll need to do the job right, and how you can start using clicker training to teach your pet bird virtually any trick you’d like to, right away!
Clicker Training Supplies
First things first — what do you need to clicker train your pet bird? Obviously, a clicker is helpful! Clickers come in many different colors and designs and can be found at most pet supply shops for under a dollar. When choosing a clicker, make sure to click it a few times to make sure that it is loose enough for you to use comfortably. Some clickers have more resistance than others and can cause discomfort if you have to use too much pressure with your thumb to get a sound out of it. You also want to be able to get the “click” sound to come out quickly — the whole point of the clicker will be to tell your bird the exact moment that he or she has performed correctly, so you want to be sure that you don’t have to fumble with it much to get that click out!
Once you have your clicker, you’ll need to get some healthy, tasty bird treats to reward your feathered friend for a job well done. When choosing training treats for your bird, keep the following things in mind:
- Choose a healthy, nutritious treat. You will be repeating your training sessions with your bird many times throughout every day, so you want to make sure that the reward you give your pet is not only tasty and satisfying but low in fat and high in nutritional value. Good choices for bird training treats are fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, with the occasional seed or nut thrown in for purposes of variable reinforcement.
- Cut your treats into tiny, easy to eat bites. If your bird gets full too quickly, he or she won’t be as interested in putting the work in to earn more treats! To maximize your training sessions, use tiny bites of a treat so that your bird is rewarded with a tasty snack without filling up within the first few minutes. Tiny bites of diced apple or bits of grape make excellent training treats that will satisfy and reward your bird without making him too full too quickly.
Once you have chosen your clicker and tasty bird treats, you are ready to move on to the next step of clicker training your pet bird, conditioning your pet to the clicker! You’ve got your clicker, your treats, and your bird — so how do you get started with clicker training? Before you can clicker train your bird, you must get your bird to recognize the clicker as a positive entity. To achieve this, it’s necessary to go through a period of conditioning your bird to respond to the sound of the clicker. Conditioning your bird to respond to the clicker is actually a rather fun and easy process. To begin with your bird, simply repeat the following steps:
- Click the clicker.
- Immediately give your bird a treat
This may seem too simple to be of much use, but what you are doing here is causing your bird to associate the sound of the clicker with getting a treat, which is the absolute cornerstone of clicker training.
The reason that trainers use clickers is to essentially replace the need to carry treats on them at all times. Also, it is much easier to quickly reward a bird for performing a behavior correctly with a fast “click” than it is to fumble through a bag of chopped fruit, find a tiny piece, and hold it to the bird’s beak. With proper conditioning, the sound of the click will represent a treat to the bird and will allow you to “mark” correct behaviors that may otherwise take much longer to train as a bird will have forgotten what they did right by the time you can get a treat for them.
Repeating steps one and two as listed above will help your bird form the association between “click” and “treat” that is necessary to allow you to use the clicker to teach the behaviors that you’d like your bird to learn. Once you notice your bird watching for a treat every time they hear the “click”, then you’ll know that the association has been formed, and you can begin using your clicker to train your bird to do virtually anything you’d like — just always remember to mark each correct behavior with a click, and follow up your training sessions with lots of treats and praise!
Check out this great Cockatiel clicker training video on YouTube for an example of what clicker training can do for you and your bird!