Introducing a Behavioral Marker or ‘Bridge’ and Step Up Training
With any pet bird or parrot you need to establish a strong, positive relationship with great communication and training your bird is the most important part of this process. We are going to show you how to make an association between a food treat and an audible marker which will be the first stage of training.
Some of the things you will require for this training session include:
Ideally a clicker or whistle (the behavioral marker or bridge) although you can use your voice (”Good boy/girl”)
Your bird’s favourite food as a treat
When you decide to start training you should assess your current relationship with your bird. If you bird is hand reared, very friendly and receptive to you then obviously things will progress a lot quicker than with a parent reared, nervous bird that may be frightened of you.
First you need to find out your birds favourite food items as you can keep these to one side as a treat. Put a few items together and present them to your bird a few times and see which ones are consistently taken.
Once you have determined the favourite treats keep some of these back for the training sessions, just make sure they are kept small.
In the first training session you want to keep it short and sweet. All that is required is to make an association between the food treat and the marker.
For example; if we are using the clicker as a marker we will offer the bird a treat and at the precise moment the bird takes it from your hand you will click the clicker. Timing is of the essence, if the click is done before or after the behavior then it won’t have the same effect. If you parrot is nervous and won’t take food from your hand then you can place a treat close by and allow the bird to wander over and take it, once again clicking at the precise moment the treat is picked up.
Depending on the species and individual this may take one session or it could take twenty. All birds learn at different rates. The more accurate the timing of the click though will usually mean a much quicker transition. When offering treats, keep watching for subtle changes of behavior. If you bird is moving away from you then the treat should not be given until they move back towards you. this applies to both silly tame hand reared and nervous parent reared birds. If there is any aggression shown towards you then again you may want to pause for a moment as giving a treat will reward that behavior.
Always remember when you give the bird a treat you are rewarding the behavior of the bird at that time. Always reward good behavior and try and be nonreactive to unwanted behavior.
The reason for building this association between the marker and a treat is so that when you are training other behaviors with your bird, your marker will tell your bird exactly what it has done correctly at the exact time so the behaviors are learned much quicker. This is a very positive process and your bird will respond incredibly well to you once it realizes that rewards and mental stimulation are involved. This should always be fun for both of you so ensure sessions are kept short and rewards are given for every positive behaviour.
Once your bird understands that the click, whistle or vocalization means ‘treat’ then it is time to move on to some fun, basic training. It may take a number of sessions for your bird to understand. The best way is to do a test, use your marker and look for a physical response from your bird. Most birds tend to get rather excitable as they soon equate the noise with a treat.
Once this is learned then it’s on to training some behaviors!
One of the first things I would recommend training your bird to do is ‘step up’ training, either on to your hand or a hand held perch.
Some of the things to remember before attempting this:
Always aim for short, frequent sessions (ideally 1-5 minutes)
Always use lots of positive reinforcement; never punish either physically or verbally. If you get stressed or frustrated then it is better to end the training session.
Always try to end a training session on a positive note, if your bird is not understanding something go back to a behaviour that is understood and reinforce that.
Make sure there is only one trainer that trains the behaviour. Once your bird has some practice and is consistently offering the behaviour, have all members of the family attempt it to under your supervision and instruction. Consistency is key!
Once your bird has mastered the step up skill, practicing the step up in a relaxed and fun way is an excellent way to give lots of positive attention to your bird.
How to Teach your Bird to Step Up
Choose the verbal cue that you will use. It doesn’t matter what word or phrase you use, but you must be consistent.
Pick a relaxed time with no distractions – a bird that is preening or eating is not going to be very receptive to training.
Hold your finger, hand or handheld perch in front of the bird, level with the bird’s abdomen directly above the feet. Make sure you are close enough that it will be an easy step for your bird.
You want to reinforce any movement towards the perch so if your bird moves towards you and the perch you can use your marker and reward your bird with a treat.
The aim is to encourage your bird to make contact with the perch with its feet. If contact is made with the perch, then a larger reward should be given. If your bird lifts a foot then this should be marked and rewarded too. When a desirable behaviour is offered then always ensure you use your marker at that precise time, working towards a full step up on to the perch. When your bird steps up, with either one foot or both, give them lots of reinforcement and praise.
As your bird gets better at stepping up, you can start to decrease the frequency of treats so that eventually your bird will happily step up just for your praise.
When you want your bird to step down, the same training applies in reverse. Birds naturally tend to want to go to a higher position so by lowering the perch below the intended destination the bird will naturally want to go to the higher position. Once again reward any movement towards the destination and give larger rewards especially when your bird steps off the perch.