What is Clicker Training?
Want your parrot to behave a certain way but don’t speak Budgie, Cockatiel, Senegal, Macaw or Cockatoo? Clicker training is an ideal way to bridge the language barrier and communicate with your parrot in a fun and rewarding way.
Clicker training your bird will keep their mind occupied and allow you to interact with them as never before.
Studies have shown that an active mind will help keep your bird from becoming depressed and from self mutilation triggered by boredom. It is especially important and effective for rehabilitating and modifying ‘problem birds’. Most importantly it will strengthen your relationship. All birds will benefit from clicker training regardless of age, species or outlook on life!
What is a Clicker?
The Clicker is a small hand held noise maker which was first used by dolphin trainers. The sound of the clicker is an ‘event marker’. This means that the sound is only ever heard when your parrot (or any other animal) is doing what you want it to do. The clicker is used because the noise it makes is unique (not heard in everyday life), consistent and quick to generate.
How does it work?
Like us parrots make choices, good and bad depending on what their desired outcome is. For example; a quiet parrot ‘behaving well’ is ignored but a screaming parrot commands attention and we react. Whatever our reaction is, to a parrot it means attention. Like it or not you have just reinforced negative behaviour, consequently your parrot has successfully ‘trained’ you to react on her command.
Clicker training reinforces ‘good’ behaviour by using rewards. For instance if you tell your bird to “step up” and you give it a favourite seed as soon as they step onto your hand they are more likely to do it next time.
The reward is always the bird’s motivation for performing the behaviour, but the clicker lets the bird know that what it has done is correct.
What is the best reward?
This depends entirely on your parrot and what motivates them. Some like nothing more than hearing their human laugh, more commonly food is the motivator. Pele my Senegal loves nothing more than a round of applause after hearing the clicker however, Sid my cockatiel is motivated by favourite seeds.
Introducing your bird to the clicker! Start small!
Introduce the clicker by asking your bird to do something that they already do well. This could be a high five, a hand shake, step up etc. With your clicker in one hand and your reward close by give the verbal command. As soon as the bird performs the action use your clicker, then offer a reward.
Initially your bird won’t make the connection but repeat this activity by alternating familiar commands until your bird reacts positively as soon as they see the clicker. My bird’s positive reaction is to spin excitedly as soon as he sees me getting the clicker out of the draw. Pele is so keen on the clicker that he has been known to find and steal the clicker so that he can ‘click’ it himself in the hope of a reward!
Remember our aim up to this point is to teach your parrot that the clicker means lots of attention, fun and treats!
Why do we need a verbal command?
Your birds first language is not English and like anyone learning a new language they have to understand what key words mean. For example in French lessons you might have learnt that ‘Masion’ means house by being shown a picture of a house. Clicker training swaps pictures for clicks.
Whatever verbal cue you choose to use for this new behaviour means nothing to your bird however, your bird does know that a click means “well done” and getting it right means getting a reward. Therefore, they will quickly learn what the verbal command is asking them to do and once this happens, you will not need to use the clicker for this behaviour!
Training should always be FUN! You want your bird to succeed and enjoy the time you spend together for this to happen they need to be able to achieve what you are asking of them. Before you attempt to train your bird think carefully about the behaviour and break it down into smaller steps, you may not realise how many individual actions go into the simplest behaviours. Each step should be taught in sequence and fully understood before moving onto the next one.
Try this at home using a human companion: Decide on a simple task you want your companion to do, for example sitting down on one particular chair. Now without touching, speaking or using hand gestures try to get your companion to sit in that chair. It’s not easy! Now swap over and you try and work out what your companion wants you to do without speaking etc. Frustrated? thats how your parrot feels!
CLICKER = REWARD!!!
NEVER press the clicker when not training. If the clicker is pressed by accident you MUST offer your parrot a reward.