How to clicker train a parrot | Use these simple steps

How to Clicker Train a Parrot

Looking to teach your parrot some basic tricks like stepping up on your hand? Or maybe you’ve already got that covered and want to move on to something more challenging? Whatever your parrot training goals are, target and clicker training will come in mighty handy.

Let’s go into what target tand clicker training are and how you can use it to teach your parrot new things!

What is target training?

Target training is a common training technique used with many different types of animals. That includes parrots! Basically, it involves teaching the bird to follow a target (usually a stick) wherever you move and point it.

All this sounds wacky if you haven’t done much in the way of parrot training before, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

Why should you target train your parrot?

If you’re wondering why you should bother target training your parrot, there are a few things to consider. First off, any type of training is a fantastic activity for you and it to do together. It prevents boredom, strengthens your bond and teaches desirable behaviours or fun tricks. What other activity offers that many advantages at once?!

The reason we encourage people to target train their parrots specifically is that it opens up a wide range of other training opportunities. After all, if you can get a bird to follow a target anywhere it goes, you can use this as a bridge to loads of other tricks. Consider, for example, how easy it would be to teach a target-trained parrot to do a 360° spin:

  • Take the target in one hand and the clicker in the other. Set your parrot on a perch or table.
  • Deliver a verbal cue like “SPIN!” and a visual cue like a circle with your clicker hand.
  • Make a slow circle around the parrot with the target, allowing it to follow the stick.
  • Offer a click and a treat for a job well done.

Your parrot will catch on quickly. Eventually, you can leave the target out: if you deliver the verbal and visual cues, it’ll know to turn in a circle.

Target training is perfect for parrots that tend to lash out, as you can use a stick as the target and keep your hands at a safe distance. It also works very well to motivate scared parrots to explore new things: their desire to touch the stick and receive a treat will usually eventually be stronger than their fear of the object.

Did you know? Target training is a form of positive reinforcement. This means training an animal using a reward system for a job well done (like giving a treat), rather than using a punishment system when it doesn’t do what you want. It works extremely well with parrots, which are usually very food-motivated and actually enjoy socializing with their owner during training sessions.

Why should you use a clicker?

Just to clarify, you don’t have to use a clicker when training your parrot. A clicker is just an easy means to deliver a sound-based cue while training animals. Saying “good bird!”, clicking your tongue or similar is fine too.

Clicker training a parrot is a form of operant conditioning. What that means, in this case, is that you’re linking two events together in your parrot’s mind: a sound (click!) and the reception of a reward. If you clicker train long enough, your bird will know that a treat is about to come if it hears a click.

If your bird is sensitized to the sound of a clicker (or a voice cue from you), this makes target training easier, especially in the beginning. When it shows interest in the target, CLICK!, and a treat is on its way. It’ll learn more quickly what you want from it with the help of a clicker.

Target & clicker training in 4 easy steps

1. Sensitize the bird to the clicker

Start taking your parrot out of its cage for short training sessions (5-10 minutes) a few times a day. In-between normal chatting, head scratches and the like, regularly click and then immediately offer a tiny treat. The treat has to come instantly, so have it ready, and it needs to be very small (like half a sunflower seed or less) to prevent your parrot from interrupting sessions to eat it.

Eventually, if you click, you’ll see the bird get excited, knowing it’s going to receive a treat. At that point, you can move on to the next step.

2. Introduce the target stick

Your target stick doesn’t have to be special: can be pretty much anything. I use coloured pencils or chopsticks. Next time you take your parrot out for a training session, hold the target stick close to it. It shouldn’t be up in its face, just nearby and more or less at eye height.

Now, even an apprehensive parrot will eventually move towards the stick unintentionally, but with some luck, yours will be interested and get close. You want it to give the stick a nibble or touch with its beak. Any movement towards the stick should be met with an immediate CLICK! and a treat. That is, unless the bird attempts to maul the stick, in which case you should withhold the reward. You want a tap, not a chomp.

Once your parrot has touched the stick with its beak and received a reward, stop rewarding for anything but a stick touch. Just moving towards the stick isn’t enough anymore, the stakes are higher now! This is called successive approximation and you can probably see where it’s going.

3. Begin moving the target stick

If you repeat the above long enough, your parrot will become excited whenever it sees the target stick. After all, all it has to do is touch it with its beak and it gets a treat! In fact, even if you move the stick, it’ll probably follow it.

Once your parrot has begun moving towards the stick to touch it, stop rewarding for a simple touch. When it eventually reliably follows the stick around, go ahead and congratulate yourself. You’ve target trained your bird! Keep repeating the exercise on a regular basis to make sure it remembers how it works.

4. Introduce tricks

Now that your parrot is target trained, you can use this to teach all sorts of desirable behaviours and even fun tricks. We’ve used the 360° spin trick example, but what about one of the following?

  • Teach your parrot to step onto your hand by guiding it towards it with the target. It may be apprehensive at first, but its desire for a treat will eventually win.
  • Teach your parrot to fly to your hand by holding it out at increasing distances while showing the target and rewarding whenever it comes.
  • Teach your parrot to go back into its cage by leading it in with the target and giving it a high-value reward.

Use Clicker Training to teach new tricks

After mastering the basic behaviours such as step-up, stay and fly you can use the clicker training method to teach your pet some more complex tricks. There is a wide range of Foraging and Trick Activity Parrot Toys that you can use to teach your parrot new and complex tricks. Using toys like this will provide hours of fun and mental stimulation to your companion parrot when you are not around or have some chores to do.

Acrylic Box Stacker Foraging Parrot Toy

Acrylic Box Stacker Foraging Parrot Toy

Parrot Essentials

£12.99

MSRP:

Beaker Sneaker Foot Parakeet & Parrot Toy

Beaker Sneaker Foot Parakeet & Parrot Toy

Parrot Essentials

£4.50

MSRP:

SALE Birdie Bread Chewable Foraging Natural Parrot Toy - Large

Birdie Bread Chewable Foraging Natural Parrot Toy - Large

Parrot Essentials

MSRP: £7.99 £7.99 £5.99

MSRP:

Conclusion

Target and Clicker Training your Parrot is easy, fun and beneficial! Open up a range of enriching training opportunities and strengthen your bond with your bird.

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