Clicker training is a method that can be used to train almost any kind of animal. It is a positive training method that uses rewards for doing what you want instead of punishment for doing what you don’t want.
The clicker is a small plastic piece that easily fits into the palm of your hand, with a metal strip that clicks when you press on it. The basic idea is that when your bird does something that you want, you click at just the right instant (so there is no doubt what behaviour you are clicking) & then offer a reward – usually a favourite food treat or praise or whatever it is that your bird really loves. Don’t always use the same treat – vary it frequently so that ˝ the fun for your bird is finding out which treat he will receive.
If the bird does not do what you want, there is no click & no reward, but also no punishment. Let me point out here that for birds, there should NEVER be any form of punishment. Using a clicker is just one form of positive re-enforcement for bird training. You can use all the same methods without actually using a clicker, but the value of the clicker is that the click says “great –here’s a treat” so the bird knows exactly why the treat is coming.
Before starting the training, you have to let your bird know that a click means a treat. You do this by clicking & then giving the treat. Do it several times so that you know your bird has established the connection.
Usually, the first thing to train your bird to do is to touch or to gently grab a target. The target can be something plastic or wood, like a knitting needle or a popscycle stick. It should be something easy for you to handle. You place it in front of your bird & since most parrot species are curious, he or she will probably reach out & touch it with his beak. Immediately click & offer a reward. If he doesn’t touch it, give a click & reward just for looking at it – it’s a first step.
Try it several more times and when your bird is touching or gently grabbing the target you can begin slowly moving the target a little further away so your bird has to move a bit to reach it. Always click & reward & always keep the training session very short – about 10 minutes. You can, of course do more than one training session in a day.
If your bird is afraid of the target – or is just not interested in it, you can try something different. Something that works for one bird is simply of no interest to another.
When your bird is reliably touching or gently grabbing the target, you can start to train simple tricks – like turning around or shaking a head back & forth (for no) or up and down (for yes).
The reason to try for a gentle grab of the target instead of just a touch is for possible training to pick up an article. Once your bird is gently grabbing the target, you only click for that and not for just touching or looking at it.
Don’t rush your training, keep the sessions short and fun, vary the treat often and above all, enjoy the time you spend with your bird.
For more information and if you are looking for support and encouragement from others who are also clicker training birds, you can join an e-mail list at yahoo groups. One list is called Clickbirds and the other is called Bird-Click
Other sources of information are two books listed below. Don’t let the name of one fool you. It’s worth a look. Actually both books are worth a look.
After many years of pet bird ownership, I have decided to write e-books about the care of some of these wonderful birds.