Behavior Shaping

My favorite type of training is behavior shaping. It can also be the hardest because it requires finding a natural behavior your bird already does and having a clicker on hand to let the bird know it's a good thing to continue to do for a reward. I trained my galah, Bondi, (featured in the video above with Dave Womach) to do what is called "The Rock Out". I call it the rock out because she spins her head in circles like a rockstar. The story to how I ended up training this behavior is kind of funny as you hear it come together. Bondi use to become very aggressive when put in front of a mirror. She'd nod her head every which way quickly and end up biting my hand if I kept her there long enough. She was constantly challenging "the other bird in the mirror". In my parents' house, my old bedroom has a huge closet and the doors are mirrors. It was really hard for me to have Bondi in there and I became frustrated with it (and being bit in the process). So I decided to shape her natural aggressive behavior into a trick. I began by holding her in front of the mirror and waiting for her to spin her head around. When she did, I clicked and gave her a reward. This really sparked Bondi's attention as she is well clicker conditioned and gets into "training mode" when she hears it. Immediately, the aggressive behavior turned fun and challenging for her. Everytime she spun her head, I would reward her with a click and sunflower seed. Being the complete ham she is (as most cockatoos are) she began offering me more exaggerated movements of her head by really throwing it around. Once she got rewarded for this exaggerated movement, I stopped rewarding for the simple spinning of the head and only for the exaggerated movement. Not only did I reward her with a sunflower seed, but I spoke excitedly to her in a high pitched voice, too. This paired the behavior with a verbal acknowledgment and eventually a verbal cue of "Rock Out". It only took the one training session to shape this previously aggressive behavior. When I showed it off to my friends and family, everyone loved it! Bondi became happily excited by the response it was getting her and easily did it on cue anytime someone asked it of her. The catch was that they had to say it in a really high pitched voice which was hilarious when a man tried to cue her! The next trick I tried to train Bondi was the "stick em up" which is when they put their wings in the air. I taught her this in a hotel room directly after teaching her the Rock Out. Well, she combined the two tricks together because I did not space them well enough apart! So the Rock Out got extended to a huge movement of her head going in circles plus her wings being out in the air. I loved it so I let it stay that way instead of separating the two tricks. Bondi gets such a positive reaction to this behavior that it is no longer on a verbal cue. She now does the rock out whenever she becomes excited. This meant a lot to me because I had turned a naturally aggressive behavior into what now appears to be her new natural response to excitment.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

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