Putting Natural Behaviors on Cue

Photo  by Dave Location: Orlando, FL Lawn Mowing: Galah "Bandit"  

Putting natural behaviors on cue is FUN and EASY! You need to know the basics of clicker conditioning and you're ready to go. I'm going to explain the steps I took to do so with my rose breasted cockatoo, Bandit, and how you can follow what I did with your own bird at home!  

Step 1: Pick a behavior your bird already does naturally.

This could be bobbing his head up and down, tapping his foot or picking his foot up, shaking his head, dancing, and the list goes on and on depending on your bird. For me, this was what I called "the lawn mower" where Bandit could push his beak on the ground all around like he was pushing something along the surface. Once you have picked the behavior you want, it's time to begin clicking and rewarding your bird every time you see him do this behavior.

Bandit tended to do the lawn mower when I would first set him on the floor, so I would "set him up for success" and use that to my advantage on my first training session. I set him down on the bed and he went right into it, I clicked and rewarded with a sunflower seed. Know what your bird will work for, it may not be sunflower seeds.   

Here are my second and third training sessions with Bandit, all in one day. He had 3 sessions in the same environment. I then did the 4th training session 2 days later on the carpet; he didn't do as well and was easily distracted while on the ground. This day he was sick of training and uninterested. When your bird shows signs of not wanting to train that day, you need to respect it and back off. The first session is the only one that I don't have on camera; my first session was while speaking at the Total Transformation Training Seminar in Orlando, Florida over January.

Everyone was on lunch break and I decided to spend some time with Bandit in one of the conference rooms. He loved the carpet in there and the room was bare of distractions except for a few people who asked what I was working on (at which time Bandit became very annoyed that the training process had stopped so they all left, hehe) it only lasted a few minutes but it was a moment where he was offering the behavior and I first began clicking and rewarding. In this session he was VERY enthusiastic about learning and shaping this behavior to make it what I wanted from him. He was offering it so much I couldn't keep up with clicks or rewards and sometimes he would earn the click and just keeping doing is all around the room, not coming back for his actual reward!

The below session is the one I am most proud of; I discovered right before using the video camera that I could change the cue from dragging my finger, to making my finger the stopping point and cue for how long or short Bandit has to travel to earn his reward. This was a simple, yet great discovery for me in making the cue more clear for both me and my bird.   

I could have trained this (and had it on cue) faster if I would have dedicated every day in a row instead of throughout a longer amount of time. However, that was my choice based off of what I was doing with my birds. You can choose to get the behavior down fast or take your time. It really depends on your bird and how much he is enjoying the training. It NEEDS to be fun. Training should ALWAYS BE FUN!

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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