Teaching a parrot to dance is like teaching any other bird trick; the difference is it is done to music. First find some music, or a good beat, that your pet bird seems to respond to. (Pick music you can stand to hear over and over!) Play different songs, and watch your parrot’s reaction. Sometimes the bird has to hear the music several times before he reacts. After picking out music that has a good beat, the first dance move to teach is the “turn around” or “spin move.”
Place your pet bird on a T-stand, and turn on the music. Hold a treat in your right hand at head height, get your parrot to follow the treat around to its left until it is facing back. Praise and reward (P&R) your pet bird with the treat. Then hold another treat in your right hand, and see if you can get your parrot to follow your hand the rest of the way around to its left to face front again. When it does so, immediately offer P&R and turn off the music. Repeat the sequence until it turns easily all the way around following your right hand. This should only take a few repeats until your pet bird has the idea.
The next time your parrot turns completely around, offer the treat with your left hand instead. Soon you can stop holding a treat in your right hand and just move it in a circle in front of your pet bird’s head as though you still had a treat in it, but always rewarding it with the treat in your left hand.
Move your right hand higher each time your parrot successfully turns around, until all you have to do is turn the music on and circle the right index finger above its head to get it to turn. Place your bird on the training table and see if you can get it to turn around while standing on the table. You might have to go back to holding the treat at head height again until it gets the idea, but, with the music playing, the cues should be similar enough. You can also use the verbal cue “turn around.”
Now we go into making it a real dance trick. Your bird has so far been taught to turn to its left only. Now insist that he also turn to its right. Use the same method as before; start the music and hold the treat in your right hand. But this time make your bird follow your hand to face back tuning to its right.
Your pet bird might be confused at first, but be persistent. It might be more difficult for you to hold the treat with your right hand over the parrot’s head and get it to turn to the back. If you have trouble, turn the pet bird to face back to start with and take the easy way of letting it just have to turn half way around to face front. (Make sure you block it from turning to its left and only being able to turn to its right.)
It won’t be long before the pet bird gets the connection and is able to turn to its right, all the way around. The reason you don’t want to switch hands for the physical cue is that when the parrot is doing the trick on the table and you want it to turn “this way and that,” all you have to do is change the direction of your circling finger, not change hands.
Even if your pet bird has learned the “turn around” as a basic trick, what makes this different is the music and the fact that it will now turn both directions to music, as if dancing.
Innovatine Parrot Behaviors
Innovative behaviors are behaviors the pet bird displays naturally and do not have to be taught or learned. Some of the most interesting things the birds do are innovative. The trick is putting such behavior to a cue so the bird performs on command.
An innovative behavior cannot be taught; it must come naturally to the bird before you can put it to a cue. For example, my caique hops up and down, either in place or moving forward. This is a natural behavior for caiques, cockatoos and some cockatiels. But it would be impossible to teach an African grey, conure or Amazon to hop up and down. My African grey, on the other hand, can move her head in a figure-8 manner and bobs up and down, which my caique cannot do. Watch what your bird does naturally and build on that.