Rebecca K. O'Connor
Even if you have a parrot that is always on her best behavior, there are a few simple things that you should train. Training basic behaviors does a lot more than teach a parrot a couple of tricks. Training allows a parrot to interact with her world, make decisions and build a positive relationship with you. It is one-on-one time that has an end result of behavior that can make a parrot’s life more positive.
Teaching a parrot to touch and follow a target is the first thing I do with any parrot that I meet. It gives the parrot a way to interact with me without being touched and to get a reward doing it. Learning to look at, then touch, then take a step toward and ultimately follow a target establishes our budding relationship as a positive one. It gives the parrot a low pressure, fun way to interact with me and build confidence. (It also allows me to gain confidence in the parrot.)
This easy training session helps the parrot learn how to learn with me as well. The parrot quickly discovers that "good” means a treat is coming. She also discovers the basics of training and gives her way to interact with her environment that she can control. The bottom line is that it is fun. It is so exciting to watch a parrot suddenly "get” it and discover that we are having a conversation. The best part is that a parrot that follows a target can be taught to follow it to a station, into a crate, back in the cage and a wide variety of other behaviors.
Chances are that if your parrot is well-behaved it already steps up. If you did not train this behavior, you should still work on training it, however. There is a pervasive belief amongst parrot owners that a parrot must step up with asked. I consistently see people in my workshops and when I consult nudging their hand into their bird’s chest and making her step up. This is unfortunate, because eventually the parrot is either going to decide she doesn’t want to step up and bite or possibly become fearful of hands.
A parrot should be asked to step up. She should be offered a treat or a scratch on the head and be rewarded when she steps on to your hand. A treat should be offered above the perch hand and at a distance that require the parrot to step on your hand in order to reach it. You are using your treat hand as the target.
If the parrot does not wish to step up, then walk away about for 30 seconds or so and then come back and try again. Ultimately, a parrot is going to decide that she would prefer to be with you, get attention, and possibly a treat. If you have a long history of positive reinforcement with the step up then a parrot will almost always step up. In an emergency, all bets are off, of course. If the house is on fire, grab your bird and run. In almost all situations, however, there is no need to force you parrot to step up.
A parrot that is given choices will have a stronger relationship with you and more trust in you. Training your parrot to do a few simple behaviors will do wonders for keeping her well-adjusted and confident. If you enjoy training, by all means, train as many behaviors as you can. However, a few simple behaviors like stepping up and targeting help ensure your well-behaved parrot stays that way.
Want to learn more?
Train Your Bird To Touch A Target
Train Your Bird To Step Up