Clickers are commonly used in dog training, but are also really effective in training birds – especially parrots! Clickers are a ‘bridge’ or secondary reinforcer. Basically, you don’t speak parrot and your parrot doesn’t speak human (mostly!), so the click will let your bird know that it has done the right thing at the right time, making training much faster than rewarding alone. The clicker needs to be taught, so when first training the clicker we always ask the bird to do something easy first by offering it a treat for the behaviour we are asking.
Firstly, you will need to find a favourite treat for your parrot, such as a small piece of nut, seed, millet, fruit, a head scratch, a favourite toy… every bird is different and has different preferences. Once you have identified your parrot’s top picks, you can remove them from the daily diet (or from common access if the favourite thing is not food), and use them just for training. To train the clicker, begin with some basic point to point training. Show the parrot the treat in your hand as a lure, give a small cue (such as tapping the spot where you want them to go), and when they get there click then immediately reward. After a few repetitions, you can begin to make this more challenging by hiding the treat inside your hand and just using the cue, bringing the food out once the bird has arrived at the point and you have given it a click. You now have a ‘come here’ cue, and you have trained the clicker.
The best position to hold the clicker in is in your treat-giving hand, and use your little finger to click. If you have the end of the clicker sticking out from your hand this gives you more room to hold treats. It may take a little practice to get the ‘click and reward’ motion using your little finger.
Once parrots understand the clicker you can train other behaviours very quickly, then when a behaviour is fluent you can stop using the click and just reward. Clickers are best for maintaining a behaviour that has started to degrade, or to train new behaviours.
Tip: For young children, chickens are a fantastic pet to start clicker training with!
Want to advance your clicker training? Contact Parrot Life Behaviour and Training via our website www.parrotlife.com.au.
Article written by Rachel Riley of Parrot Life