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How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Discuss the methods and techniques of clicker training, target training and bonding. These are usually the first steps in training a young parrot.

How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby Michael » Thu Oct 22, 2009 12:50 am

So if you just bought a new parrot or are an existing owner but would like to learn how to interact with your parrot more, this article is just for you. You may have questions like: how do I get my parrot to step up? What is the best way to teach stick training? How can I get parrot to come out of cage? How to teach parrot to like me? How to target train a parrot? How to teach parrot tricks? Well this article should answer these questions and put you on the path of a loving parrot relationship.

The first step off course is to start by getting your parrot out of the cage. If you are just beginning you may be wondering how to do this. If you've had your bird for a while it may be unwilling to come out or aggressive which is why you kept away. Well the first taming step will be to get the bird out of the cage.

Let me start by describing the worst case scenario. The bird is extremely scared or extremely aggressive toward you through the cage bars and you can't even get close without it going crazy. There is no sense in handling such a bird because someone will get hurt (you or bird). If the bird is at least tolerant of your presence you can let it get used to you by sitting nearby but if sitting nearby makes the bird aggressive or run around, here is what you can try.

You can actually use negative reinforcement to reward the bird to tolerate you. If the bird is very upset by your presence (or some other individual's for that matter) you can actually reward it for calming down by removing that aversive stimulus. Here's how it works. Approach the cage slowly to test the threshold of how close you can get until it begins to display dramatic behavior (aggressive or scared). Once this behavior begins, stop and stay calm. Do not approach any further or make any sudden moves. The bird may open its beak, lunge, run around, or make other fear/aggression signs. You need to calmly wait out these signs until the bird loosens its guard and calms down.

If you have a clicker this can be a good opportunity to use it to click and bridge the moment the bird has calmed down. For this kind of training it is not essential to use a clicker but it may speed up results somewhat by demonstrating consistency to the bird. Anyway, once the bird has calmed down, turn around and walk away. Leave the room, go out of sight, or turn your back and draw your attention away from the bird. To the scared or defensive bird, this is rewarding. What this method does is teach the bird that biting, screaming, or running around will not make your threatening presence disappear. Instead, you are teaching it that being calm and collected is the action the bird needs to take to get the aversive (you) to disappear. Reward the bird (with your disappearance) for a reasonable period of time. You may practice this several times a day and in the long run the goal is to slowly reduce the threshold of when your bird gets edgy to be able to stand closer and closer to the cage before it panics, wait for it to calm, and then reward calm by leaving. When you can stand by the cage and perhaps lay a finger on the cage without having major drama from the parrot, you can continue to the steps I further outline for owners of hand raised baby birds or reasonably socialized parrots.

Once again, these measures are only necessary for extremely timid or aggressive birds. Most hand raised parrots and particularly baby hand raised parrots will not be this bad. This goes more for abused, rehomed, wild caught, or poorly raised parrots. If your bird accepts your presence at least near the cage, you do not need to use any of these steps.

The first step to taming your bird once you can get within cage distance is to let it get used to taking treats from your hand. To start, you need to figure out what your bird would enjoy as a food treat. A good start is to get some parrot seed mix (or whatever may be suited to your kind of bird) and pour it into a food bowl and watch the bid eat. You will observe that your parrot chooses to eat some kinds of seeds and not others. If you see it picking out a very specific kind of seed, it probably really likes it and it would make a suitable treat. Make sure you never serve that kind of seed (or other food) except as treats to reward desired behavior. You can also try healthier treats on your parrots by offering them fruits, vegetables, nuts, pasta, and other foods and finding out which they like. My parrot is on a pellet diet so pretty much everything but pellets is a treat for her. You will have to experiment and learn what your parrot likes. Then withhold that so that you can be the only source of that food for that bird. You will get all the credit for the pleasures derived from that food. ;)

Once you have established a treat for your bird, you will have to work on gaining its trust to eat from your hand. If you can offer a treat through the cage bars and the parrot accepts it, you are already on your way. If it does not, do not get discouraged but do not try to chase or force your bird to eat it either. There are basically one (or possibly several) of three reasons why the parrot does not take the treat. Either it is too scared of you, not hungry, or does not like that kind of treat. By serving foods you have observed it eating before, you can eliminate this last problem. For the bird not being hungry, the solution is to offer your bird treats at times when it is hungry. If your bird is normally fed at 10AM, keep it without food for the 3 hours preceding 10AM and offer the first few bites of its meal from your hand at feeding time. Finally, if the bird is just too scared of taking treats from you, have patience, move slowly, and take your time letting it get used to you. Perhaps place the treat on a perch just inside. Drop them into its food bowl one at a time. Try holding larger treats that the bird can have distance from you while grabbing. Millet spray (for smaller parrots) and long apple slices (for medium-larger) are great treats that can keep your fingers 2-6 inches away from the parrot which will give both the parrot and the owner reassurance.

After you have established a treat feeding regime with your parrot, do not waste too many days feeding it treats for doing nothing or it will start to learn to do nothing to earn treats. That will work against you for further training so as soon as you are certain your parrot is comfortable taking treats from you, move on to clicker conditioning. Clicker conditioning is practically the same as offering treats to your parrot except that we introduce the clicking sound of the clicker at the time the treat is administered. Do not use the clicker while initially getting your bird to accept treats from you though, because the sound may scare or distract it from taking the treat. But once it is comfortable taking treats, just use your clicker every time you are offering a treat so it can get used to that sound and begin to associate clicks with treats.

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You can buy a clicker in the dog/parrot training section of many parrot stores or order online

Clicker conditioning usually takes about 1-3 days to accomplish. What you are looking for is some kind of positive response to the click sound. So while at first you should click at the exact moment the parrot is grabbing the treat, eventually you should start to click first and then offer the treat as the result of a click. Just gradually adjust from clicking on treat to clicking prior to treat. If your parrot appears indifferent to the click sound it may require more clicker conditioning or it is just not hungry. As soon as you reach a point where your parrot gets even the least bit excited for hearing that click sound, you should definitely move onto the next stage. Once again, dwelling on clicker conditioning too long will start to train the bird to get rewarded for doing nothing which is counterproductive. Just make sure you don't move on prematurely because then the bird will not be familiar with the clicker and you will not get the benefit of clicker training.

When your bird can tolerate your presence, accept treats from your hand, and associates the clicker sound with treats, you are ready to teach your bird its first trick. This trick is called target training which involves showing the bird a target stick which it walks over to touch. Some folks call it touch training but it's really the same thing. What you will need is a clicker, treats, and stick to use as target. I suggest using an unused chopstick which you could get from an Asian restaurant. Otherwise a thin wooden dowel could be a substitute. Just do not use anything that can be toxic so it may be better to stay away from using a pencil, pen, or other painted stick. The target stick should not be confused with a perch so it should be thin enough that your bird would not want to stand on it. Never try to do "step-up" training onto target stick.

The first step in teaching your parrot to target (and if you've never taken your parrot out, you could still do this from within the cage) is to get it to touch the stick. For most parrots, just showing them the target stick will be enough to get them to touch it. Hold it a few inches in front of their beak and they will touch it just out of curiosity. Do not let them continue chewing it. So the moment the beak touches the stick, you should click the clicker, withdraw the stick, while distracting the parrot with the incoming reward. Try to point the stick in such a way that the tip is the closest to the bird so that it does not have the opportunity to touch higher up on the stick. If the parrot learns to touch only the tip, you will have precise control of where exactly you are targeting its beak in the future. If your parrot is scared of the stick, do not chase it with the stick. Just hold it steady in one place and observe your parrot. Whenever it moves away from the stick, just ignore it. But whenever it makes any motion in the direction of the stick (could be as little as turning it head that way), click and reward. Progressively reward your parrot in baby steps for making strides in the direction of the target stick until you can get it touch it. If the parrot is indifferent to the stick and you have waited a reasonable amount of time for it to try to touch it on its own, you can cheat the first time to get things started. Touch the parrots beak with the tip of the stick, click and reward. Do this up to 3 times, but no more. Now go back to just holding the stick and let your parrot come to it. By now it should have figured out that touching the stick should have something to do with treats. If it is still indifferent or no longer accepts treats for touching the stick, it is not hungry and needs a break. Try again when the parrot is hungry.



The first few times you target your parrot, don't expect it to go running for the stick. You will be lucky to get it to stretch its neck a bit or make a half turn to touch the stick. As the parrot improves with the amount of distance it will move to touch the target stick, continue to challenge it by holding it progressively further away. If the parrot does not make an immediate stride toward the stick do not give up. Try holding it there another 15 seconds. Do not give into the temptation to bring the stick closer to the parrot though or else the parrot will be training you that when it doesn't feel like walking over to stick, you have to bring it to parrot. Instead, take the stick away completely and ignore the parrot a bit and then show the stick again (perhaps not as far away this time). Once again, once progress/motivation diminishes do not continue to push your parrot but rather give it a break and wait till it is hungry again before continuing training. Within about 3 training sessions you should be able to get the parrot to make at least several steps in the direction of the target stick to touch it. Continue practicing targeting until you can get your parrot to go anywhere in its cage (or other area) to touch it.



One important thing to remember is that you are teaching the parrot to go wherever the stick is, not a locomotion routine. If you are targeting it on a single perch, do not target it in a specific pattern like "left, right, left, right." Instead mix it up randomly like "left, right, right, left, right, left, left..." If you see the parrot running to the place you were thinking of targeting before you could show the stick there, you have been too predicable and taught it a pattern rather than the importance of following the stick. Break it up a bit and be less predicable about where you will target it to. To make things more interesting, you don't have to reward the parrot at the location you targeted it to. You can randomize where it will be rewarded as well. You can target it one way and then have it walk another to get the treat. Do not create a pattern of rewarding it in the same place either. Sometimes reward it coming toward you and sometimes away from you. Lastly, try not to give your parrot the opportunity to bite the target stick hard or to break it. That will teach it bad/aggressive behavior and cause future problems. If your parrot is biting the stick too hard, try to click just the moment before it gets its beak on the stick. Pull the stick away before it could bite down and give the treat. It won't mind and it will realize it just has to come to and reach for the stick to get treat rather than bite. Do not let your parrot get lazy though and just walk over to the stick without reaching for it. You just have to find a reasonable middle ground and use the timing of the clicker/treat to reward correctly touching the stick. It may take one to two weeks for most parrots to learn to target all over the entire cage.

Once you have trained your parrot to target, you can direct where it walks or even flies. That target stick will work like a magnet for the bird. The bird knows it wants treats and knows that following the stick earns them. Now it is up to you to direct it where you want it.

To begin teaching your parrot to step up by target method, you will need the target stick, clicker, and treats. If you afraid of the bird or know that it tries to bite, you should also use a perch for it to stand on prior to your actual hand. Do not use anything out of the ordinary for the perch to step on. The best thing to use really is a perch right out of the parrot's cage because it is familiar with them and knows they are safe to stand on.

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You will also have to learn how to target and reward your parrot all with one hand. Since the parrot is to learn to stand on one of your hands (or the perch that hand holds) you will have to practice holding the target stick, clicker, and treat all in one hand. Do not try this with the bird if you haven't already practiced it because you might teach your bird the wrong thing or get it frustrated if you don't serve the treat in time. Here's a video that shows you how to target train your bird with just one hand:



Of course practice doing the one handed target with your parrot just back and forth on its perch or cage prior to attempting the step up target. Show the parrot your hand (or handheld perch you will be using) outside the cage for a little bit and slowly approach. Never chase the bird with your hand or stick because it has a fight of flight response to being chased. As you start bringing your hand or perch toward the bird, keep the target stick a few inches above and behind your hand or perch so the bird knows that it is about to be targeted.

The first few times you may just have to target the parrot in the direction of your hand rather than onto it immediately. Just get it in a rhythm of being targeted to and away from your hand back and forth. Finally target the parrot right onto your hand where it has to lean over or make a small step onto your hand to reach the target. Keep practicing until your parrot can completely step onto your perch or hand to touch the target stick. Then you can target the parrot back off of your hand.

As you continue practicing this technique you should begin to say step up every time your parrot is making the step from perch to hand to teach the cue. If you had been using a perch for it to step onto, start to hold your hand closer and closer to the parrot's end of the stick so it has to stand close to your hand. Get it in a rhythm of stepping onto the perch a few times in a row and then just present your hand instead along with the target stick and it may just be so used to step up, target, treat, step up, target, treat, that it won't even pay attention to your hand.

When the parrot starts to get good at targeting onto your hand, begin to recede the dependency for the target stick. At first show the target stick but take it away before your bird touches it but offer a treat anyway. Then just have the target stick in your hand nearby without targeting the bird onto hand (just using the stick as a reminder of the trick you are doing). And finally stop using the stick all together and the presentation of your hand along with the words "step up" should become your cue. If you follow all of these steps combined with motivation and patience, I guarantee you can teach your parrot to step up without biting you.

Here is a video that illustrates this entire process:



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Michael
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Re: How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby loukasvvl » Mon Nov 09, 2009 2:39 pm

i am trying the walk away stuff now......i own him for 2 days now....i have him on my desk so he is close to me....what kind of stuff can i use for a "treat"??
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Re: How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby Kathleen » Mon Nov 09, 2009 3:00 pm

Small parrots enjoy a treat called Millet Spray:

Image

Millet spray can be found in most pet stores in the bird supplies section.
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Re: How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby loukasvvl » Mon Nov 09, 2009 6:32 pm

wow thanks!!!!!!!how long will it take for him/her to get used to me???i have him for two days now....if i put my face near its cage he doesnt bother but if i put my hand near the cage hes scared and climbs up in his cage..... :(
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Re: How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby Kathleen » Mon Nov 09, 2009 7:50 pm

Your bird is just scared of your hand. It doesn't realize yet that your hands can be rewarding and fun.

I can't say how long it will take for your bird to get used to you. It depends a lot on if the bird was hand raised or parent raised. Parent raised means that it was fed by its parents throughout its entire development. Hand raised means that after a certain time of being with its parents, it was taken away from them and fed by people so that it would bond more to people.

If it was parent raised, you may have more difficulty, but I have heard of people still having success so don't be discouraged.

Follow the steps and advice in this topic. Make sure you read it thoroughly. It really works. If you do, you should be able to have your bird step up on your hand and your bird will enjoy being with you very soon! :budgie:
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Re: How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby loukasvvl » Tue Nov 10, 2009 9:27 am

thank you very much!!!!!!today i bought millet for "odin" heheheh hope he likes it!!!!!ill give it to him in a small bowl for start and then from my hand i hope he likes it.....
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Re: How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby loukasvvl » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:05 am

ok now a silly question.....should i leave him with food in his bowl when i'm out of house ???or should i feed him when i'm home at noon....??i have a multiceed food for him.....so yesterday when i gave him a little millet spray in a bowl he wasnt very excited about it....!!!!!i think theres millet in his food and he got used to it what do i do??!!!!
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Re: How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby Kathleen » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:42 pm

It's possible that he wasn't hungry and it really depends on your schedule and when you have time to do training in terms of when you should feed him.
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Re: How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby loukasvvl » Wed Nov 11, 2009 1:11 pm

he must be hungry when i treat him????so i whta should i do let his food all day long in his cage??or feed him twice a day??if it was yours how would you feed him and with what??god i know i am anoying but i cant understand how !!!
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Re: How to Teach Parrot to Step Up and to Come Out of Cage

Postby Kathleen » Wed Nov 11, 2009 1:25 pm

I really don't know what you have time for. If you have time for one training session per day with your budgie, then I would recommend you feed him a bit in the morning. There should probably be a 2-3 hour period where he has no food, just like the article states. At the end of this 2-3 hour period, you should start training him using the steps from the article above. After you've trained him, he probably won't be very hungry, but you can leave him food in his cage and he will eat when he's hungry.
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