I can’t believe how quickly Stewie has caught on in our training sessions. Clicker Training for Birds is based on operant conditioning principles – basically: teach the bird that a particular action will result in a treat. Even before I started with the formal clicker training, Stewie already grasped the concept of doing something for a reward. Very early on I rewarded him for making quiet noises instead of screaming. But that’s hard to perfect since there will always be times he wants to scream, and often he makes his cute little conure noises as a way to “beg” for attention, which isn’t something I want to reinforce.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I started to give him a seed when he gave me a kiss. No clicker, just a “good boy” and a treat. Getting the animal to understand what it is you want the first couple of times can be challenging, but in the case of “gimme kiss”, I just stuck my face in front of him and it was his instinct to beak me. I had him giving me kisses that very same day! We’re still working on him only doing it on command though. He has a tendency to reach for my face whenever I’m close. 🙂

Then I joined the Bird Click group on Yahoo Groups. There I learned that you should teach prop tricks first in order to avoid begging behavior. And the very first trick that almost everything else is based on is called “targeting.” With targeting, you get the bird to beak a target (usually a small stick). Then you click and treat.

I asked a dog trainer acquaintance if she had any extra clickers around, which she did, so I was ready to start.

At first Stewie didn’t think too much of the chopstick I was sticking in his face. After a couple of mornings with him walking away from the chopstick I came up with the unoriginal idea of putting food at the end of it. So I stuck a piece of banana on the chopstick, and when he reached for it, I clicked and then let him have the piece of banana and a seed. Within that same session he began to understand that touching the end of the chopstick would result in a treat. I’m not entirely sure that he gets what the clicking is for, but it’ll come in handy later with the more complicated tricks.

After only 3 sessions I already have him climbing all over his cage in order to reach the chopstick, so there’s no doubt in my mind that he understands what’s going on. And we both have fun doing it!

I really feel like the training is helping to improve our relationship. He seems a lot more interested now in being where I am and interacting with me. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but I don’t think so. And even though I can’t get him to do it on command, he’ll step up on my arm now, which he never liked doing before. So now this bird who just a couple of weeks ago didn’t even seem to like me much, is hanging out on my shoulder, giving me kisses and walking across his cage to touch a chopstick for me. Amazing!

Since he picked up targeting so quickly, I’m going to have to figure out what to work on next so he doesn’t get bored. According to the Bird Click group, “retrieve” is the next logical step, but since I’m supposed to use his favorite toy and he doesn’t have one (not one that he can easily pick up anyway), I need to go toy shopping first.