Clicker Training

Bird Clicker Training

My first recollection of bird clicker training was as a youngster during a visit to the zoo.  I was amazed at how the bird trainer seemingly made a large amazon parrot respond to his every command simply by clicking a small device in his hand.  Clicker training is an effective method of parrot training used widely today; as it was many years ago. It’s based on positive reinforcement and a reward system. You can learn more about it by reading this article from Peggys blog.

Clicker Training Your Bird

courtesy Peggys Parrot Place

What is Clicker Training?

Professional animal trainers have been using clicker training for decades to train their animals to perform a variety of useful or showy behaviours on cue. Clicker training is also becoming popular among exotic bird owners and there are now books and videos out there specifically on clicker training pet parrots. Clicker training is an effective and humane way to train a parrot to do things like step up onto a hand, go back in her cage, and pick up items with her beak. It is based on numerous studies on how animals learn and is centered on rewarding desired behaviours.

The clickers often used by trainers are little plastic boxes that have a tab on them that produces a brief clicking noise when pressed. They are available at most pet stores. A clicker trainer will press the clicker as the animal performs a behaviour the trainer is looking for. The clicker serves as a marker that tells the animal what it just did was good and will earn it a reward in the future. However, before clicker training can start, the animal must first associate the clicker with a reward.

Charging the Clicker

The process by which the animal learns to associate the clicker with a reward is often called charging the clicker. This is easy to do: first, click the clicker and then immediately offer the animal a reward. Repeat several times. Through this process, the bird will learn to associate the sound of the clicker with a reward. This will mean that the sound of the clicker will become reinforcing to the bird, and that the bird will become likely to repeat behaviours that earn her clicks.

A Clicker

Food makes an excellent reward when charging the clicker, because food serves as a primary reinforcer for most animals. A primary reinforcer is something that will naturally act as a reinforcer, and will not need to be paired with anything else to act as such. A reinforcer is a consequence of a behaviour that increases the frequency of the behaviour that preceeded it. Animals obviously need food to survive, so animals will tend to repeat any actions that lead to them getting food. For example, dogs that are rewarded with tidbits of food for begging will generally continue to beg.

A secondary reinforcer initially needs to be paired with a primary reinforcer if it is to act as a reinforcer. The clicker is an example. For it to have a reinforcing function, it first has to be paired with a primary reinforcer such as food. This is because the clicker sound alone holds no value for the animal. However, once a clicker has been “charged”, and paired with a primary reinforcer, it will then also become a reinforcer.

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Clicker training is a great bond building activity and obedience mechanism you can use when building that all important relationship of trust and affection with your bird. Treats and affection are great positive reinforcement tools you will use to aid you in this type of training. It’s yet another way to making your bird a happy family member.

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