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BirdTricks Blog | Parrot Training

How Long Should Training Sessions Be? (Capturing vs. Formal Training)

How Long Should Training Sessions Be? (Capturing vs. Formal Training)

An example of what capturing a behavior looks like: 

Why do we advise training sessions be between 2-5 minutes when we show training sessions using capturing that go 15+ minutes?! 

What is "capturing a behavior"?

Capturing is basically clicking and rewarding a behavior your bird offers on its own. An example of natural behaviors you can capture:

  • Yawn
  • Head scratch 
  • Stretching wings 
  • Saying specific words/phrases the bird already knows
  • Dancing 

The reason capturing training sessions can be SO much longer than traditional training sessions is because you aren't engaging your bird in a formal training session. You are simply waiting for your bird to offer a behavior it does already. It doesn't need treats to stretch its wings throughout the day, it just does it. But the concept of capturing offers a treat for that behavior because it's something you would like to put on cue. 

I use capturing for talking - to me, it's the easiest way to put a phrase on cue that my bird already says. However, it's also time consuming. You can literally hang out with your bird for most of the day and capture a behavior ALL DAY LONG... because it may only offer it 3 times in 8 hours. 

Just the other day I tried to show what a capturing training session looks like with my galah Bandit, but after 18 minutes of footage I had ZERO captures. I had two phrases I didn't want so I didn't treat them, but I hadn't gotten the phrase I wanted yet. I was simply just letting him hang out with me while I emptied the dishwasher, made lunch for my daughter and wrote on my computer. I wasn't asking him to do anything, just waiting for him to offer the behavior I wanted. So you see, there was no intense learning or formal training, just waiting around which is mostly what capturing is which is why it can be so time consuming. 

Formal training, on the other hand, gives you a guide of steps to take with your bird (lessons to teach/approximations) to get your bird to understand the behavior you want.

This is a trick training session with my Camelot macaw, Tusa (notice it's only 2 mins vs the 15 mins on capturing): 

For example, if you want to train your bird to put an envelope in a mailbox - there are small steps and behaviors you have to train to get the routine down. The first step is simply just getting your bird to hold an envelope in its mouth. You are TEACHING your bird behaviors. We want that kind of training to be fun, interactive and something your bird looks forward to so we intentionally advise to keep sessions SHORT. Leave your bird wanting MORE, not ending the session for you. 

An example:

We trained two clients to flight train at the same time. One client didn't have a lot of time to train, so he did 5 flights per session with his bird. The bird was SO excited to fly and knew it only had a few it got to do that it was enthusiastic about the session and succeeded quickly. Each flight was spot on, the rewards were able to be bigger, and the bird still wanted to train when the session was over so it was looking forward to doing it again. Flight training = positive for this bird. 

Our other client had a lot of time on her hands, and spent 30mins-hour flight training. She would fly her bird 5 times and it would go GREAT, but she saw the bird wanted to continue so she would train until gradually, the bird stopped coming on the first call and came on the 5th or 6th... and eventually stopped coming at all and ended the session for her. With enough sessions like this it teaches bad habits:

  • The bird learns to come when it wants, not when you call.
  • The bird understands it can end the session anytime by not coming. 
  • The bird is tired, bored and/or over flight training (negative). 
  • The bird can learn to associate flight training as a very longgggg thing that will make it tired and refuse to come out and participate at all in future sessions. 

I know it sounds cliche but, less is more. 

Sometimes, if doing long distance flight training, the sessions can be longer because the flights themselves and resetting the behavior is longer (getting the bird to the first point before you ask it to fly to the second point.) but most of our viewers aren't doing those. But that is another exception. With flight training I usually pick a number and do that many (very small number!) or go by my gut instinct. If I ever say, "Just one more!" I don't do one more, I stop before it. Learned that the hard way, ha! 

Hopefully this explains the differences between the two methods clearly enough for their proper use. 

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