Are You Confusing Your Parrot During Training?

Back on tour I less than half-heartedly worked on teaching my galah Bandit to "give kisses". Read and see video of where it was at here.  

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: On tour Shown: Galah "Bandit"

 Well, since being home and in between creating the BirdTricks Cookbook, I decided I'd give it a go at REALLY teaching this trick. So I spent a day about a week or so ago working on it a bit and Bandit did it great but I realized in his mind it was something like this, "Well, this is a weird version of the Muah I Love You trick..."

Basically, I've already trained on cue where I give Bandit a kiss on his beak and he says "I love you!" to me. However, now I'm trying to get him to come to me and kiss me but NOT say I love you, as an entirely different trick so that I can say something like, "Hey Bandit, what do you say when a girl kisses you like this..." (kiss) "I love you!" and then this new one would go something like this... "Can you give me a kiss?" Bandit runs over and pushes his face against my cheek and makes the kissing noise.

However, I wasn't really sure what I wanted and so I began confusing him. When you don't know what you want as a trainer, and you reward multiple things, you close focus and so does your bird. I knew I wanted to start focusing on training talking with Bandit soon. I wanted to work on his wave and pairing it with him saying his name as well as get the other things he says on cue, and with that in the back of my mind I clicked and rewarded when he said "bandit boy" once. But I was working on the kisses. So he was confused and trying a little bit of everything - there was no focus, no direction, because I hadn't made up my mind yet.

So yesterday I decided to sit down and figure out exactly WHAT I wanted to train and focus on. What I wanted the cue to be, what behavior I wanted, and I set both Bandit and myself up for accomplishing it.

I figured out: I wanted Bandit to come running to me and kiss me on the CHEEK. I decided the cheek would be his CUE to kiss me. Before, I was offering him my lips which was the same cue for the "I love you" which confused him. You can't have the same cue for different tricks. I didn't realize I was doing that until I saw the results. I thought since I was saying "kisses" or "kiss" that Bandit knew I meant something different but the real facts were that he didn't understand the behavior yet to understand there was even a cue yet.

So, no more lips. Only cheek. And no more words. I've grown to HATE word cues. I prefer physical cues (hand motions, etc.) for simplicity and so you can change up speech to whatever you want.

I realized I was also trying to implement a cue TOO early on in the training.

The phases of training a new trick include a "BEGGING PHASE" this is where the bird cues YOU. So when your bird understand a new trick or behavior, like the spin or saying a word, he will offer it to you over and over and over. And you reward at first because you're encouraging the behavior, but then when the bird is offering it to get treats that is when you implement a cue or command where you make a signal or say a word and the bird does it when you tell it to. This is a crucial moment in training because it determines if the bird trains you or if you pull through and train the bird.

A behavior is NOT TRAINED until it is on CUE. You put behaviors on cue so that the bird understands to do it when you ask. This is important because otherwise you train and go off of what the bird wants to do when it wants to do it and normally birds will pick the easiest trick to do for a treat (they'd rather wave by the mere lift of a foot then fly the length of the room to get the same treat) but if the behavior is on cue they know they only have a certain window of time to complete the task asked otherwise no treat follows. It teaches faster results from your bird, and more focus, and it makes it easier to move onto more tricks and form a stronger relationship with your bird.

So, here was my most recent training session with Bandit, after I stopped taping I stopped training and had another session later at which Bandit was begging by running up and kissing me, he was even doing it with his mouth full! It was adorable. This means with a few more short training sessions of begging and reinforcing it, I can begin implementing a cue. The cue is going to be the presence of my cheek. And implementing a cue is a very important part of training because this is where your bird will learn the most from FAILING. That's right, because you have to not reward when you don't give the cue and it takes the bird a while to figure out what that cue is. So if it's your first trick with your bird, make it an obvious cue like a high five hand or something large and just, obvious.

Extra notes about this video: I use the clicker to mark the exact moment he does what I want, and I follow it up with praise (ie: good job, good boy, etc) I also use the clicker because I am cutting off other behaviors - normally Bandit says "I love you" after a kiss so I want to make sure by using the clicker he knows he already did what I wanted and doesn't need to offer more. In the very beginning I had to use the clicker to "cut him off" before he could say more because I could tell he was going to say 'I love you' and I didn't want him to, again, I'm trying to make these two tricks - just that, TWO tricks. Before, he was starting to come kiss me and say I love you for treats because he knew that was the cue for the other trick, so this is my way of not allowing that.

Sometimes I'm not that clear when I write out explanations so if you're confused about this feel free to ask me about it on facebook. I disallow comments on entries so that I can keep them in one place.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.


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