Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beginning clicker training with Steve

I've gotten some questions in the comments about clicker training, so I thought I would write about this in a new post instead of rambling on in the comments. First, I did try to get some video of me training Steve; however, I am unable to take the video myself (as both of my hands are busy with the training!) and he freezes up when Thomas gets too close with the camera. We will try again this weekend and if Steve still won't cooperate, I'll have Thomas take a video of me training Max, which will have mostly the same effect.

First, Breanne wrote:
I would love to do this with my parrot, Stormy, but if I were to give her a cashew or almond every time she followed directions, I wouldn't get to far because it takes her forever to eat just one (about 10 minutes of nibbling). Do you break up the nuts into pieces or give him a whole one? If you give him a whole one, don't you find sitting there waiting for him to eat it a bit time consuming? Thanks!
Let me apologize for not being more clear. Yes, you want to have something pretty tiny as a treat. The smallest thing they'll work for. The main reasons are you don't want the parrot getting full after doing just one or two repetitions and you don't want the parrot to lose interest if you're taking 10 minutes in between tricks. Yesterday, Max went through about 30 tricks in less than 3 minutes. We would have both lost interest if she took a long break after each one to eat!

I use safflower seeds with Max as they are quickly eaten. Steve was not interested in safflower seeds, so I'm using cashews instead. I grab out about one medium cashew; you can see how it compares to this dime:and then chop it up into small pieces. I got 13 treats out of that one cashew.
When choosing the treat, you want to figure out what the bird really values. If I tried to train Max with banana chips, she'd never learn anything as she hates banana chips! It may be helpful to remove the training treat from the bird's regular diet so that they have greater value to the parrot, though this depends on the parrot.

In the beginning, or for a more difficult trick, you may have to use a higher-value treat. For instance, when I trained Max to do retrieve, I had to use cheese as her reinforcer. Now, she'll do that trick just for praise, though she usually gets safflower seeds.

If a bird does not take food nicely from your hands, you have to get the treat to the bird in a different way. With smaller birds, maybe you hold a sprig of millet up and they get a bite. With larger birds, maybe you put some peanut butter on a spoon and they get a lick.

Which takes me to my next question, from E.R.:
OK, one more question, does clicker training work with lovebirds? Although for me I guess it doesn't really matter because I'm still working on not being chewed on by those rascals :) Still, I'm curious.
Yes! Clicker training can work with lovebirds! And it may help you to not get chewed on by them anymore! Those tiny guys can be amazingly smart. The key is finding something that will motivate them to want to train. I know people who have trained their lovebirds using springs of millet. That way they can get the treat to the bird while keeping their hands safe.

Also from E.R.:
As for the training, do you click and wait for him to beak the straw and then give him the treat?

Also, do you hold the straw or put it on the table?
With target training, I hold the straw in my hand. As soon as he beaks it, I click. Then I give him the treat as soon as I can after that. Most birds tend to automatically beak something that is in front of them. I'm obviously not poking him with the stick; just placing it near his beak. As soon as he beaks it, I click and then a treat. Then I move the stick a little bit so he has to move his head to beak it. As soon as he does, click and then treat.

I will try to get videos of this (probably with Max) over the weekend to post next week.

It does take some time to get used to holding everything. I keep the clicker and the target stick in my right hand and the treat in my left hand. When I work on a more elaborate trick, like retrieve, I frequently will have the treats off to the side so it takes a few seconds longer for the bird to get their treat.

The key is properly charging the clicker so that the bird knows click = treat. Even if you click accidentally, you still have to give the treat because that's a contract you've made with the bird. The bird comes to understand that the reason he's getting a treat is for what he did when you clicked. Therefore, it's important not to have too long of a gap in between the click and the treat, but a couple of seconds is just fine!

Michelle commented:
Since my adopted grey is cage bound, I am going to give this a try!
Michelle, I really think you should, and that you and Timothy will love it! Steve is also currently cage bound, and he is having a ball. We actually did two sessions this morning because he wanted more! And I'm hopeful that through clicker training, I'll get him to come out of his cage (or maybe his new owner will, depending on how long it takes!)

Before I start talking about training a cage bound bird, I wanted to list a couple of resources:
  • Bird-Click yahoo group. It's free to join. They have amazing files on how to get started and helpful experts willing to answer e-mail questions. This is how I got started several years ago.
  • The book Clicker Training for Birds by Melinda Johnson. This book is recommended by the above yahoo group, and I purchased it when I started and reread it about once a year.
  • Karen Pryor's site. Unfortunately, it now appears as though you have to register with the site (free) in order to read the articles. Much of the content on the site relates to training dogs and cats, but there are some bird-specific articles; plus the theory behind training is the same, no matter what kind of animal!
Now, on to Steve. He is so intelligent. I have already warned his new owner about how much stimulation he is going to need and she is up for the challenge!

Tuesday August 17, 2010 was the first day I started training him. I charged the clicker, then did some target training. One session -- after work.

Wednesday August 18, 2010: day 2 of training. Two sessions -- one before work and one after work. About 15 repetitions of target training.

Thursday August 19, 2010 (today!): only day 3. Two sessions in the morning -- one before I went running and one when I got home. He loves training! I could tell he was getting a little bored with just targeting, so I started in on retrieve. It just clicked with him, and in one session he got as far as it took Max about three weeks to get. We'll train again tonight.

This is all done in his cage so far. Training a cage bound bird really isn't that different than training a bird on a perch!

One of the things that I love about clicker training is that it doesn't require a large time commitment, especially for the return you get! Each session is generally less than 5 minutes long. You want to keep the bird wanting more, so it's important to keep it short, especially in the beginning!

If anyone else has any questions, I will do my best to answer. I am certainly no expert, just an amateur who learned through that yahoo group and reading that book. I make a ton of mistakes, but my parrots don't know any better, so it's still fun! More to come on this in the future, hopefully with videos and pictures!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the detailed explanations!

Best in Flock said...

Great post. I'm a big fan of clicker training as well!