When people talk about parrot training, their thoughts immediately turn to free flight, talking or elaborate tricks. While these things are definitely part of parrot training and can all be enriching for our parrots, they all have the same things in common: they took lots of background work, time, patience and effort before they could be achieved. Training parrots can be a really time consuming and labour intensive task, but it can also be really fun. Success or failure often depends on how much work is put in, along with other factors such as treat motivation (which we will cover in a separate blog post).
One of the easiest ways to achieve all of the complex behaviours you see online and to also improve your bonding and training success with your parrot is target training.
Target training involves using a small stick such as a small chopstick, cardboard stick or wand, and getting your parrot to touch the end of it for a reward, usually a small piece of their favourite food. This is paired with a cue and then bridging stimulus such as a clicker or verbal prompt for example, saying “good.” It may sound very simple, but it is exceptionally useful in many ways when training your parrot.
Target training establishes a clear line of communication between you and your parrot. You know what you want your parrot to do (touch the end of the stick) and your parrot knows exactly what it needs to do to earn a positive reinforcement (touching the end of the stick.)
Establishing target training and making it consistent has so many useful applications. When first working on bonding with a parrot that may be nervous or scared of hands, it creates distance and an easy way for your parrot to earn reinforcement.
Many of the complex behaviours mentioned at the start of this post started with simple target training. You can use the target stick to lead your parrot through a course of obstacles, to fly to certain points or tidy up toys in a certain order. You can also use it to train behaviours such as spin and wave.
Targeting is also useful when trying to lure your parrot away from potentially dangerous situations or train them to return to their cage voluntarily. You can simply use the target stick to target them away or towards your goal.
If your parrot has a biting issue, target training can also be a true life saver. You can use targeting and high value treats to lead your parrot away from that tempting neck bite; giving them a real choice between earning a tasty reward or chomping down on skin. You can also use targeting to teach your parrot to moderate their bite force through ‘soft targeting’.
The applications of target training are numerous and from one simple trick, it opens up a whole world of fun and enrichment for you and your parrot.