Bird Training 101
A bird is one of the cleverest animals you can choose as a companion pet. That being the case, you want to make sure that your bird knows who is in charge (that would be you), and knows how to behave respectably in social situations. Most parrots can never be fully domesticated, always retaining a bit of their wild side. But with consistency and patience, you and your bird can happily coexist in the same "nest."
Keep in mind, too, that some birds have very long lifespans, so the lessons you teach now will make the difference between living with a pleasant, semi-domesticated animal and an unapproachable, unruly flying menace. Here are 10 training tips to get you started:
1. Be prepared
Before you begin any training routine, equip yourself with the proper tools:
- Treats, such as nuts or fruits, that are not part of your bird’s regular meals
- A sturdy perch or dowel that you can hold in your hand
- A small, light colored towel
- A small sized stick or dowel
- Bitter apple spray for deterring your bird from biting and chewing inappropriate objects (e.g., window blinds, furniture)
- Bird harness/leash (choose the size according to your type of bird)
- Pet carrier or travel cage (for when you need to travel)
2. Be realistic
Just like you, your bird is an individual with its own personality and preferences. Some commands will take longer to teach than others, and there may be tricks that your bird will just refuse to do, no matter how good the offered treat is. And just as there are moments in the day where your mind is sharp, your bird will have moments when it is more receptive to learning and being handled.
Pay attention to your bird's cues and learn to recognize them. Your bird will feel safer and more trusting when it knows it has no need to feel anxious. Keep the training sessions short and consistent. Ten to fifteen minute sessions spaced out two or three times a day should be enough.
3. Handling your bird
It is best to begin with the basics. Get it comfortable being touched and held. Always stand above the bird, never below, so that you remain in the master position. Place your finger against your bird’s lower breast, just above its feet, and encourage the bird to step onto your finger, with the commands "up" or "step up." If it obeys, reward it with words, such as "good bird" or something similar. Be careful not to hold the bird too low or it may try to gain higher ground by climbing up your arm, but don’t the hold the bird too high, either. The proper level is about chest high.
During the sessions, repeat the stepping up motions and verbal commands by having your bird "ladder" with your hands. Using your free hand, place your finger against your bird’s lower breast, above its feet, and say, "step up." Do this several times, as each hand becomes free, staying aware of your bird’s interest and ending the session before the bird bores with it. As you are holding the bird, use one of your fingers to lightly stroke and lift its toes. This will accustom the bird to having its toes touched, making later toe clippings easier.
To train your bird to step back down onto its perch, practice the same motions in reverse. Do not place your bird in the cage or on the perch backwards, but turn the bird so that it is facing its perch, and hold it just below the perch so that it has to step up onto the perch, though you will be using the words "down," or "step down" this time. When the bird follows this request, make sure to tell it that it is a "good bird." You may also follow-up with a small treat after successful training sessions.
If your bird is going to grow into a large parrot, however, do not allow it to sit on your shoulder. This will enforce a bad habit that will certainly lead to a later injury. Birds, no matter how well trained, will bite when they get spooked, and you never want a spooked bird to be in the vicinity of your face. Small birds tend to have smaller and less injurious bites, but still keep this in mind.