According to research published in Scientific American, the average parrot may be at least as smart as the average two-year-old child.
Young children crave the stimulation of new activities because it helps their brains grow and develop. Here, it just makes sense that a pet parrot might crave the same and even perform equally well during training sessions.
10 Training Tips from Avian Experts
These 10 expert parrot training tips can put you on the road to training success.
Tip 1: Create a safe, private, distraction-free training space.
If you have ever tried to have a phone conversation in a crowded airport lounge, you already know how difficult this can be.
This is about how it will feel for your parrot if you select a crowded, noisy or visually distracting place to conduct training sessions. Your parrot needs to feel comfortable, connected and focused to enjoy training sessions and master the tasks presented.
What to do: Select a favorite perch or play stand where your parrot can sit during training. Put the perch in a familiar room that is quiet and private. Select some favorite toys or treats to use as reinforcement.
Tip 2: Start with a very basic lesson.
Just as you wouldn’t begin to teach a child about math by solving calculus problems, so too is it unwise to start out by teaching your parrot to sing whole songs or learn a series of complicated dance steps. This will be frustrating for you both.
Rather, experts at The Trained Parrot suggest that basic training is always the best method to start with.
What to do: A common lesson many hand-fed parrots learn right out to the next is the command to “step up.” This command teaches your parrot to step off her perch and onto your finger or another perch.
Tip 3: Choose practical lessons for the first several sessions.
As the owner of a bird who may live for many decades, it is always wise to consider what might happen if you have to re-home your beloved pet for any reason and train towards that possibility.
What to do: Make a list of some ideal qualities you would like to have in a pet parrot. You can assume these are also qualities others might like to have in a pet parrot. Then choose training lessons to reinforce these qualities.
Tip 4: Use a clicker for training.
“Clicker training” was first made popular by Karen Pryor, who was one of the inventors of this effective training methodology. Karen translated techniques used to train exotic animals like dolphins to work with domesticated pet animals.
The clicker is a simple device that makes a “clicking” sound when the button is pressed. This click is used as an immediate reinforcement for training new behaviors. Often, it is followed up with a treat reward.
What to do: Obtain a clicker to use as a tool. When your parrot does something you want to reinforce (i.e. you want her to do more of), use the tool to make a clicking sound. Then follow this up with a desirable reward (such as petting or a food treat).
Tip 5: Train when your parrot is already hungry.
If you plan to incorporate food treats into your training sessions, you don’t want to be training your parrot on a full stomach. Rather, wait until your parrot is starting to get hungry.
What to do: Study your parrot and notice which food items are most desirable. If the items are big, such as apples, cut them up into small bits. This will give you more training time before your parrot gets full.
Tip 6: Start training early.
Just like baby humans, baby avians tend to be sponges for knowledge and interaction. If you plan to bring home a baby parrot (or you have a young parrot in your household now) it is definitely the right time to begin training!
However, baby beings will generally have a shorter span of useful attention than their mature counterparts. So take training in small (baby) steps. Also, PetMD recommends trying to incorporate rewards other than just food treats to avoid over-feeding.
What to do: Never scream at or try to punish a baby bird for behaviors that look like biting. This will just scare your bird and discourage further training (plus, like all babies, baby parrots often want to taste and test things with their beak, which may look like biting but not actually be biting at all).
Tip 7: Be sure your bird is safe if you plan to train outside.
Flighted parrots (birds who still have all of their long flight feathers) can learn to wear a flight harness or halter when going outdoors. Other birds should have their wings clipped for safety.
What to do: You don’t have to clip all of the wing feathers. Just clip a few of the longer flight feathers so your parrot won’t be able to achieve lift-off.
Tip 8: Potty train your parrot at the right age.
It is absolutely possible to potty train a parrot. The Parrot University even has a training program you can use to do so. But you will need to wait until your parrot’s digestive system is mature or potty training will be a frustrating experience for your both.
What to do: Delay potty training until your parrot is at least one year old.
Tip 9: Be aware of your parrot’s vocalization strengths.
According to Petcha, some parrots are great at learning words, while others are more adept at whistling songs or imitating sounds. By staying aware of your parrot breed’s vocal strengths, you can focus training to play to those strengths.
What to do: Learn as much as you can about your particular species of parrot so you can pick training that will be easier for him to master.
Tip 10: Treat training as a form of enrichment.
Each parrot, like each person, will have a unique personality and temperament. Not all parrots will readily learn all training lessons. But each parrot can learn some lessons very well.
What to do: As your parrot’s companion, caregiver and trainer, steer clear of perfectionistic thinking in favor of seeing training time as an enrichment your parrot can learn to truly enjoy.
Yes, You Can Do This!
At first, it may feel like a daunting task to train your pet parrot to talk, do tricks or even stay seated on his training perch during a session. But the key with parrot training, as with training any being at any time, is patience and repetition.
By simply staying patient and committing to regular training sessions, you will begin to discover just how smart and capable your parrot really is at learning new things. You will also deepen your bond with your pet parrot each time you train together, which in itself is a wonderful benefit.