Monday, October 5, 2009

How to Train Your Cockatiel

Cockatiels are not difficult to train as long as they are taught with patience and understanding. They often regard their owners as mother or father figures, and will therefore imitate the examples set by them.

It is best to start training cockatiels at a young age; it will be easier to teach them as they are more open to suggestion than older birds.

In order for you to train your tiel more advanced tricks, you must first start with the basics and teach your bird to be "tame." A tame bird will not bite you and will listen more readily. Cockatiels bite when they feel threatened or in danger. Your cockatiel must learn that you pose no danger to her.

To teach Loki that I was not a threat to her I used the suggestions of Matthew Vriends, Ph.D. and author of "The Cockatiel Handbook."
  1. First, put your hand in the cage and hold it there (you may wish to wear a leather glove as cockatiels beaks can be sharp and bites may hurt). This technique will allow the bird to get used to your hand.
  2. Once the bird shows no fear of your hand, try to stroke the tiel's abdomen.
  3. Gently press the lower abdomen, just above the feet, and your tiel should step onto your finger.
  4. If the bird should spook and becomes nervous move your hand away from the bird, but let it remain in the cage, and then try again.

Once the bird has accepted your hand and is no longer threatened by you, teaching can begin to get the bird to move from your finger back to its perch.

  1. Hold your finger next to the perch and make a movement to encourage your bird to step off of you. (I usually turn my finger slightly to compel Loki to step off).
  2. While making the movement also say a word of command. (Some people say "up" or "down," but I usually use the word "Scoot" to signal to Loki that its time to move to her perch).

The last basic trick you can teach your cockatiel is the ladder.

  1. Imitate a staircase with your fingers by holding one hand a little lower than the other.
  2. Persuade your bird to step from one finger to the other by gently pressing on its lower abdomen, as was done before.
  3. Move the first hand above the second and continue to repeat this movement so that your bird appears to be climbing a ladder.

video

The most important things to remember when training your tiel are:

  • Use affection or treats as a reward.
  • Call the bird by her name whenever you are near her (i.e. cleaning her cage, feeding her, etc.) to teach her to recognize it.
  • Remember that PATIENCE, KINDNESS, and REPETITION are key to the successful training of your tiel.
  • Always praise the bird intensely when she does what you want.
  • Train in a quiet place, free from distractions.
  • Always use positive reinforcement.
  • Keep training sessions short, allowing your bird time to rest.
  • Talk gently and NEVER shout at the bird or use aggressive behavior, which will only make the training more difficult because the bird will lose trust in you.

Remember to stay motivated and have patience. As Matthew Vriends says, "The initial training can take up quite a bit of time, but if it is your goal to have a tame bird, giving up is out of the question."

Once your cockatiel has mastered the basic tricks and is tame, you can start training her to do more advanced tricks. Cockatiels can learn how to fetch small objects, put balls in a basketball hoop, and place pennies in a piggy bank, among other things.

It is best when training cockatiels more advanced ticks to use a clicker and treats. A clicker is a small device made out of plastic and metal that costs no more than $2 dollars. Clicker training is effective because the quick click sound it makes allows your bird to recognize that what she did was good because she heard the click and then received a treat. She will begin to associate the click with treats, similar to Pavlov's dogs.

The first step is to teach your bird what the click sound means, since she has not heard it before.

  1. Click the clicker
  2. Offer a reward such as a treat or affection

Your bird will soon pick up the association between the two. Once she does then you can start associating her doing something good with hearing the click and getting a treat.

  1. First, show her what you want her to do. She will imitate you. If you want her to put a ball in a basketball hoop show her how you do it.
  2. Then, repeat the action but after make the click sound.
  3. Once she does the trick, make the clicking sound, and offer a treat.

Check out these videos to see how clicker training works for fetching and putting balls into a hoop.

Some things to remember about clicker training:

  • Wait for your bird to eat the treat before repeating the trick.
  • Do not let her see the treat until you make the click sound.
  • Present the reward in the same place every time (i.e. in your hand or on the table).
  • Become creative and implement a ball point pen's clicking or the clicking of your tongue instead of buying the actual clicker.

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