Before you begin clicker training I strongly recommend that you are on your way to having a good bond with your bird. Clicker training can be used to get your budgie to step up, however I don't think it is the best way to hand tame a budgie. Clicker training is about curiosity and respect as well as bribery and so you really need to be in a good place with him to get him to want to follow what you are instructing. Step up training is not a very difficult process and if you can complete that in your budgies own timelines I think you will be more successful with the clicker. That said, if your bird won't step up this probably would make that happen!
So, what is clicker training?
You will probably have heard about clicker training if you own a dog. A clicker can come in several designs, but they are all variations of the same device - a single button that when clicked makes a short sharp noise. I have the design below which I picked up from the local pet shop in the dog section. I mainly chose this one because it had a little slider which meant I could make the clicker slightly quieter and not scare the birdies.
The idea behind clicker training is to reward your pet, in our case budgie, when they perform a desired behaviour. In the beginning this starts as something simple, like touching their beak to a wooden dowel, but it can lead to your budgie stepping up, spinning on the spot, or even more complicated tricks like fetching and putting items into other items. You identify the good behavior to them with the 'click'. You don't have to have a dog clicker, you can use your mouth to make the click, or use a phrase like 'good boy', however it is a lot easier and more precise to just use the device. If you have a pen that has a loud click feel free to use that!
If you and your bird can form a good clicker training relationship then the circus is your oyster! Please notice I said relationship, to get good at this you and your bird need to be friends and he needs to be interested in what you are asking him to do. You then must respect the time he takes to do it, sometimes he will learn quickly and other times he will learn slowly. This process is a great bonding experience for both of you and it should be fun for both of you and definitely not a chore; if you don't enjoy it then nor will he. At the end of the training you are rewarded with a clever little birdy who you can impress your friends with, and he has received important mental stimulation, oh and yummy millet!
How to begin:
- Start by clicking the clicker and then giving your bird a treat immediately after. You should start to notice in time that when you make the click your bird will show recognition and look for the treat. Do this for a few minutes several times a day and the connection will become very obvious.
With Reggie I used millet (I did this with Buster too but it is easier to just talk about Reggie). Millet worked really well as he loved the stuff and it had become a special treat for training purposes only. I started using the whole stalk, but I realized very quickly that this didn't work as he would eat too much and I would have to wrestle it away from him. Feeding the treat was then not the quick precise action it should be. I moved to using a single millet ball that I could break off the bunch. This worked well for us as he was very used to my hands and he did not mind me going so close to him. It also meant that I could be very direct with the treat I was offering him. I wanted to reduce the amount of millet he was receiving to a single seed so presented a single seed between my fingers and he would eat that. (Not all birds will allow this so just go with what is comfortable for you both!)
- Using a thin piece of wood like a chop stick or pencil, move it towards your bird. You want him to touch the end of it with his beak and as soon as he makes contact you click & reward a treat immediately.
Most likely he will have absolutely no idea why you are pointing a chop stick at him and he probably won't enjoy this experience, so you need to reward the little behaviours first. If he moves away because he seems scared take back the stick - don't chase him! Wait until he is calm and then try again. If all he does is look in the right direction click & reward and continue to reward each glance he makes towards the stick. It won't take long for him to understand what you are telling him and eventually he will gain confidence and curiosity will make him reach out with his beak. When he does, click & reward and give extra praise and extra millet to really highlight the good behaviour of this new trick. Repeat this until there is no hesitation about touching it.
- Hold the chop stick in different locations so that he has to move to touch the stick, click and reward.
Spinning: Hold the chop stick above his head and get his attention. Slowly guide him so that he spins around on the spot. As soon as he has spun, click & reward.
He probably wont spin the first time so you need to encourage him. Even if he only turns a little bit click & reward. Just like with the glances at the stick, he will realize that turning is what you want him to do and he will eventually learn to spin. It's not going to happen straight away, and he may even get bored before he completes a spin. If you notice that he has littler interest in following the end of the stick, go back to the touch exercise above and really get that nailed.
Standing on something: Use the chop stick as a pointer to show him where you want him to go, click & reward.
I found clicker training was fun for Reggie to learn a couple of tricks, I could get him to pull down a cat ball from an upstanding toilet roll, and then stand on the fallen toilet roll - often resulting in a funny balancing act on top of the rolling cardboard. These were all I got him to do before I lost interest, but get on YouTube and search for budgie tricks as its amazing what you can get them to do.
For some tricks I found it easier to not use the stick as a pointer as Reggie would just step up on to it - super cute and very obedient, but not what I was asking for (he was just too good at step up!) So I would show him what to do and some how he understood!
|Reggie was scared of the cat ball |
until I clicker trained him to like it!
Aside from the tricks, clicker training has some genuine behavioral benefits too. I've used it to help Reggie get acquainted with new toys when he was too scared to go near them. I would click & reward as he got closer to the toy until he eventually touched it. Usually after this initial touch he realized it was nothing to be scared of and he would play with it.
When I bought the little travel cage Reggie was quite dubious about getting inside it, or even getting on top of it. Clicking & rewarding as he touched it, got closer to the door, and eventually inside was so incredibly helpful and it made it so much quicker and easier to get him inside the first time. As I have said before, Reggie does not enjoy being held but now the travel cage is not frightening for him and I can get him to just step into it calmly.
Reggie has recently become a massive pain in the butt to get home and it was getting incredibly stressful walking him to his cage and him flying off EVERY time. It was making me get quite angry and I had to refrain from grabbing him when he was really winding my up. I'm not ashamed to say that he annoys me and makes me quite stressed, this is what budgies do, they're stubborn little buggers! Reggie was the one really losing out though, he was making it difficult to get him out for short amounts of time for a fly about. They are allowed out at lunch time when Doug goes home but he has to fight Reggie for about 10 minutes. I say has, Reggie does what I ask but not always what Doug asks.
I needed to sort this out ASAP so I got out the trusty clicker. After rearranging his cage so that it was how he used to have it (everyone says keep the cage changing with new stuff but I really don't think Reggie likes that happening haha), I started working to get them back into their cage and onto the ropes at each entrance. Buster is a whiz and very obedient but Reggie still has his moments. Either way, getting them home is a lot easier providing they are in a good mood. I get them to their cage doors and when they hop inside onto the rope I click and reward. I repeat this several times during the day and not just when I want to get them home. I am hoping that they will see this as a bit more of a game and not always associate it with being locked up. Sometimes I will close the door on them, click and reward, wait a little while and then let them out again, then get them inside onto the rope again, click and reward.
Reggie still tries my patience and he has decided a few times he is having none of it, and then suddenly he does it and it's all fun and games again. I have a little platform at his entrance which helps I think, I've no idea why, he's a bit of a fussy fella it seems. Anyway, this is just another example of when clicker training can be very useful.
Consequently, I could tell that they were both enjoying this training, probably because they got millet. So I started to retrain them to spin. Reggie quickly remembered what I was asking of him and now Buster can spin on the spot too. The only issue is that Buster always goes and annoys Reggie during training (i'm attempting to do them at the same time) and so we need to work on some discipline there. I'm also teaching Buster to high 5, watch this space!
I feel like I need to write this at the end of each post......I am not an expert! This is all information I have learnt and it might not always work out accurately for your birds. I have confidence in what I write but read with caution!