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To The Perch & Back Again


Training the "Fly To Perch & Back" Game

Written By Chris Biro, Copyright 2008

Flying back and forth between a perch and your arm can be a wonderful game both for training purposes and for entertainment purpose and is great practice to maintaining recall stimulus control as well as build muscle tone when non outdoor flying conditions exist. To start this "game" I first work on getting recall responses from a perch or cage top. This is often started at the same time I am training a cued recall response but may also be trained at any time or age. I start this process by first target training the bird and then use the target to lure the bird to land on my arm. Once I have the bird coming to my arm for a treat I then start placing the bird back onto the perch to eat the treat. I like to use a sizable solid treat like a peanut in the shell for this part of my training so there is a reason for them to return to the perch - to eat the peanut. Once I have them easily stepping onto the perch to eat their treat, I will start asking them to fly to the perch from a foot or two away. This is usually very easy to get started since they already understand the need to get there, to eat their treat. We then continue to systematically increase the distance until they are flying to the perch from the full distance available. For me this training always starts indoors or in an aviary as I want this behavior very reliable indoors before we work on it outdoors. Most often I am using peanuts or sunflower seeds for these treats but have used chips, fries, bread and other snacks. "Do you need to treat for being on the perch?" In the very beginning I might click and treat for being on the perch but normally I do not. I usually click for the flight to my arm, immediately deliver the treat to them and then prevent them from eating the treat until they are on the perch again. "Click for the behavior and treat for position" was a saying Bob Bailey used. I have had the privilege of meeting Bob Bailey on a coupe of occasions and believe he deserves his reputation as the the ultimate in training authority. He have trained more animals than probably anyone on the planet and has an amazingly solid understanding of the sciences involved with animal behavior modification. Anyway, the idea here is to reinforce the desired behavior and use the delivery of the treat to set them up for the next repetition. The click marks the event that earned them the goody but this still leaves us an opportunity to determine where/how the treat gets delivered. This is a secondary function of the treat but it can be helpful. As to if this is important to continue on a regular basis, I do not keep doing this for very long. I will use the treat fly back to the perch to help establish this behavior and once it has been working well for a while then I will fade the treat back to the perch concept. They may or may not get a treat that they can fly back with is what I am saying here. I am not saying that I avoid giving them a treat to fly back with at any time. So in the beginning I am looking to make sure that as I start to teach them to fly to the perch, they have a treat to eat once they get there. But after this behavior becomes established I don't worry about it one way or the other. Usually they seem to react as if the opportunity to do another recall rep is reinforcement enough. This would be a secondary reinforcer just like the click is a secondary reinforcer. Secondary reinforcers can be very powerful if built up correctly. Money is the classic secondary reinforcer example and look at how powerful it is. Once the bird has already figured this out it will often volunteer to fly back to the perch. It wants to be ready to do it again so that it can get another goody. Just so you know, this is way cool, but be aware that such behavior can also take the form of doing a behavior that you do not want so that you will call them away from the item or area they are NOT supposed to be playing with. So keep the alternative form in mind so that when those start happening you can take appropriate action to NOT reinforce the undesired behavior involved.
Parrots: more than pets, friends for life. Chris Biro