Teaching My Parrot to Fetch: Step 1April 2, 2008
I pulled this old draft out of my archives. It’s from late last year, but I thought I’d go ahead and publish it now, even though he already knows how to retrieve and put the ball in his cup.
After very fast progress with targeting, we hit a bit of a bump moving on to the next trick.
It’s not that my bird isn’t smart, but rather the problem was that I wasn’t communicating what I wanted clearly. So we ended up having to take a few steps back and simplifying the task dramatically.
He was doing fine touching the wiffle ball I was using for a prop, and sometimes he’d even grab it — but he always dropped it very quickly. I got stuck at getting him to hold on to it.
This is how I got Stewie to actually grab the toy, not just beak it:
I put it in the way of his treat dish. He grabbed the toy to move it out of the way, but before he could drop it, I c/t for grabbing it and catch the toy before he dropped it. Okay, I admit, it was cheating a little and it’s better to have your bird learn by really experimenting with new behaviors himself, but we weren’t making progress and he was frustrated.
So we did a lot of reps of him grabbing the ball and lifting it a bit. I started delaying the click to make him lift it higher, so he’d grab it lift it all the way out of the cup and move it around as if to say “Hellllo! See me lifting it? What are you blind? Where’s my treat?!”
After that I wanted to teach him to put it in my hand. I held my hand out to force contact with the ball and c/t’d. Didn’t seem to work. Then I tried taking the ball, but that resulted in him biting me — he was still afraid of or mad at hands at that point — which was a major setback. Clicking and biting shouldn’t go together!
So I stopped trying to take the ball and kept trying to shape bigger and bigger lifts out of the cup, but didn’t know how to proceed from there.
Then one day, when his wiffle ball was sitting at the bottom of his playstand, he climbed down, grabbed it, climbed all the way back up his stand and put the wiffle ball in his cup!
Ah ha! I was trying to teach him to lift the ball out of his cup, but what he had LEARNED instead was that he got a treat for putting the ball BACK in his cup. Smart birdy!
So I changed course and followed his lead. Rather than getting him to take the ball out of the cup and give it to me, I simply started handing him the ball to place inside the cup. After several sessions he’d even walk a few steps to take the ball and a few steps back to deposit it. This method also gave me more control over how close my fingers got to him since I wanted to avoid getting nipped at.
That’s how Stewie learned his first “real” trick — how to put a ball in a cup — even though I was actually trying to teach him retrieve. The student teaches the master :)
Stay tuned for Part II of this post where I explain how we went on to learn actually to retrieve.