In my previous post about skateboarding parrots, I mentioned the skateboard prop I bought and the first steps I took to train my sun conure to stand on it.
Basically I began to desensitize him to this new object by C/T’ing him for stepping close to it and beaking it.
But I needed to be careful that he didn’t think beaking it was the final objective (i.e., he started to think the desired behavior was to “target” the skateboard). The catch with “shaping” a behavior is not to linger on one step too long, or that becomes the behavior the bird gets stuck on.
So after it was clear that Stewie was comfortable getting close to the prop, it was time to move towards getting him to put his foot on it.
My first approach was to put the prop in his way (braced, so it wouldn’t accidentally move and startled him) and asked him to touch the target stick behind the prop. My hope was that he’d step on it in order to get to the target stick, but he usually just stretched his neck or found some way to walk around it.
Then I decided that my best bet was to get him used to stepping up on the skateboard while I held it.
Here are the steps I used to shape him to stand on the skateboard like a perch:
1.) I held the prop between my thumb and forefinger, kept my arm horizontal to the floor and presented my hand directly in front of him.
2.) I asked him to step up, so it looked like I was asking him to “step up” on my finger. (He’s not a big fan of stepping up onto fingers, so this wasn’t necessarily the obvious choice.)
3.) I started by rewarded a foot lift.
4.) We moved to touching his foot to my finger and the skateboard at the same time.
5.) Then I required that he put weight onto the skateboard with one foot.
6.) Only after it was clear that he understood that touching the skateboard was part of the trick (as opposed to reaching around my finger and stepping up on my wrist), I changed the way I held the skateboard so he could stand on the skateboard like a perch. At this point, I kept my hand where it was so he could step off as soon as he got his treat. I feel it’s important in the early stages to give him the opportunity to back off quickly if he isn’t feeling secure, otherwise he might not be as willing to leave his comfort zone the next time I ask.
7.) Once I had him stepping onto the skateboard prop consistently, I fed him several seeds one after the other to let him know I wanted him to stay on it, rather than stepping back off.
8.) After that, I started moving him a few inches away from his cage to get him comfortable with the idea of standing on it while it moved.
9.) To document his progress, I got out the camera to take photos 🙂 At this point he was comfortable enough to stand on one foot to eat his reward.
Still a little unsure:
A little more comfortable:
Now we’re getting it:
Ready for a half-pipe:
This is all progress he’s made over the course of a couple 5-minute training sessions staggered throughout the weekend. For the next couple of sessions we’ll just continue to reward what he’s comfortable with so far (which is to step up onto the skateboard whenever I hold it in front of him).
Part III in the skateboard training process (whenever I get around to it) is to get Stewie comfortable with standing on the skateboard while I push it along a flat surface.
I could probably have achieved these pictures much faster by using a bit of luring and simply not giving him the opportunity to retreat, but the point of the training is not simply to force him to stand on the skateboard (and get some cute pictures), but to ensure he’s comfortable with the prop and get him excited about making progress on this trick.