7 Pro Tips For Target Training Parrots

Published by Joseph Calabrese on

Below you’ll find 7 tips that will help you improve efficiency while target training your parrot!

This article is a continuation of the Ultimate Beginners Guide To Target Training Your Birds, which covers everything there is to know about target training.

I highly recommend reading that article if you’re new to target training or parrot training in general.

My aim here is to provide further help to those who are struggling to get the consistent target training results they desire from their parrots.

Beginning with the first tip…

1) It’s Ok To Start Off With Some Luring

Luring your parrot with a treat is a good way to get that first repetition with any sort of training. In most cases, it’s pretty difficult to get an initial rep for new behaviours without luring. To lure with target training, hold a favoured treat near the target stick and only reward your parrot when they touch the stick, even if it’s accidental.

After your parrot gets their first few successful target training reps, they’ll begin to understand why they’re earning treats and start touching the target more consistently.

Luring is very useful for initially showing the parrot what they need to do in order to get a reward.

Once it seems like they understand the new behaviour, you can phase out luring by hiding the treat and only revealing it when they touch the target.

target training cockatiel

2) Use Higher Valued Treats To Increase Training Motivation

One common parrot training mistake is NOT rewarding with highly valued treats.

A high-value treat is simply a food item that your parrot would do absolutely anything to get. Parrots place a higher value on treats they get less often. To help your parrot value a particular treat, save it strictly for training.

Just think, why would a parrot work for something they frequently get for free?

My cockatiel is super motivated to train for millet spray because he rarely gets it.

It’s ok to switch between lower and higher-valued treats, but I would always start a training session with the parrot’s favourite treats to build up the initial training motivation.

Not sure what your parrot’s highest-valued treats are?

I created this post to help you with that: How To Discover Your Parrot’s Favourite Treats For Training

3) Hold The Target In One Place For Each Repetition

Another common target training mistake is moving the target stick away from the parrot when they’re trying to touch it.

I also made this mistake until I watched a very informative target training video by BirdTricks.

As well as pointing out the mistake, BirdTricks also explained what to do instead, which was to hold the target stick steady and in one place until the parrot touched or ignored it. Many people make this mistake accidentally because they want their bird to move just a little further in order to get a treat.

But from the parrot’s perspective, it’s being teased, which is very discouraging.

Watch closely as I do a steady target training rep with Arthur, my cockatiel:

Notice how I didn’t move or adjust the target from where I originally pointed it.

If you’ve been a little guilty of moving the target during the repetition, you’ll definitely notice a positive difference in your parrot’s motivation after making this small but effective change!

4) Don’t Be Afraid To Let Your Parrot Fail!

Giving your parrot the chance to fail a target training rep will help teach the behaviour.

By not rewarding them for ignoring the target stick, you’re further reinforcing the fact that they ONLY get a treat when they touch the target. Once they ignore the target, just turn away and give them a 1 – 2 minute break before trying again.

Here’s what you should NOT do when your parrot ignores the target:

  • Lure them to the target with a treat
  • Adjust the target so they can reach it easier (BIG MISTAKE!)
  • Reward them (vocal praise, treats) after they ignore the target stick

That second point is extremely important.

If you make the target stick easier to reach whenever it’s ignored, you’ll be teaching your parrot to ignore long-distance targets because they know you’ll just bring it closer to them anyway.

Target training progress will go so much faster if you allow failed repetitions.

5) Give Your Parrot Enough Time To Reach Longer Distanced Targets

You should never leave the chance for your parrot to touch the target available for too long, just long enough to spark a reaction.

When that reaction is sparked, you must give your parrot the time to actually reach the target.

For example, when targeting to the other side of the cage, you need to consider how long your parrot will take to reach the target and leave it there for that amount of time. If you can see your parrot heading towards the target, DO NOT take away the stick.

If you do, it’ll discourage your parrot from trying again.

target training birds and parrots
(Image Credit: Pixabay)

I would only hold the target for about 5 – 7 seconds before expecting a reaction.

If the parrot doesn’t react or start heading toward the target within that time, I would call that a fail and remove the opportunity.

But when they started going toward the target, I would give them plenty of time to reach it.

6) Practice Target Training At Least Twice Daily

It’s a simple idea:

The more time you spend target training your parrot, the better your overall results will be.

A single target training session can last as little as 5 – 10 minutes, so it’s definitely possible to make time for 2 – 3 sessions a day.

You could start one training session in the morning and one during the evening, for example…

Or whatever suits your bird’s schedule.

If you can dedicate a little more time to teaching your parrot a specific behaviour, you’ll start to notice more consistent results.

7) Learn When To End A Training Session

Knowing when to end a target training session with your parrot is important for long-term success.

Not knowing when to end a training session may cause you to accidentally force unwanted interactions onto your parrot, which will damage your long-term target training success.

There are a few ways parrots show us that they don’t want to engage in target training:

  • They’ll ignore the target stick, despite knowing they’ll earn a treat when they touch it
  • Starting to play with toys
  • They’ll go somewhere else to forage for food
  • Puffing up and putting their foot up (getting ready for a nap)

When you notice any one of these signs (especially the first sign), it might be best to end the training session for now. I think it’s always good to end on a successful rep as it helps the bird associate the overall training session as a positive interaction.

target training parrot
(Image Credit: Pixabay)

Ignoring the target stick after many successful reps is a clear indicator that they don’t want to engage further…

Because they clearly know what to do to earn a treat, they just don’t feel like doing it.


Let’s quickly recap the 7 pro tips for target training birds:

  1. Luring is always good when starting to teach new behaviours
  1. Higher-valued treats will increase your parrot’s motivation to train
  1. Hold the target in one place during each repetition without adjusting or moving it
  1. Your bird failing a rep is not a bad thing, in fact, it’ll help them learn better
  1. Give your parrot enough time to reach long-distance targets
  1. The more often you practice target training, the better your results will be
  1. Understand when your parrot wants to end a training session

In case you haven’t done so already…

Click here to view the full beginner’s guide to target training your birds.

I discuss everything you need to know to get started with target training in that article, so I highly suggest giving it a read.

Hopefully, these 7 tips helped you out, even just a little 🙂


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *