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Zapper the Alexandrian parakeet gets a training session using positive reinforcement, a target stick, and a clicker! He learns how to spin in a circle and hang upside down!

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Hi, I'm Jessi and this is Zapper the Alexandrine parakeet.

I know he looks very similar to an Indian ringneck parakeet, but he's not. The two species have several differences, and the most notable is that Alexandrians are overall larger with a much bigger beak.

Zapper has been with us for six years, and he's an amazing ambassador at public presentations. After a few weeks of settling in and getting to know things when he first arrived, he formed a pretty strong trust bond to me. He's just so enthusiastic about his little safflower seeds that he was eager to do almost anything that he understood.

The best part about bringing Zapper to presentations is that he will happily take treats from anyone! He'll even step onto anybody's hand as long as he has someone he knows well nearby and he knows are treats involved. He has been so easy going that we haven't really focused on training anything new for awhile.

So that's what we're working on today. We're going to teach Zapper some new behaviors! [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC]. The first thing I want to do is refresh Zapper with a target stick.

He's learned this before, so it should go pretty quick. So I'm gonna use a clicker… [CLICK] Good job, buddy. And he just has to touch his beak to the stick….

Is that a different-looking stick? It's kind of bigger, isn't it? Yeah, it is.

You want to get it? [CLICK] Good boy. Thank you. So he had a little bit of aversion to it right away, [CLICK] and he got over that pretty fast.

Good boy. Let's try one up a little higher, just to make sure we really got it. [CLICK] Good job. Nicely done.

So the next thing I want to move to is a circle behavior. He's very excited right now. To get the circle behavior, I just have to use the target stick and have him follow it.

Teaching circle is nice so I can ask him to turn around if he ends up being backwards on an arm. [CLICK] There you go - oh! Did your tail feather just fell off? Look at your - you look so naked back there now! [LAUGHS] Look how long this is!

Oh, it's beautiful, buddy! So birds will naturally shed their feathers out. I guess this was an old tail feather, but it's so long!

He looks so silly with a short tail now. It'll take a couple weeks for that to grow back. Here, let's keep going.

Target. [CLICK] Good boy. Thank you. So getting back to the circle behavior, if he does turn around backwards,.

I could simply pick him up and turn him around, but it's really good to have the option to communicate what you want and have the animal choose to participate instead of just doing something to them. Alright, so let's go ahead with the circle and what I'm going to do is get him to move to the side…. And he's looking at the treats.

There you go. Good job, buddy. And we're gonna again go - oh!

All the way around! Nicely done! What a [LAUGHS] He's so good at training.

Nice done! And he went all the way back circle. Okay.

A lot of times this is happening real fast. A lot of times a bird will, um, be really reticent to move their feet in a different direction. But you can see he is just so happy to turn his feet around.

And his mouth was full. [CLICK] There you go. So what I'd like to do is get him to just start the circle, [CLICK] and then I'm going to click before he touches the stick. Good job.

And this time I'd like to get him all the way around and click at the very end. So here's this and touch it. [CLICK] There you go! Nicely done, buddy.

You can have two for that! Nice work. And I just want to make sure it's clear, so I'm gonna do it again.

He keeps looking at my hand with the treats in them, and I want him to focus on the target. [CLICK] Good job, bud. Still a little messy. I'm going to work on it a little bit more. [CLICK] Good job, with a good finish there!

One more clean one, and then we can move on. [CLICK] Good job, buddy. Nice work. Alright, he is circling really well with the stick, and I've already choked up on that target stick really well.

I'm gonna go ahead and get rid of the stick because it's kind of awkward and I'm gonna see if he will just follow my finger instead. See? No food.

Can you follow the finger? Good boy! [CLICK] Nicely done. And you circle… [CLICK] Good boy!

That was so good. Nice work, handsome! And circle… [CLICK] Good job!

So he's already really good at circling on the perch. I'd like to move that behavior onto my arm. Now, here's the thing to remember.

When you've successfully taught an animal to do a behavior in one place and then you want them to do it somewhere else, don't expect them to understand or be good at it right away. The reason this happens is because you're changing the variables and sometimes when you make a big change, like a new location, the animal has to be retaught how to do the behavior with the new variable. Think of it like them needing to know that the same rules apply even though something has changed.

Zapper knows how to circle on the perch, but when he's on my hand he's much closer to me and I'm not as far above him. My hand is also smaller than the perch so turning around is going to feel a little different to him. So keeping this in mind, I can help him by taking a few steps back and using the target stick again.

If he gets it right away, then I can simply stop using the stick. So, this is gonna get a little complicated because now I have to hold the clicker, the target stick, and get some treats in my hand as well. So… [SCREECH] It's challenging. [SCREECH] He is getting impatient.

Get rid of the clicker. I'm just gonna use the word “good” instead. Good boy.

Ready? And we're going to… You target? Good!

We're gonna go again? And turn? Good boy!

Nicely done! Can you get that treat? It's in my finger.

Nicely done! Way to be patient. Alright, one more of these….

I think you're getting it already, though. Ready? Good boy!

Let's get rid of that stick. Let's do this, huh bud? Ready?

You got it. Good boy! Nice job!

Alright, so I rewarded - I praised him and told him he did a good job before he had actually completed the circle, which is okay. We're taking little steps here. I wanted to let him know that him turning his feet around was exactly what I wanted.

Good job! And then he can finish off by turning around completely. So essentially I'm rewarding him for turning backwards, and then rewarding him again for turning all the way around.

Now, I've done that twice now so I'm gonna go ahead and see if I can get him to turn all the way around before I do the “good” and the reward. Good boy! And he's gonna get a jackpot.

He gets three for that one. Nicely done, buddy! You are such a quick learner.

Are you a quick learner? Yes you are! Alright, we're gonna do one more, see if we can get a little quicker response to my cue.

Good job! Now he's an expert at circling! Do you wanna try something else?

Yeah! I would love it if Zapper would either wave or hang upside down, and that would just be really fun to do at public presentations. I think we should move to hanging upside down first so he's still hungry and super motivated to learn!

Now, I've tried to get Zapper to do this several times at presentations, and he's always shown he's not comfortable doing it. But I've never had a formal training session for it. So, the first thing I need to teach him is to reach for his treats.

I know that Zapper is fine hanging upside down inside his enclosure, so now I just need him to trust that he can do that on my hand. Alright, ready buddy? Okay.

Good. I know, it makes you uncomfortable. You got it!

That was good, he was putting a lot of his…. He's putting his chest on my thumb and letting me hold his body weight which tells me he's - he's comfortable kind of trusting me to hold him, hold him like that and it's not just his feet. Good, look at that!

Do you see how he had to like do a full on like heft to pull himself back up? You got it, buddy. Nicely done.

I kind of…. I didn't trick him, but I kind of encouraged him to stay down there longer by having a lot of treats down there for him to grab, so I'm gonna try and do that again. Nice work, Zapper!

I'm interested to see what he does when he's done. Maybe he'll just stay here. And let me grab more, that was great!

Alright, he is full on hanging upside down. This is so good. Look at you!

You did that! You did that! You did so good.

Yeah! You wanna try again? Okay, so whenever I am kind of tipping my hand, which is typically a cue I give other birds when I want them to tip upside down,.

I like turn my hand a little bit and they fall into it. When I do that with him, he is resisting, so I just have to wait for him to do the initial…. You're alright, buddy.

So I tipped my hand a little bit too much there. He's thinking I'm gonna go ahead and do it again, so I'm gonna give it a break. I think that was huge!

That was huge for him to trust me for that long being all the way upside down, especially since he kind of has an aversion to it. And him telling me that he's not comfortable right now, I'm gonna respect that. I know that he can do it.

He knows he can do it right now, and we're gonna pick that up at another training session. I know. You're very handsome!

Yeah. Zapper needs to know we're done with our training session, so I'm gonna give him a big reward that he can just munch on and let him know that this is the end. So here….

Here's an almond, buddy. That's as big as your head! [LAUGHS]. Zapper, you're a very very good boy.

Thanks for watching Animal Wonders Montana, a Complexly production. We produce over a dozen shows, including Ours Poetica, which is a co-production between Complexly,. The Poetry Foundation, and poet Paige Lewis.

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