Teaching a reliable step up and trouble shooting

Roz

Regular Member
How do we train a reliable step up? One that takes place pretty much every time we ask?

If a consequence/outcome to a behaviour (the step up) is reinforcing, the parrot will most likely repeat the behaviour in the future. So let’s choose a good reinforcer for our individual parrot:

For some birds, reinforcement might be the chance to interact with their carer. Others may work better for a treat, a head scratch, access to a toy or even the reinforcement of being brought out of the cage.

Ollie works best for a piece of cashew…



Our aim is to set our parrot up for success. To ask when we have his full attention, not when he’s in the middle of preening, killing a toy or eating. If he’s not ready, we can return in a minute or two.

Not a good time...



Good time – alert and eager to interact…



The step up onto a hand held perch is a useful behaviour to teach as it can save your hands being bitten in an emergency, or perhaps removing the parrot from an inaccessible place. Choosing something that the parrot is already familiar with makes the process easier to teach. It doesn’t have to be a stick, it could be a folded rope perch or even a basket handle.

Kobe on a folded rope perch…



When I first taught Ollie I decided on a forked perch he already knew. Now I am teaching him to step up onto a different, but similarly coloured single perch. He’s not 100% at ease with it yet but I want to set him up for success so the time he’s on the perch is brief.

https://youtu.be/hmaq6_SdOag

I am slowly increasing the time he stays on the perch/stick and also the distance I move it away from the safety of his cage, always returning him to his cage perch before I see obvious signs of discomfort in his body language. A little discomfort is ok as that’s how he learns, but if I pushed him too hard he would find the process punishing and would be less likely to step up again in the future.

When training we are constantly assessing the learner’s body language.

The presence of the stick is the cue for the step up (he would step up on that visual cue without me verbally asking). I am not forcing (by pushing the stick into his chest), or commanding him to step up, I’m asking. The stick is held a little way from him so that he can choose to walk towards it.

Sometimes a bird might need a prompt especially when initially learning the step up. Briefly showing them the treat, if that’s what you are using, might help to kick start the behaviour. However showing the treat before the behaviour (the step up) is a bribe or lure. It should be faded out as quickly as possible or else the parrot will just follow the treat and won’t properly learn the behaviour.

Trouble shooting

My bird knows how to step up, but won’t…

We may want to rethink the reinforcer.

We might want to give a quick glimpse of the reinforcer as a prompt.

If the reinforcer is food, he may no longer be hungry, which is why breaking the treat into tiny prices will allow more repetition.

Try changing up the reinforcer so the bird doesn’t know what he’s going to get next. A treat, a head scratch, access to a toy, etc.

Check that he’s not busy doing other things to bother about the cue.

We could use behavioural momentum… asking for a few easy behaviours that he knows how to do first, and then without pausing ask for the more difficult behaviour… and of course richly reinforce it! Ollie likes turning a circle on cue so sometimes I ask for the circle a few times and then the step up.

My bird doesn’t know how to step up in the first place…

Then we need to start from the beginning and shape the behaviour. Shaping is reinforcing tiny steps or approximations towards the final goal behaviour (the step up). This is explained in detail in a separate thread:

https://theparrotclub.co.uk/community/index.php?threads/shaping-the-step-up-back-to-basics.21349/

The cue becomes meaningless…

If we stand with our perch or hand in front of the bird, repeating, “Step up, step up, step up…” over and over, the verbal cue becomes meaningless – just noise – and we become annoying. The visual cue can start to get lost too.

If the bird doesn’t step up within a certain time frame after being cued then walk away. The opportunity for him to earn reinforcement has been lost.

https://youtu.be/7ArSLseCSoo

Try again a minute or two later when he’s more receptive.

But I have to rush to work…

If we ask a parrot to step up and he does, then we immediately put him into his cage and walk away, is that parrot likely to step up more… or less… in the future?

Of course it depends on the individual bird, but my guess for the majority is less.

Therefore it’s important to teach our parrot that step up doesn’t necessarily mean going straight back into the cage. Even if we are rushing out, there is still lots of reinforcement we can provide en route. For example, we can ask for a step up and reinforce the behaviour with a treat, skritch, or opportunity to be with us. Then we could take him over to the window for a minute to ooooh and ahhh at what’s going on outside (certainly reinforcing for some individuals), then we carry him to his cage. But reinforcement doesn’t end there… look what’s waiting - breakfast, or a new toy or foraging opportunity!

Our parrot will most likely step up in the future even if we are rushing to go to work.
 
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Nigalius

Madras
Regular Member
Hi Roz, I have been following your tutorials on the step up command with interest. Roxy will always step up on to a perch or stick with or without a treat or any positive reinforcement. But Nacho is not too keen. He is not frightened of hands in any way and I can handle him anywhere on his body. I have been trying to encourage with half a pine nut and although he loves them he wont step up for it. I am interested in what you say re training for a step up and then back in the cage and walk away. I just had not thought of that yet of course if he knows he is going in the cage he will be reluctant to step up.


I am going to adjust my method now and do the training when he is in the cage and I know that right afterwards he can come out for free time and still with half a pine nut or some scritches if necessary.


If he just will not step up after a few minutes of training should I still let him out anyway or keep him in the cage for a while?


I have all the patience in the world and know that I will get there in the end.
 

Roz

Regular Member
Something is reinforcing Roxy stepping up.  R+ (positive reinforcement) doesn't always have to be a treat or anything that you would consider reinforcing.  It might be the pure action of stepping up that is reinforcing, or it might be that he gets to spend a little one on one time with you, or perhaps you taking him somewhere interesting is reinforcing, or perhaps it means simply out of the cage time.... There are many things that could be reinforcing Roxy's behaviour, and we know something is as he continues to step up.  It would be fun to see if you could identify what it is that is reinforcing the step up... and it doesn't have to be the same thing every time.  :)  
 

Some parrots get into the habit of only doing certain behaviours for certain reinforcers.  The pine nut sounds like it reinforces some behaviour but not others which is fine.  Teaching Nacho to step up from inside the cage isn't working for now, so teach him to step up from on top of the cage, or elsewhere.  Then you can gradually generalise the behaviour to stepping up from other places and eventually from inside the cage.  Maybe teach him some other behaviours from inside the cage for now so that you build up a history of doing good things with him in that location, rather than him failing to step up all the time from inside the cage.  Simple behaviours like targeting the end of a chopstick.  Let him come out of his own accord for now. 

Also something to consider is, is it a big deal that he doesn't step up from inside the cage?  I let my birds come out of their own accord.  They certainly step up to go back inside the cage, but that is heavily reinforced.  Only Ollie goes back inside the cage under his own steam which again is fine by me.



 


Really love that you are so patient.  You are so right - we have all the time in the world to teach a behaviour.  It doesn't matter how old the parrot or their past history, every being is capable of learning.
 

Nigalius

Madras
Regular Member
Following on from me previous post in this thread I can now say that Nacho steps up every time now for half a pine nut. I now wanna get him used to stepping up without a treat. I wont do that too much but there might be times that I need him to move him quickly and not have time to get a treat. He also has taken to removing half a pine nut from between my lips. He is very gentle doing it.
 

Roz

Regular Member
That's great to hear, Nigel!  Good idea. 


Bear in mind it's important that the consequence of stepping up is reinforcing every time (this is especially important when teaching a new behaviour), whether it be for a treat or something else, or the behaviour may die out, ie. he won't step up anymore.  Also if you fade out the treat too quickly or too soon, again the behaviour may die out.  Think of it in his mind... why should I step up anymore when there is no treat?    


So try switching the reinforcer about.  Mostly provide him with his treat, but sometimes... a head scratch?  a new foot toy?  being taken to somewhere exciting?  If he is still getting a treat most of the time, it will keep the behaviour going... ooh , will I get a treat this time? 


Very, very gradually substitute the treats with other reinforcers.  Just watch carefully and if the behaviour fades, then go back to reinforcing the step up with a treat every time.  Then when the behaviour is back to being strong, try reducing the treats again.
 

shar0

Regular Member
How do we train a reliable step up? One that takes place pretty much every time we ask?


If a consequence/outcome to a behaviour (the step up) is reinforcing, the parrot will most likely repeat the behaviour in the future. So let’s choose a good reinforcer for our individual parrot:


For some birds, reinforcement might be the chance to interact with their carer. Others may work better for a treat, a head scratch, access to a toy or even the reinforcement of being brought out of the cage.


Ollie works best for a piece of cashew…





Our aim is to set our parrot up for success. To ask when we have his full attention, not when he’s in the middle of preening, killing a toy or eating. If he’s not ready, we can return in a minute or two.


Not a good time...





Good time – alert and eager to interact…





The step up onto a hand held perch is a useful behaviour to teach as it can save your hands being bitten in an emergency, or perhaps removing the parrot from an inaccessible place. Choosing something that the parrot is already familiar with makes the process easier to teach. It doesn’t have to be a stick, it could be a folded rope perch or even a basket handle.


Kobe on a folded rope perch…





When I first taught Ollie I decided on a forked perch he already knew. Now I am teaching him to step up onto a different, but similarly coloured single perch. He’s not 100% at ease with it yet but I want to set him up for success so the time he’s on the perch is brief.


[colour=#0000FF]https://youtu.be/hmaq6_SdOag[/colour]


I am slowly increasing the time he stays on the perch/stick and also the distance I move it away from the safety of his cage, always returning him to his cage perch before I see obvious signs of discomfort in his body language. A little discomfort is ok as that’s how he learns, but if I pushed him too hard he would find the process punishing and would be less likely to step up again in the future.


When training we are constantly assessing the learner’s body language.


The presence of the stick is the cue for the step up (he would step up on that visual cue without me verbally asking). I am not forcing (by pushing the stick into his chest), or commanding him to step up, I’m asking. The stick is held a little way from him so that he can choose to walk towards it.


Sometimes a bird might need a prompt especially when initially learning the step up. Briefly showing them the treat, if that’s what you are using, might help to kick start the behaviour. However showing the treat before the behaviour (the step up) is a bribe or lure. It should be faded out as quickly as possible or else the parrot will just follow the treat and won’t properly learn the behaviour.





Trouble shooting





My bird knows how to step up, but won’t…


We may want to rethink the reinforcer.


We might want to give a quick glimpse of the reinforcer as a prompt.


If the reinforcer is food, he may no longer be hungry, which is why breaking the treat into tiny prices will allow more repetition.


Try changing up the reinforcer so the bird doesn’t know what he’s going to get next. A treat, a head scratch, access to a toy, etc.


Check that he’s not busy doing other things to bother about the cue.


We could use behavioural momentum… asking for a few easy behaviours that he knows how to do first, and then without pausing ask for the more difficult behaviour… and of course richly reinforce it! Ollie likes turning a circle on cue so sometimes I ask for the circle a few times and then the step up.


My bird doesn’t know how to step up in the first place…


Then we need to start from the beginning and shape the behaviour. Shaping is reinforcing tiny steps or approximations towards the final goal behaviour (the step up). This is explained in detail in a separate thread.


The cue becomes meaningless…


If we stand with our perch or hand in front of the bird, repeating, “Step up, step up, step up…” over and over, the verbal cue becomes meaningless – just noise – and we become annoying. The visual cue can start to get lost too.


If the bird doesn’t step up within a certain time frame after being cued then walk away. The opportunity for him to earn reinforcement has been lost.


[colour=#0000FF]https://youtu.be/7ArSLseCSoo[/colour]


Try again a minute or two later when he’s more receptive.


But I have to rush to work…


If we ask a parrot to step up and he does, then we immediately put him into his cage and walk away, is that parrot likely to step up more… or less… in the future?


Of course it depends on the individual bird, but my guess for the majority is less.


Therefore it’s important to teach our parrot that step up doesn’t necessarily mean going straight back into the cage. Even if we are rushing out, there is still lots of reinforcement we can provide en route. For example, we can ask for a step up and reinforce the behaviour with a treat, skritch, or opportunity to be with us. Then we could take him over to the window for a minute to ooooh and ahhh at what’s going on outside (certainly reinforcing for some individuals), then we carry him to his cage. But reinforcement doesn’t end there… look what’s waiting - breakfast, or a new toy or foraging opportunity!


Our parrot will most likely step up in the future even if we are rushing to go to work.
Love this post! [emoji106][emoji106]


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

benjaminannas

Regular Member
After having Mollie for 10 weeks I am now starting to look at teaching her to step up.
Unfortunately I have been away with work a lot lately which has left her alone with my partner and although they are civil, she still gets the occasional bite when Mollie isn't in the mood but on the whole she lets her scratch her head and enjoys talking to her.

The odd thing is she never speaks to me! She just sits next to me in silence, staring at me and constantly bowing her head asking for head tickles (which infuriates my partner as she is never quiet for her!). I think I am going to start with the rope perch rather than a wooden one as I am slightly worried about her running across the perch and up my arm towards my face. At least with a rope perch I can use two different hands and move one away if I need to.

Is there anything I can do to regain control of the situation should she get to close to me / manages to climb onto my hand before I feel ready (in a way that I feel uncomfortable) without damaging our relationship? I am not scared of being bitten on my hands or arms its more I don't want to hurt her or drop her and ruin the last few months of hard work and relationship building if I panic because shes trying to sit on my shoulder or gets close to my head. (I know that her behaviour is that if I move a lot she gets very excited and is likely to bite).
Not sure if thats one question or 10 but I hope it makes sense!

Thanks
Ben
 

TomsMum

Administrator
Staff member
Admin
I will tag in @Roz for her recommendation.

What I do is replicate what a parrot does naturally to say “stop” and that is the foot up - so I just raise my hand up in front of the bird or slightly above their head height fingers closed together and say no.....don’t know if you’re getting the picture...a bit like a policeman telling you to stop your vehicle but not with your arm up in the air..... A bit like a high-five but slightly angled over the bird’s Head.
 
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Roz

Regular Member
Thanks for the tag, TomsMum. And thanks for the chuckle @benjaminannas in imagining Mollie sitting next to you in silence, staring at you. :pancarta: That's so sweet she asks for head scratches like that! You have identified a great reinforcer for her! You can use those head scratches as reinforcement for behaviour you want to see more of. :thumbsup:

Is she used to rope perches? If not, go slowly. Desensitise her to the perch and then shape the step up. Reinforcer could be a treat or a head scratch or both.

Parrots like to be as high as possible - use that to your advantage. You can fold the rope perch in two and hold it with one hand like this:



The parrot stays on the end of it. If you hold it vertically parrot will be unlikely to climb down:



When Kobe is overexcited and likely to bite I hold the rope perch vertically with him on it above my head and carry him to his cage or wherever like that (watch you don't knock the bird on door frames or low beams on the ceiling). He has never tried to fly at me from the rope perch or climb down to my hands. At other times, I'll hold the perch more horizontally (as in the first pic) and lower down if he's showing no aggressive body language.

If Mollie does climb on your hand make your arm into a V shape at the elbow and hold your hand flat with palm up for her to sit on. It is difficult for a parrot to climb down your forearm (especially if it's a bare forearm). But before she can think of climbing down get her to step up somewhere else off you. It is easier to step up than step down so be sure you get her to step UP some where. Then reinforce for a great step up! :biggrin:
 

Anita Orban

Regular Member
Registered
When i watched video about step up it always looked easy, but when i try it was impissible. Not sure sure what happened with him before we purchesed him, but he screams when i held the perch front of him and scared. Also he lands on my arm, but scared of my finger. Is there other with this problem or my ringneck is “special”? I have never hurt him and he is with us for many years. He likes me as he wants me around him, but bites me in the same time.
 

Michael Reynolds

Regular Member
Ok so there are things that may make your ringneck more trusting when stepping up especially to a perch. this goes for any bird that is scared of a stick to step up on but it can take a little time to achieve but is well worth it. find a suitable perch to fit in the birds cage that you can use for training later, I like using apple or willow, using a knife carefully cut a few slots in the perch and drill a few holes (not fully through the perch in it. use the slots to put slices of apple or fruit in and the holes for nuts or seed. your bird will learn to love the stick (also good to help a bird to forage and a method I use with birds that pluck. (important that the perch is cleaned regally and this also helps your bird trust the stick as it will see it get removed and then come bake often. the next step is to full the perch when out and offer your bird to step up. it has never failed with me and I have had a few birds that have been frightened if any sticks. you know when you have fully succeeded when you go to take the empty stick out and ask your bird to step up and he dose. Now fingers and biting I yet again use a treat that is normally apple and just hole it between two fingers and then ask the bird to step up. he may bite at first nut as soon as he realises there is a treat he will concentrate on that and also help him to gain trust in them and want to step up. these are important steps for all parrots as in an emergency you will find moving your bird is much less stressful
 

Roz

Regular Member
Hi Anita,

This took months to teach Ollie. It was harder than usual because he was also terrified of humans when I first taught him. Many birds are afraid of sticks so you need to go much slower.

What I did was use a perch that Ollie was already familiar with inside his cage. Michael's idea is good if you want to introduce a bird to a perch. However a perch inside the cage can still look different to the bird when unattached and held by human hands outside the cage. So you may also have to desensitise him to the presence of the unattached perch. Desensitisation is introducing the bird slowly to the perch over a period of time by leaving it closer and closer to the cage being sure each time it is moved closer not to provoke more than the mildest of reactions (also explained in the thread below).

When your bird is comfortable around the perch then I would go back to basics with the step up. Shape the behaviour which is what I did with Ollie. This is explained in this thread:
https://theparrotclub.co.uk/community/index.php?threads/shaping-the-step-up-back-to-basics.21349/

You could also shape the step up on your arm or finger using the same method. Each time he steps up put him straight down again before he bites you.

Then shape duration... ie. the time he is on you without biting before putting him down again. So he steps up, perches on you for 1 second without biting - treat - put him down. Step up - perches for 2 seconds - treat - put him down again. Step up - perches for 3 seconds - treat - put him down agian. 5 seconds etc. You may have to repeat each step/approximation a few times for him to learn. If, for example, he bites at 6 seconds, you have gone too far too fast. Back up and start again at 4 seconds or less. Repeat the 4 second time frame a few times before building up again. Go as slow or as fast as he leads you. Watch that body language and always put him down regardless before he bites. You want to get him out of the habit.

The biting may mean, "I stepped up, but yikes, I'm not comfortable on this arm any longer, if I bite she'll put me down again." So make him feel more comfortable and in control by putting him down before he even thinks of biting.

When teaching a new behaviour like a step up be sure to treat every time. He'll learn faster.
 

Rain

Parrot Sniffer
Regular Member
Not much more to say - as all advice has been given. Just that most of the time Ri will step up on my hand/fingers no problem - but he steps up EVERY time onto a small cushion.
He has his "special cushion" that he likes to be carried around on, like royalty :emoji_unamused: . Just saves my fingers from when he's being an awkward little sod.
 

Roz

Regular Member
Absolutely, Rain. That's why I use a rope perch for Kobe (Kobe doesn't like sticks). I know someone else who's parrot steps up on the handle of a straw basket and someone else who's bird steps up on the roof of a carrier for now, until she can teach him to step up either on her arm or perch. With Kobe, he sleeps in a nightcage. Every morning I used to offer him the rope perch to step up on to come out of the nightcage just as training. Because it has become second nature to step up on the rope perch, he does it every time without fail so I use it in emergencies like when the door bell rings.
 
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