5 things to teach your African Grey

Don’t forget to stimulate your African Grey’s mind during the lockdown period. There is no doubt that he brings untold joy to any household. These birds have such huge personalities and they are very clever animals. You can teach your bird all sorts of things and you’ll soon find out that he sometimes learns new words without you even teaching them to him.

Not only is it fun to teach your bird tricks and words, but doing so will also stimulate his mind, keeping him out of mischief. Sometimes your bird will learn quickly and other times you’ll need loads of patience, but the end result is worth the effort.

1. Trust

Before pursuing any training schedule, it is important that you bond with your bird first. A strong bond will also build trust with your African Grey. And if your parrot trusts you, the training will be easier. Introduce him to other family members as well, as you don’t want him to trust and bond with only you.

Ensure that your bird’s cage is big enough for him to move around, spread his wings and jump between perches. The bigger his cage, the better; this will make training less stressful for him.

Take turns with other family members, spending at least one hour a day (broken up into 10- to 15-minute sessions) with the parrot and start while he is still in the cage. He will soon get used to your presence. Start by touching him softly, so that he gets used to your touch as well. Before you touch him, give him a small treat, so that he relaxes. When he gets used to your touch, decrease the number of treats and only treat him once he has done something right. Don’t handle your parrot when he doesn’t want to be handled. Keep in mind that he can get overstimulated, which can cause behavioural problems.

2. Hello Polly

Generally, when your parrot turns one year old, you can begin to teach him words. (Note: some birds might start sooner, and others might only start to talk at 18 months.) Start with simple words. Bear in mind that it will take time for him to learn and understand the words. It will be easier if you can move him away from distractions and make sure that you say the words clearly. Also, look at your bird and make eye contact with him.

Don’t say the same word repeatedly in one sitting, as he will get bored. Rather say two or three words, a minute or two apart. And say the words throughout the day. When he says a word, immediately give him a small treat, if possible.

Try to teach him words that he can relate to. For instance, before you switch off the light, say: ‘Good night.’ This will create relevance in his mind, and if you say it every night, he will eventually say it too.

Once your parrot can say a few words, teach him phrases. Say the entire phrase slowly and clearly, and wait a minute or two, so that he can ‘process’ the words.

3. Step up

This is not just a trick, but something crucial that you can use in an emergency. If your parrot can ‘step up’, or whatever you choose to call it, you can remove him from a scenario and safely take him to his cage and out of harm’s way. It is one of the most important things to teach him.

You can either use your hand, or a perch. If your bird is used to having you touch him, it will be easier for him to step unto your hand. Move your hand close to him and the moment he steps up onto your hand, say the cue: ‘Step up,’ and immediately give him a treat. Repeat the action over a few sessions, until he does it on his own. You can lure him onto your hand with a small treat.

He may want to use his beak to get up onto your hand or the perch. Your first reaction might be to pull away, but don’t do that. Keep your hand still.

4. Step down

Similar to stepping up, it would be good if your bird knows how to step down as well. While he is on your hand or perch, move him to where you want him to go, like his cage. Lure him in there with a small treat. The moment he steps down, say the cue: ‘Step down,’ and give him the treat.

Remember that patience is key and that you might have to repeat the actions over and over again. But take note of when your bird is tired or hungry, as he won’t respond well then. Rather let him rest and don’t drag sessions out beyond 10 or 15 minutes.

5. Laddering

Teaching your bird to ladder isn’t as crucial as stepping up and down, but will help to stimulate his mind. Laddering is simply stepping up repeatedly – your parrot steps ups from one hand or finger, to the other hand or finger.

Bottom line

Be mindful when you train your parrot, and don’t start a session when either of you is irritated, tired or hungry. If you notice that the training session isn’t going well, rather end it, and always be nice to your bird. Make it a positive experience for him and, that way, he will be eager to learn as well.

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