Target Training for Birds


11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax



Target training is a fun and easy way to encourage your bird to perform desired behaviors. In brief, the goal of this training method is to get your bird to willingly go to a “target” in anticipation of a reward.

Before you can begin, you need 3 things:

  1. A target, which should be a readily available, easily identified object that the bird would not normally see outside of training. Suggestions include: a chopstick, an unusually colored and/or shaped toy, or the lid from a margarine tub.
  2. A clicker, available at most larger pet stores.
  3. A reward that your bird really enjoys, never gets any other time, and can be consumed very quickly. Suggestions include: 1/2 of a shelled sunflower seed, a tiny bit of unsalted, unbuttered popcorn, or dried fruit.

Before you can start target training, you have to teach your bird that the sound of the clicker means that he/she did something to please you, and a reward is coming. You can do this by playing with your bird, clicking the clicker, then immediately giving your bird a treat. Do this several times until your bird starts to look for its reward as soon as it hears the click. Then, ask your bird to perform a behavior that it already knows, such as stepping up onto your hand. As soon as your bird does so, click and reward your bird handsomely. Continue to work with your bird on these behaviors. It may take a few training sessions, but your bird will soon learn that performing certain behaviors will earn him a “click” and a food reward. When your bird has reached this point, you are ready to target train!

Place your bird on a tabletop and hold the target object some distance away. You should click and reward your bird several times for being brave and tolerating the presence of the object. Eventually, your bird will probably become curious about the target and take a step towards it. Immediately click, praise, and reward your bird. Your bird may not immediately associate going towards the target with receiving a reward. Be patient, and continue to reward small steps towards the target. This may require several training sessions. When your bird finally approaches the target and touches it with his beak, immediately click, praise and offer a bigger than usual reward (several treats all at once). Repeat until your bird learns touching the target with his/her beak means a reward will follow.


In summary:

  • Bird touches the target
  • Bird hears a click and receives a verbal/treat reward immediately thereafter
  • Bird associates target and click with reward
  • Bird seeks out target to get a reward

Now you can use the target to entice your bird to move from one place to the next, and teach him/her various behaviors. Examples of commonly trained behaviors include: going into a travel carrier, coming when called, and running an agility course. Please refer to the excellent handout created by Dr. Susan Friedman for additional information about target training: http://www.behaviorworks.org/files/articles/Right%20On%20Target.pdf


March 30, 2015

Content of this Care Sheet Courtesy of:

The Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine 

11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax



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