Experienced bird owners know
that if you can only have one command, this is the one to have.
Itís critical for any bird that will be permitted out of its cage, and
it should be the first command taught.
To train a bird to step up, put
your finger, hand, or a dowel (depending on the size and temperament of
your bird) just below the birdís belly (above the feet) and give the
command. A bird that is tame, is relaxed and trusts you will
usually step up with ease. As soon as the bird has both feet on,
praise him for being a "Good bird!Ē.
For young birds it can be useful
to give the command and
immediately move your finger/hand/dowel so that you are gently pushing
into the birdís mid-chest and moving back and up. This causes the bird
to lose a bit of balance, and it will step on the thing you are offering
just to regain balance. Then you praise him. After a very
short while the bird will understand what you want him to do
and youíll find he steps up quickly after hearing the command.
There are some things to think
about that will help you and your bird learn more quickly:
- Training sessions should happen when the bird
isn't busy with something else (eating,
playing). If the bird is clearly actively
engaged in some other activity, don't force a training
- Be sure the finger, hand, or dowel is steady
(not waving around). The bird needs to be confident that the
surface will be safe and reliable to stand on.
- Hold your
finger/hand/dowel straight and horizontal (not at a slant). A
confident and well-trained bird will step up on an uneven surface, but
one that isnít confident will be uneasy and hesitant.
- Do display confidence
yourself when you give the command. The bird does want to understand
what you want, and will do as you ask once he or she is clear about
it. If you are more confident, the bird will have more confidence in
- Be consistent with the
command. Say the same word or phrase and say it in the same
firm tone of voice.
- Be aware that many birds
(especially younger ones) will try to reach for your finger with their
beak. Don't confuse this with an attempted bite; the bird
just wants to feel your finger and satisfy itself that you are
offering a steady and safe perching surface.
- Donít praise the bird for
putting only one foot up. Wait until heís completely stepped
before sounding the victory bells.
- Don't push a bird that
backs away from you or seems at all uneasy. Be careful to
watch body language. The bird must trust you.
For those who are new to birds, its helpful to experience having a mature (and
obedient) bird step up for you before you try training
your own bird. It helps to know what it feels like to have a bird step
on your finger or hand (the weight, the way they grasp,
larger the bird, the more true this is. Watching someone else pick up a
bird just isnít the same as doing it yourself. If you practice with an
experienced bird a few times before you start training yours, youíll
find it all that much more easy and natural.
About Step Down and Other
There is a school of thought that says you should
use the command "step" instead of "step up". That's because some
feel that if you tell the bird to step up or down, it will be confusing
for the bird.
They may have a point, but I still use "step up"
and "step down" - mostly because 30 years of habit is hard to overcome.
Sometimes I say "step" instead - and the resulting response seems pretty
much the same. My birds are probably responding more to my tone of
voice, the situation (I'm holding them close to a
perch or the floor) and the word "step" than anything else. Although I do know
that some of them are very intelligent, I don't have any reason to
believe that they discern between the words "up" and "down".
I've noticed that my large macaws sometimes will
hear the command and put one foot on my hand or arm but then stop.
This is an indicator that they don't really WANT to comply, but aren't
going to make an issue if I insist. When that happens, I say
"both feet!" and invariably the bird gives me a
"look" and then brings up the other foot.
Refusing the Command
A bird that hasn't been trained doesn't know what
you want. When he ignores or outright refuses, just be
patient. Press your finger or hand very gently to the chest and
give the command again. Then praise him liberally for being
good. Eventually they "get it."
For decades, I took the firm position that
"step up" is a command, not a suggestion, and I would not
allow a bird to ignore the command or refuse. I've softened my
viewpoint on that.
A bird that trusts you, that likes you, will
normally want to come to you (actually, I have more
trouble getting my birds to stay off me!). If the
bird hesitates, there may be a good reason. If I reach for a
trained bird and he backs away, I don't chase them or force them (unless
it's absolutely necessary). I try to respect the
bird's decision to step or not. Situations where I do insist on
- preparing for a vet visit
- when the bird is in danger (sitting
on a territorial bird's cage, for example)
- when the bird is in a "forbidden
zone" (kitchen counter, dining room table,
on top of the canary's cage)
I know that "drilling"
(3-4 step up commands in a row) has fallen out of favor
with trainers. I understand the reasons for this, but have to
admit that for some birds, a short drill session from time to time does
seem to help with "Pavlov's Dog" type compliance.