This free training guide is about how to train a parrot to shake its head no on cue. The trick involves the trainer shaking a finger or saying shake to the parrot and then the bird shakes its head in response. The trick is intended for parrots and trainers of all levels, including beginners. It can be taught to any sized parrot from a budgie to a macaw, however, it tends to be easier to teach to all but the smallest parrots. This can be taught as the first trick, however, I suggest teaching at least one or two tricks prior.
The behavior I used for the shake trick on both Kili and Truman is reflexive and innate. By blowing across the parrot's face, particularly the nostrils, it makes the bird shake its head much the same way it does to shake off food, dirt, or bugs. Therefore, unlike the wave trick, there is no need to shape the behavior itself. It is merely a matter of inducing the behavior and capturing it on cue.
For some reason, this technique doesn't seem to work for smaller parrots like budgerigars, parrotlets, lovebirds, and cockatiels. You can still try by blowing across the face from different directions and see if you can get them to shake. If not, you can either use a clicker and capture when they shake their head naturally or you can follow the procedures for shaping the nod trick but instead do it from side to side.
To teach your parrot to shake, simply blow on its face and when it shakes its head, click and reward. If you are having trouble getting the shaking action, just switch the direction you blow. Try the cheek, nostril, eyes, etc, until you can find a place that gets it to shake every time. I had made an attempt to teach Truman to shake over a month prior but it didn't seem to be working so I gave up. But recently I tried again and it worked. I probably just wasn't hitting the right spot last time. So definitely be patient and try blowing in different places around the head before you give up.
I suggest teaching the trick out and away from the cage. Most preferable is a training perch because it keeps the parrot at a convenient height and distraction free. Otherwise you can try doing this on a chair back or table. Although it can be taught with the parrot on one hand, it is really preferable to have both hands free. This way you can use one hand for displaying the cue (shaking your finger or whatever you want it to be) and then use the other hand to hold the clicker and the treat. I like to say the cue, shake my finger, and then blow. I both say the command and show the visual command to the parrot so that it can learn both cues together. Eventually I can use one or the other to cue the trick.
The more important, and somewhat more difficult part, is reducing the reliance on inducing the shake by blowing and having it come from the cue. Primarily it is going to rely on extended quantity of repetitions and motivation. Just keep practicing the trick while showing the cue and blowing simultaneously until the bird catches on. From time to time don't blow to see if the bird will offer to shake its head without blowing on it. Usually this will happen after a bit of a break between training and high motivation. The parrot will get impatient and offer the trick after seeing the cue and before you can blow on it.
If you are following my training program, the order I taught tricks to Truman is as follows:
The exact order you train in isn't critical but my order is such for specific reasons. Since my parrot is flighted, flying to me was a necessary requisite skill. Then I proceeded to click condition Truman and teach him to target as his first behavior. Then I taught him to wave as his first cued trick. Next I switched to a prop based trick and taught him to fetch. Shake is a good trick to follow since it is actually a very easy behavior to teach. In fact, shake is easier to train than wave. This makes it a good follow up trick because interference from the other trick is likely and working on an easier behavior to teach cue differentiation is most important.
The biggest reason I like shake as the second cue based trick is because it can be forced. If wave is the first trick and the parrot is waving instead of nodding, I can "force" the bird to do the second trick by blowing on it. The bird will shake and I can reward. This way I can force the trick to be performed for the sake of rewarding it. If it's a more voluntary behavior, it may be hard to get the bird to do it, especially if it is confused and trying to do the wrong trick.
By the second major training session, Truman was already shaking his head on cue. Unfortunately I reintroduced him to wave the same day so he began getting confused. Wave has been causing interference ever since and he often waves instead of shaking. The only way to solve this is to continue practicing both tricks and reteaching, using the original training methods, whichever trick he is doing incorrectly. Nothing can help here beyond patience and lots of practice. Eventually the bird will just get it. For these reasons, if you are teaching shake as the second cue based trick, it won't be the method of teaching the tricks that will be the challenge but rather differentiating it from the first trick and teaching the parrot to watch for the specific cue.