Ducks have great personalities and an intelligence level similar to dogs. If you start early, you can teach your duck his or her name and condition them to do tricks. The best time to get a duck, if you can manage, is around 3 days old. If you want your duck to imprint on you, the earlier the better. If you’re incubating your own eggs, it’s best to start talking to your duckling while they’re pipping (a day before they hatch out). Ducks are social creatures who enjoy being part of a flock. If you spend enough time with them, they will consider you to be part of their flock. If you raise only one, it will be even closer to you. If you don’t have enough time to spend with it while it’s young, it’s probably best to get your duckling another playmate or he’ll cry incessantly. In the wild, when ducklings are separated from their mother, they cry for her and she instinctively responds by looking for them and calling back. Being left alone in the wild means certain death for a duckling.
Through conditioning, a famous psychologist by the name of Skinner proved that birds as simple as pigeons can learn to play the piano. Similarly, many people have succeeded in training their cat to use the toilet just like a human. If you offer your duck a special treat, they will respond and learn quickly any number of tricks. With ducks, the younger they are, the faster and easier it is to teach them things. It’s important to find out what their favorite treat is and use that as a reward – for most of my ducks, romaine lettuce or raw watercress did the trick. I taught my pekin duck to sit whenever I patted the ground in front of him. It took a few tries of forcing his butt down, but he never forgot it.. Similarly, I taught my mallard to jump into my lap every time I patted my leg. It’s also important to hold your duckling a lot so they get used to being picked up and petted when they’re older. Some ducks are more cuddly than others. I had a call duck which loved being pet so much she would walk up to receive it. If they scream every time they get picked up it’s probably best not to force it.
The most important bit of training is to get your ducks to go to their house by themselves at night. To do this, you should consistently lock them up at the same time every night and give them food only inside their house. They will become conditioned to liking their house because it’s a place of refuge and tasty food. Some nights when I come home late I find that they’ve already went home by themselves. Usually, they have a way of telling you when the want to go home. My ducks will peck the glass door where I’m eating to tell me they want to have dinner and go home.
Below is an essay I wrote about imprinting and ducks and how it relates to parental relationships in people. It contains lots of good facts from Lorenz and other naturalists: