Have fun. Teach your chickens tricks.

Chicken Training Camp

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I had heard that one of America’s top animal trainers, Bob Bailey, believes that “when you can train a chicken, you can train just about anything,” so I headed off to a ‘Chicken Training Camp’ with Terry Ryan.

The workshop brought together a group of dog and horse trainers wanting to improve their training skills.

I learned a lot at the workshop, but probably the two most important lessons were:

The importance of breaking the training into small parts.

I was training the chicken (Bonnie) to peck a red disk. I couldn’t just put Bonnie on the table and expect her to wander over to the correct disk and peck it.

There were many steps involved:

  • She needed to be comfortable being picked up.
  • She had to be happy to be placed on a table without wanting to run away.
  • She then had to walk near the disk.
  • Then peck near it.
  • Then actually peck it.
  • She then had to learn that she didn’t get a reward if she pecked a differently colored disk.

If I made the steps too big, she would become confused, and sometimes I needed to go back a step. However, if I made the steps very small and easy for her to work out, she learned quickly.

The importance of timing.

We used a mechanical clicker to ‘mark’ when Bonnie did the right thing. We then gave her a food reward.

With horse and dog training, I use a sound (I click my tongue) to let them know they have got it right (but you can also use a word).

The marker must be given at the EXACT moment the animal does the behavior we have asked for. If given even a split second after the behavior, we mark something that we might not want.

For example, I was training Bonnie to peck a red disk. If my timing was a bit slow, I might click when her head was coming up from the disk. I would then be rewarding her for lifting her head.

Timing and breaking your training into small parts are crucial to help animals learn as fast as possible.

If you can attend a chicken training camp, I highly recommend you go along. You will have lots of fun, and it will improve your training skills.

This video shows me and my chicken training partner, Fay, working with Bonnie, the chicken. We are using clicker training to teach her only to peck the red disk. Watch carefully toward the end – you will see she works out which one is the right color to peck.

After we taught Bonnie to peck the red disk, we added more colored disks.  We then changed the color that she needed to peck to get her reward.

 

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