By Terry Ryan
Why are animal trainers all over the world training CHICKENS?? To date trainers from more than 25 different countries have visited Washington State for a round of chicken training.
Why would the FBI or US Customs and Border Patrol and other Homeland canine handlers seek Legacy Canine Behavior and Training’s chicken-based training programs? Our recent series of chicken camps in Hawaii were popular with Honolulu zoo keepers and an Oahu’s Canine Search and Rescue organization. Are you curious why the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians chose to bring chicken training to their first national convention in Las Vegas? Clickin chickens was a popular event at the national conferences of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers in California and the Animal Behavior Management Alliance in Rhode Island.
Fishermen from the Bering Sea gather at Legacy’s training center to kick off their season with a round of reward-based team building exercises revolving around chickens. In recent years chicken training has gone corporate, providing in-service workshops for electronics firms and factory workers.
People want to learn how to communicate with animals – and one another – in a way that ensures understanding and results in consistent, reliable and predictable behaviors.
As a student learning to train a chicken, their training biases and backgrounds are neutralized. Each is provided a clean slate with an animal they have never trained. As if learning a foreign language, every student crawls before they walk, and walks before they run. No one is left behind. Everyone ‘gets it’ because each mechanical skill and principle of learning is broken down into it’s tiniest components, then applied to more complicated exercises. Good timing is essential in any training model. Students learn the value of good eye-hand coordination and the ability to rapidly make effective training decisions – excuse the pun – on the fly.
Chicken training evolved from rat training which was a regular rotation at my canine behavior and training camps late 1980’s. Back then it was largely a free style “capture / reinforce / put it on cue activity.” 1994 Legacy campers were introduced to a different chicken training experience with emphasis on mechanical skills, the science behind training and a more result-oriented lesson plan. That evolved into the concept of “leave the dogs home… let’s concentrate on chickens.” It’s no longer a side line at a dog training camp, it’s the main event.
For years chicken training was an important part Legacy’s two-week instructor’s course “Coaching People to Train Their Dogs.” In 2006 Legacy bought some property and custom built a training center with dog and chicken training in mind. Legacy’s flock would have a new state-of-the-art hen house and chicken yard. Legacy expanded its chicken courses to include a series of four four-day chicken-only workshops. Each course focuses on different principles of classical and operant conditioning.
I love chicken training because it’s fun and it teaches us something about training and about ourselves. It also fits perfectly with my philosophy that training subjects need to be emotionally ready, stress free and trusting of their handlers to maximize success and enjoyment by both.
But let’s find out why the students are signing up for these events. Stay tuned as later this month some recent chicken wranglers from Premier Pet Products share their chicken camp experience!
Terry Ryan, CPDT-KA is the president of Legacy Canine Behavior & Training, Inc. Terry has been a professional trainer since 1968, specializing in reward-based exercises. In addition to instructing pet dog classes, Terry is a prolific writer, and a much sought-after presenter for national and international seminars and workshops. She has maintained membership and held various offices in local, national and international organizations including serving as a past president and board member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors. She is a charter member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Terry has worked with Premier Pet Products® to create the Terry Ryan Signature Series of training products which includes the Original Quick Access Treat Pouch and the Clik Stik®.