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What I Didn’t Learn Training Chickens

By Michelle Mullins, CPDT-KA

I have now been to chicken training camp twice, with trainer Terry Ryan of Legacy Canine Behavior and Training .  If you would like to learn more about Chicken Camp, click here to read a blog entry from Terry Ryan herself.  I have not become an expert chicken trainer. My timing, when clicker training a chicken, is not perfect and I don’t always set my criteria well. So what did I accomplish by training chickens you might ask? More than I could have hoped for!

Photo provided by Legacy Canine Training and Behavior

Chickens are fast and their movements often subtle. Fortunately my fellow trainers at camp coached me well. I was missing opportunities to click my chicken for slight movements that could then be shaped into fun and fantastic behaviors, like riding a skateboard, maybe.  My coaches helped me see what I was missing and capture it. The best part was there is no pressure on the trainer or the learner.

My chicken, Gabby, doesn’t need to know how to catch air off a half-pipe. I certainly can’t keep a chicken, trained or not, in my suburban neighborhood. So, no pressure if we didn’t train the final behaviors we wanted. Working through the process of training was the lesson for me. I was able to try different things each training session without the worries I would have if training my own dog or a client’s dog.

You don’t want to mess that up. I could experiment with setting my criteria and practice my timing all the while getting feedback and advice from my coach/partner of the day and Terry. Each evening I would drive home thinking of all the what ifs and eager to put all the ideas we had that day into practice the next morning. And I did. Although I was the trainer, I was also the learner.

Photo provided by Legacy Canine Training and Behavior

This year camp was about chaining behaviors together.  This requires training each behavior separately and then linking them together for a final chain. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULakKK2GnPg

We use behaviors the chicken has learned and been highly rewarded for to reinforce the newest behaviors. Really taking the steps and time to train a behavior thoroughly was a test of my focus and patience.  

The four days went too quickly. My timing improved. My observation skills and criteria setting grew by leaps and bounds! I learned chickens are kinda cool despite being a bit afraid of them in the beginning (ok, fine, I was terrified)!  I learned to play well with others and how to benefit from their unique perspectives.

The wonderful group of people who attended camp with me polished my skills and I am in their debt.   I’m a better trainer for having this experience. My dogs and husband will attest to this. Oh, and my chicken, Gabby, is now a skater chick.

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