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Sunday, July 26, 2009

And Now For Something Different

What happens when you put a group of dog trainers together with a bunch (flock) of chickens?  Clicker training chickens, of course!  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a mini chicken camp.  Donna, who has done seminars with the world renown animal behaviorist Bob Bailey, invited a few of us out to her farm to practice our clicker skills on her chickens.  What do you teach chickens?  Well, you can teach them to perform very complex series of behaviors, but to begin, we taught them to peck at a target.  

To begin, we each got to choose a crate that held two chickens.  I chose my crate by default - no one else wanted it because inside was a crazy black chicken that tried to peck everyone.  Well, it turned out that the black chicken was somewhat of a chicken genius and caught on to targeting very quickly.  To teach a chicken to peck at a target, you first need to condition them to the secondary reinforcer, which means that when they hear the "click" they know food is coming.  The "click" then becomes something good and reinforcing for the chicken.  You then shape the chicken's behavior, using the clicker and food, so that random movements eventually become more refined until your chicken is consistently pecking at the target no matter where on the table the target is placed. 
 I was able to shape my genius black chicken to peck the target in only a few short session.  My brown chicken, who was smart, but not genius, was finally targeting by the end of the afternoon.  Since my black chicken was learning so well, I started to do some color discrimination with her.  She started out doing well, but nature called and she was suddenly more interested in laying an egg than telling the difference between a red and blue target.  

Clicker training the chickens really makes you aware of your rate of reinforcement and your timing (those chickens are fast).  You also need to be very observant - the chicken's movements are so quick that if you are not watching carefully, you can easily miss an opportunity to reward the behavior you are looking for.  Clicker training chickens is also a good reminder that we as dog trainers, can change and shape behavior without the use of harsh training methods.  Patience, thoughtful observation and the precise timing of reward can go a long way in shaping complex behaviors that we want when we are training our dogs.


  1. ooh, I am very jealous! I've always wanted to try and train chickens after hearing about the Bailey chicken camps!

  2. That sounds very interesting and a great way to learn to be a good clicker trainer. Diana

  3. This looks like fun! I think I need clicker training now for my puppy!