Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a Chicken Camp (no, it’s not a camp for people that are afraid of everything).  A group of trainers, dog owners, and behaviour enthusiasts gathered in a quaint town hall for a weekend of gruelling and  completely inspiring workshops.  You guessed it…we were clicker training chickens.  Upon entering the hall we could see, at the opposite end, a group of chickens lined up in little cages just waiting to get to work.  These aren’t just any old chickens.  These are chickens hand-raised and trained by Chicken Camp Instructor extraordinaire Katherine Ferger.  These chickens were selected for their trainability and, let’s face it, their stunning good looks.  We each picked our chickens and those of us that felt inclined gave them names for the weekend.

Meet Flyer Tuck. 

2013 11 02 10.25.28 768x1024So what’s the point you ask? Why on earth would you ever need to learn how to train a chicken to do anything?  I can understand the confusion.  For a trainer, and for anyone looking to improve their skills, training a chicken makes perfect sense.  It forces us to sharpen up our timing (which is unforgivably sloppy most days), think more realistically about our training goals, and deal with the frustrations that our clients experience every day.  We taught our chickens to touch targets, to select certain shapes from other shapes, and even to do laps around pylons!  I was expecting to learn a lot, and I did.  What I didn’t expect to get out of this weekend was a whole new appreciation for the dogs that we share our lives with, and quite frankly, take for granted.

What I realized is that our dogs are doing a LOT of the work for us.  They’re reading our facial expressions, they’re making guesses at what we want from them (and getting it right!), and they’re motivated by a bond that goes so much deeper than just behaviour.  Chickens don’t care if you scream at them.  You could never alpha roll a chicken.  Well, you could try, but you’d probably end up short one eyeball and half a scalp of hair.  Chickens force you to look at your own training shortcomings.  If a chicken doesn’t respond, it’s not the chicken’s fault. It’s not because the chicken is being “stubborn” or “ignoring” you.  Chickens don’t look “guilty” when they rip your paper target to shreds or spill your pellets on the floor.

Unfortunately, when it comes to our dogs, the last thing we’re likely to do is look at how our training might be failing THEM.  If something isn’t working, we’re quick to enter into a battle of wills, insisting that our dogs have to perform.  Did any of us stop to consider that we might be asking too much? That our expectations might not be clearly defined? That we might not be providing enough reinforcement? That our dogs might just be full?

Our dogs are amazing creatures.  With so little clear information they’re able to figure out exactly what we want from them.  Thousands of years of partnership has left us with not just domestic animals, but true companions.  Perhaps it’s time to figure out how we can live up to our end of the bargain.  Take a class.  Figure out how you can take the guesswork out of your dog’s daily routine, and furthermore, his training routine.  The better able you are to define your expectations for your dog the better he’ll be able to meet them.  And the closer you’ll be.

Happy clicking! Here’s some pics from the weekend!

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Jon and Ashleigh still fresh on Saturday morning!

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Flyer Tuck’s neighbour Bella Peck

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This is where the magic happened

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Katherine the Chicken Guru explaining much-needed technique.