In July 2012 a group of dedicated clicker trainers got together in a workshop to train chickens. Why chickens? It has been proven that with chickens, what you train is what you get. What you reinforce, they repeat. Can you think of a better, more fun way of learning the basic skills needed to train an animal? i.e. mechanical, observational, timing and hand/eye coordination? I have trained chickens in the past, so was quite confident that this workshop would be a roaring success, and would assist the attendees to better their skills. My previous chickens learnt within a very short space of time to offer behaviours such as a down stay, spin, jump, follow a target stick, colour discrimination, walk at heel, recall, go into a crate, retrieve, etc.
So I decided to put together a workshop in which folk could hone their skills whilst having a fun day, and on top of it, teach chickens to perform behaviours which they had never learnt before. Chickens are also a good choice of animal because they come with no emotional baggage. The handlers had no preconceived ideas about what their chicken would be able to achieve, so were open-minded and eager to experiment.
These particular chickens were hatched in an incubator and especially hand-reared for this event. They had not been clicker conditioned, so the workshop attendees had to start off with the very basics. They soon learnt that the chickens quickly learnt what they were reinforced for and not necessarily what the handlers were aiming to train them! Much laughter and enjoyment ensued, but by the end of the day, the chickens were offering (in varying degrees of success) the behaviours they had been trained to perform.