Chicken adventures: The beginning

This summer, two friends and I are taking Terry Ryan’s virtual chicken training workshop. I’ll share some of my notes from the workshop over the next handful of weeks. You can learn more about Terry’s workshops on her Legacy Canine website.

Why train a chicken?

Early in my animal training journey, I learned about Terry Ryan’s chicken training workshops and the chicken workshops that Bob Bailey and Marian Breland Bailey used to offer. Since then, I’ve been itching to train a chicken!

Chicken training is fun. It’s also a great way to improve your training skills. Chickens are fast. They help you improve your timing and observation skills. In addition, you can practice all sorts of training concepts, including shaping, chaining, putting behaviors on cue, and more.

Getting to know you

Working with a new species is always a challenge. Chickens have their own unique movements and behavior patterns. They also see the world differently and have their own particular motivations and distractions.

One thing that I appreciate about Terry’s class is that she is teaching us about the biology and the natural behavior of chickens. We spent some time in our first Zoom class learning about chicken body language and common behaviors that can indicate that a chicken is stressed or worried.

Table training

I don’t own any chickens (yet!). For the class, I’m training a friend’s chickens. Our first goal for the hens is simple. We want each hen to be comfortable standing on a table while eating food from a measuring cup.

This step may seem simple, but it is really, really important. If your animal is not happy, confident, and focused in your training location, training will be difficult if not impossible.

Our practice session at the beginning of this past week didn’t go quite as planned. Nuggins, our superstar hen, was ready for training. However, the other three hens we tried to work with had had too big of a breakfast already and were a little intimidated about being handled by new people.

When we returned them to the coop, we also realized that two were very interested in finding nice spots to lay eggs. This is not a distraction that I’m used to having to think about with the horses, dogs, and rats!

With some adjustments, we had much more success today. But, I’ll save the next parts of the story for my second chicken training blog post.

Training tip: Use name cards to organize your videos

I want to end this blog post with a great training tip.

Videoing your training sessions is a wonderful idea. However, sorting through lots and lots of training videos can get a little overwhelming.

If you have several animals you are training, make a name card for each animal. Flash the name card in front of your camera right as you start the video.

The screenshot below shows the photo album on my phone with video clips from our recent training session. The name cards make it really easy to find the videos for a particular chicken.

If you just have one animal, you can still use cards to categorize your videos. Write down the behavior you are working on, the date, or any other quick piece of information that will help you sort through your videos later on.

Stay tuned for more notes about my chicken training adventures!

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