So What Is This Chicken Clickin’ thing All About, Anyway?

This blog begins with my dog Jacques’ and my five-week experience attending Chicken Camp taught by Bob Bailey  in Borlänge, Sweden – or rather in the countryside outside of Borlänge. Bob and his chicken camps, which he and his late wife Marian Breland Bailey developed in 1996, are famous among behaviorists, and trainers who are committed to using training methods based on the principles of Operant Conditioning (B.F. Skinner’s work). Pavlov’s work on Classical Conditioning is also involved, but the emphasis is on the use of Operant Conditioning. Bob and Marian Bailey are both scientists who were principles in Animal Behavior Enterprises, which was formed by Marian and her then-husband the late Keller Breland, also a scientist.

So, where do I begin, especially now that we are nearly two weeks into the five-week-long series of workshops, and although a great deal has happened, I have yet to write a word?

Jacques and I arrived in Borlänge on Monday afternoon, July 2, two days before the first workshop began. We flew from San Francisco to Amsterdam, then with only one hour to go through passport control, a lengthy security process, and make it all the way to the other side of the huge Amsterdam airport (when I called the airline about the short time we had they told me don’t worry, the arriving and departing flights are in the same terminal, and you will not need to go through passport control or security, so it will be no problem – not a word of it was true!) we took the two-hour flight to Stockholm, and from there a two-hour train ride to the village of Borlänge where we were met by Marie Fogelquist who is hosting the workshops.

The flights from San Francisco to Stockholm were not bad. Jacques sat on my lap during most of the flight, and the flight attendants on the flight from SF to Amsterdam made quite a fuss over him, which he did not mind a bit. The the train was pretty comfortable, and went through mile after mile of beautifully lush, green landscape with lots of large ponds/small lakes, and fields of wildflowers. The only problem was that I was so tired I kept falling asleep, and was concerned I would miss my stop, and end up who-knows-where. Fortunately, that did not happen.

One of my concerns on this long trip was Jacques’ potty needs, especially since he is very strongly conditioned not to use any indoor space as a toilet. He managed the 14 or so hours of flight without showing any signs of discomfort, and even when I finally got him outside at the Stockholm train station he took his time to choose just exactly the right spot. Hopefully the trip home will be as easy in that regard.

Marie drove us to the training facility where I am renting a room in a nearby house. It is not luxurious, but is comfortable enough for five weeks, and very close to where the workshops are. There are currently six people sharing the house, four women and two men, all of us taking the workshops. So far sharing the house has not been as difficult as I imagined. Those who know me will be surprised to learn that I am the early bird of the group. I get up every morning around 6:30, make a pot of coffee for everyone, and have free access to the bathroom and kitchen for about 1 1/2 hours before the others begin to wake up.

The countryside around here is lovely, with lots of very green meadows, plenty of trees, and lots of wildflowers. Jacques really enjoys taking walks, bounding through the tall grass like a fluffly white rabbit. It’s nice to be able to watch him run around without a leash knowing he is safe doing so.

He has also made two doggie friends here, both of them at least ten times his size. This part is pretty amazing given that he can be quite dog-reactive, but these dogs are both very mild-mannered, kind dogs. One of them is a Border Collie owned by an Italian woman who will be here for the full five weeks, and they have enjoyed playing chase me. The Border Collie very politely modifies his speed to accommodate Jacques’ shorter legs.

The last two weeks there have been around 30 people attending the workshops. I think I win the prize for the person who traveled the farthest. This week the group is dominated by Swedes and Norwegians, but last week it was a more international group. There is a woman from New Jersey who is also here for the full five weeks, and a Dutch woman who very recently immigrated to the U.S., and lives in Palo Alto, CA. There is a contingent here from the Dutch police, who are using force-free methods very successfully to train their police dogs. There are also several people here from Great Britain, one Italian, a couple of Germans, and a Spaniard who lives in Abu Dhabi where he trains falcons for the President of the UAE.

The workshops are five days a week of nine hours days and consist of a combination of lecture/discussions and training sessions. The bulk of each day is taken up with training. Each week covers a different topic. Week one was Discrimination, this week, which ends tomorrow, is Cueing. Next week will be Criteria, then Chaining, then Teaching.  It is very intense to say the least, and everyone is pretty well worn out by the end of the day, and we are grateful for the two days off before the next workshop begins.

It never really gets dark here – at least I have never seen it completely dark, though I have been awake as late as 1:00 AM, and as early as 5:00 AM. That does things to one’s sense of time, and in the evening/night time it is nearly always later than you think. As tired as one is it is difficult to get to bed much before midnight.

Tomorrow and in the next days I will write more about the workshops themselves, and how I and others here are experiencing them. In the meantime, I am going to try to get to bed before midnight for once.

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