My apologies for falling short on my commitment to summarize the first two weeks before today. It has turned out to be a greater task than I anticipated. I think for now it is important to keep up with current events, and catch up with the first two weeks little by little as we go along.
In any case there is some repetition at the beginning of each week as we continue to hone our mechanical skills before actually beginning the week’s work with the chickens, so what I will describe now covers some of the first part of both week 1 and week 2.
It is now lunch time, and most of the people have gone to lunch, but my seatmate Margherita has kindly agreed to bring my lunch back so I can remain here to write, and if there is time take Jacques for a brief walk. Pista, who is Margherita’s dog, and who is also Jacques’ Border Collie friend whom you saw in the pictures, is here snoozing beside us while Jacques relaxes on his mat a few feet away. Again, I am amazed to see Jacques so relaxed in close proximity to another dog.
So, now about the workshop itself so far. It began, as every other one has on the first day, with each of the students introducing themselves and giving a bit of information about their involvement with animal training, the reason they are taking the workshop, and what they expect to take from the experience. Though there is a core group that have been here from the beginning, each week there is a slightly different group of people as some have left, and others arrive. The people who join after the first week have previously been through the first workshop, which is a prerequisite to all the others, and may have taken other workshops before, and are here to complete the series, or to take specific workshops that are of particular interest.
I have already given an idea of the nationalities, and interests of many of the people here. This week we have two new people from Finland who have a training school there, have worked with Bob, and who teach chicken camps at their own facility. They are here to observe, and during the working sessions they are watching us and providing advice and suggestions based on what they see. It will be great to have the additional help as we struggle to change our behavior in order to get the chickens to change theirs to what we want. There is also now a third person here from the U.S., Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinary behaviorist well known to many dog trainers and behaviorists in the U.S.That makes a total of three veterinarians who have attended one or more of this series of workshops; one from Finland, one from Norway, and one from the United States. There is also a clinical psychologist here from Norway who works with people who have depression and anxiety.
After the introductions, and a brief lecture from Bob in which he reviewed fundamentals, we retired to the training room where we chose our partners/coaches for the week if we had not already done so, and selected our chickens. We are “strongly advised” to choose different partners and a different pair of chickens each week. Although I was happy to work with my former partner, Alberto, for two weeks, I agree that it is good to change partners each week in order to get a different point of view, and learn to work with people with a variety of strengths and knowledge, and a variety of personalities.
Participants work in pairs, and alternate training their chickens and coaching their partners as they train. Each participant gets two chickens to work with during the week. I have decided that, while the choice of partner/coach does matter quite a bit, it does not matter as much which chickens I choose. While having a “good” chicken that will easily learn what I want it to learn (sometimes in spite of my less-than-perfect skill) is encouraging, you really do learn more from the “bad” chickens that present greater challenges, even though you might not ever get all the behavior you are working toward. So, I selected my chickens somewhat at random knowing my ego will surely pay a price, but I will also likely learn more.
The work sessions began as they did for weeks one and two, without the chickens. We rehearsed our mechanical skills, delivering the food reinforcement, and clicking. It may seem silly to some, but as Bob emphasizes frequently, good mechanical skills are essential. In fact, Bob goes farther than that and says that training IS a mechanical skill. It is true that timing and accuracy are hugely important in effective and efficient training, and a good trainer rehearses the mechanics without the animal before beginning the training, After a session or two it may be necessary to modify or refine the mechanics further in order to get the behavior one wants in an effective and efficient manner. I have learned that lesson the hard way on a number of occasions myself in the past (I even have a couple of examples on Jacques’ YouTube channel, accompanied by the rules for how not to train an animal that are exemplified in the video), but it was not sufficient to cause me to change my behavior enough in that regard. Hopefully after five weeks of Chicken Camp I will be a reformed person who always thinks through, then practices the mechanics of a training session before bringing the animal into the picture. I intend to do that tomorrow before subjecting my poor chickens to my training efforts!
After working on the mechanics we acquainted ourselves with the chickens by observing them in the cages, handling them, and getting them to move about on the table in response to food reinforcements or a target stick. The main idea behind these exercises was to observe the chickens and get an idea of what we would be working with for the rest of the week. Finally, we made a beginning on the first behaviors we will be training this week; walking in different patterns around a pair of traffic cones. More about that later.
Tonight we need to prepare a training plan for these behaviors. That is also a big challenge for me, and one I really need to meet head on. I make plans, but not nearly often enough, and both the animals and I pay the price for that in lost time, and frustration on my part when things do not go as hoped (as opposed to as planned). It is a deficiency in my training that I hope these workshops will help me begin to correct.
So, now that it is 10:00 PM I will retire from writing this blog, and work on my training plan. I don’t want to be embarrassed tomorrow by being the only one who does not have one, and I do not want to cheat myself or my chicken out of the benefits of beginning the project without a plan.