What IS “Advanced Training”?

According to Bob Bailey it all comes down to the fundamentals. He doesn’t care for the term “advanced training”, and he says he doesn’t teach it. So what IS “advanced training”? According to Bob to the extent that it exists at all it is nothing more than “the precise application of the fundamentals”. How reassuring is it to know that if you can master the fundamentals, you can be an “advanced trainer”?

One of the participants in week five was well-known agility competitor and instructor Daisy Peel. She was there with her dog Solar after teaching a three-day seminar, and then placing fifth(!) in the European Open finals – congratulations Daisy and Solar! Happily, I got to know Daisy a bit after she offered me a ride to Stockholm where she shared her hotel room with me, and Solar became the second Border Collie that Jacques felt comfortable enough to hang out with.

I mention Daisy in the context of the “advanced training” question because she recently published a very good post on this subject on her blog, so rather than reinvent a wheel that might not be quite as good, I will just say  “read what Daisy said“.


Videos of My Week Five Evaluation

Well, we’ve been back home for eight days as of tonight, and still processing the five weeks at Chicken Camp – that processing will go on for a long time, and I am hoping continuing this blog will help with that. I have been hugely disappointed that I did not blog regularly during the camp itself, but at least I can do some retrospective writing, including pictures and videos, and continue to write about where the Chicken Camp experience leads me in my training and other endeavors.

Here are videos of the final evaluations of my chickens for the teaching workshop. The person you see with me is my partner, Sonia, who is from Barcelona, Spain. She trained these two birds under my direction – or at least my attempts at direction – and at the end I had about ten minutes per bird to work with them myself before the evaluation you see in the videos. This was by far the most difficult, and stressful workshop to say the least, partly because of the nature of the tasks, partly because exhaustion had really set in after five weeks, and partly because I didn’t always think and plan clearly.

I’m starting with the video of the second chicken because that one actually did quite a good job of going through the course:

This next chicken deteriorated badly during the last day or day and a half, and by the last training period I could not even get her to enter the weave poles, so I threw myself on the mercy of Bob and my fellow students, and Bob actually walked Sonia and me through getting her to complete the course, more or less in bits and pieces, which, of course, was very instructional, and perhaps in some ways more valuable than if she had done it on her own. Who was responsible for the fact that she fell apart? Well, she was my chicken, and I was responsible for the training plan and for instructing Sonia as she trained her, so….

As exhausting and stressful as it all was I would do it all over again, and like a good book, it would offer new insights and new skills each time. I might, if I had the choice, choose not to do it all at once, though!





Chaining Workshop Video

Here is the video of my two birds’ evaluations last Sunday for the chaining workshop. I am just too exhausted to explain much right now, and will be worse tomorrow if I don’t get to sleep soon, so I am going to keep it minimal.

Everyone had to create a behavior chain with both their chickens. Navigating the blue apparatus was mandatory for all, and the most important part. That, of course, is a behavior chain all by itself. In addition we had to train and insert additional behaviors, at least two for each chicken, one on the apparatus, one on the table. Required elements were 1 discrimination (color or shape), 1 cued behavior, and one non-discriminate behavior.

My first bird did a discrimination in which she chose the red apple from a collection of plastic fruit (she knocked it off the platform, which was expected), and a non-discriminate behavior of pulling a toy car. The second bird pulled a toy moose out of its hiding place (I was hoping she would toss it off the platform, but that part of the behavior was not really solid, and she didn’t do it), did a discrimination (knocking the white bowling pin off the platform), and a pecked a target three times with three separate cues.

So, here it is. It’s pretty amazing what you can train a chicken to do in just a few days – and fun when it all works.

Building Character – The Training Workshop Begins

Today began the fifth and final week of Bob Bailey chicken workshops, and this one promises to be the most challenging. Just when I was beginning to gain some confidence  in my abilities and skills we will not be training our own chickens. This week our partners will be training our chickens under our instruction, and vice-versa. This is not only a test of our ability to accurately describe to our partners what we want them to do, observe what they do, and make corrections; it is not only a test of our ability to interpret and follow our partners’ instructions, and make corrections as they ask for them. It is also a test of communication and social skills – and character. It is incredibly more difficult to tell someone else how to train a behavior than it is to just do it oneself! It is also a very challenging responsibility to follow someone else’s instructions. Mistakes are inevitable even when everything is clearly understood, so it requires tolerance and patience on both sides. And then, of course, there is the whole matter of being diplomatic, and setting one’s ego aside.whether one is the instructor or the student.

Who knew training chickens was also a character-building exercise?

Of course, here a lot of other benefits to all this on both sides. For one thing, you have to really understand something to explain it well to someone else, so it points out weaknesses, and forces you to work on them. For another, following someone else’s instructions, and being responsible for training her animals is forcing me to be more aware of weaknesses in my mechanical skills, and to improve them in very specific ways.

And then there is planning, which I struggle with mightily. I have gotten better at writing plans for myself, especially short-term plans covering one training period, or even one day, and I certainly see the benefit of making specific plans, even though they always change in the face of reality. However, it requires a great deal more to write a plan when someone else will be doing the training, even when I will be giving them step-by-step instructions. So, that is what must do now, though I am really exhausted.

I hope by tomorrow to be able to post video of my chickens’ “final performance” from last week’s chaining workshop. Youtube is “processing” the edits right now, and that can take hours, so I’ll just check it in the morning, and hopefully it will be ready. It’s kind of fun to see what we were able to train chickens to do in relatively little time.