Chicken Clickin’s Lovelier the Second Time Around!

Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground…

And so, here Jacques and I are back to clicking chickens with Bob Bailey, this time in Maryland, and this time with the addition of the very bright, and always-enthusiastic Parvene Farhoody, who in my view adds significant value, and in whom, in my opinion, Bob has finally found a worthy protegee.

When I finished the chicken workshops in Sweden almost two years ago I knew I wanted to come back for more. Last year did not work out mainly for scheduling reasons, so for this year I signed up and paid many months in advance, and got it on my calendar right away.

So, why was I so determined to have a second go at chicken clickin’? Well, to put it in a nutshell, taking Bob’s workshops is a lot like reading a really good book in that each experience leads to new insights, new understanding, and stronger, broader skills. So, I approached and experienced the first round with what knowledge, skills, and personal attributes I had on board at that time, and this time I have more and different knowledge, skills, and attributes on board, and sure enough the experience has not been the same – not intellectually, not skill-wise, and not personally. This experience definitely has built on the previous one along with everything else that has happened in between.

In addition, this year some of the lectures have been changed, and/or rearranged, and two exercises were added that we did not do two years ago. So, I am different, and so was the workshop this time around.

Another thing that is different this time is that instead of taking the whole five weeks at once – which is NUTS! – I chose just two workshops to redo. Taking it all at once seemed like the right decision two years ago, partly because I was traveling all the way to Sweden, partly because I really believed it when Bob said it was absolutely, definitely, unquestionably the last time he would do it, and I did not want to miss out on anything. I am very glad I did it, but would not do it that way again.

Based on the Sweden experience I have concluded that two weeks is optimum, and after that you tend to reach a point of diminishing returns if only due to mental, physical, and in some cases emotional fatigue. Therefore, I am repeating weeks two and three this year because those are in my experience the two most technically challenging workshops. Week one is required for all other workshops, week four builds on the knowledge and skills of weeks one through three, and week five is an different thing from any of the other four.

Yesterday we completed the Cueing workshop, and next week is Criteria, which is definitely the most technically challenging of the two.

This last week was an excellent experience for me. At times I saw how far I have come since the first time around, and at times I saw how much farther I can/need to go. I was lucky to have a really good partner. We worked together really well in a cooperative, and mutually helpful spirit, free of competitiveness and drama. She definitely enhanced the experience for me. I learned from watching her work, and from listening to and applying some of her suggestions. She says she learned from me. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Disappointingly, I did not complete every exercise to my satisfaction, but it’s not really about that. I DID get to do some work on each of the exercises, and gained something from everything I heard and did, and that is what it’s really about.

So, enough of this rather dry “all about me” introduction to my second Bob Bailey chicken workshop experience. Next I will try to get into a bit more detail about the workshop itself, and include some video of some of the sessions.

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.

Simple, But Not Easy!

“It’s simple, but not easy.”

That is one of the things we hear from Bob over and over again, and it is something we discover for ourselves many times during each training day. The principles we are applying are few and simple. The process is quite another story. It is, first of all, mentally very demanding, requiring multiple focus; mechanically very demanding, requiring split-second decision-making, timing, and accuracy in placing the food reinforcement. In addition, although Bob, correctly in my opinion, strongly recommends keeping emotion out of the training process, it can be very stressful, and emotionally taxing when working under very strict time constraints as we are. What we are doing here also requires strong social and communication skills, and adabtability both in terms of our inward and outward behavior since we are working with new partners each week who have different personalities, different skill levels, and likely come from a different country and culture, and speak a different native language than we do,

And it’s all about changing OUR behavior in order to change the animals’ behavior from what we don’t want to what we do want. The chickens are really a vehicle for training ourselves, and it is about so much more than getting chickens to do specific behaviors.

And all of the above relates to blogging as well, as I am discovering. Day after day I have said to myself “you have to write something today”, then dithered about what to write and how to write it until there is no time left. Then I beat myself up a bit (as if I have not been doing that all day every time I make a mistake in training), and go to sleep vowing to write something tomorrow for sure. I started to write this days ago, finished it, and when I tried to publish it the internet connection was interrupted, and I lost a big part of it that had not yet been saved. So, I am going to write some sort of a conclusion, publish it, and write more tomorrow.

Two days ago on Sunday we concluded the fourth week, Chaining. For me it was the most satisfying week so far because I felt that a lot of what I learned and practiced during the previous three weeks came together. However, it was not easy or stress-free. By the end of the day Friday I had concluded that I was the worst trainer in the world, and was, quite honestly, very depressed. I decided to find a private place and take five minutes to have a good cry. As it happens I did not succeed in finding that private place, so never had the cry.  Instead I came up with a “cunning plan” (BlackAdder fans will know about “cunning plans”) to solve a problem that both my chickens were having on one part of the assignment (part of the reason I was the worst trainer in the world) . Saturday morning I put my plan into action, and it worked with both chickens! Based on that I elevated my status to “not the worst trainer in the world”, and managed to maintain that status through the end of the course – yay!

I have uploaded a video of last week’s “final performance” for both my chickens, and as soon as I can edit it I will post it here. In the meantime, I am exhausted, and it is past time to go to sleep if I expect to be at all able to function tomorrow.

Criteria Workshop Begins

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.

It’s Jacques’ Adventure Too

Since this is Jacques’ adventure as well as mine, I thought I should include some of the very few snapshots I have taken so far. Have not taken any time to crop or otherwise alter them, so here they are straight from the camera:

Jacques standing in the meadow

Jacques standing in a Swedish meadow.

For those who know about Jacques’ dog reactivity issues these next two are quite remarkable. This is one of two dogs he has managed to be very comfortable with, and is his first doggie friend in Sweden. We hope to get some better snaps of the two of them together – we have already missed some really lovely ones – timing is everything!

Jacques sleeps on his mat under the table during lecture/discussion periods, and Pista is usually two or three seats down, but for some reason Pista decided to curl up right next to us on this day, and as you can see, Jacques is completely relaxed and comfy – quite remarkable. Jacques is still pretty reactive with most of the other dogs here (quite understandable in some cases!), but this gives me hope that with more training he will become increasingly comfortable around other dogs.

Jacques and Pista cuddling up

For anyone who is curious, to work on Jacques’ reactivity I have been using Control Unleashed games for quite some time, and have been through a couple of different CU-based reactive dog classes with him ( at four weeks’ length they are always too short, and too “beginner” to get very far, unfortunately). Recently I began using Grisha Stewart’s BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) approach at a very basic level. One of my problems is that I really cannot set up the kind of structured environment that is ideal for this kind of work, so have to opportunistically use real-life situations, which can be unpredictable. Recently I found a real-life situation where I can pretty reliably predict where the dogs are going, and nearly always have an escape route if necessary, so can keep the distance Jacques needs while doing the work. I have seen really major progress in the last month and a half. The situation here was perfect last week, but this week there are too many dogs here, some of whom are reactive or aggressive themselves, and not as well-controlled by their handlers as the ones last week, and I cannot always get and keep the distance we need, but Jacques is also better at coping for the most part, so we will get by and hopefully continue to make progress.

Who Goes To Chicken Camp, And Why?

It might be interesting to know what kinds of people consider it worth their while to attend Chicken Camp, and what they expect it to do for them, so I will talk about some of the people who are here, and how they expect to benefit from it.

To the best of my knowledge everyone attending this series of Chicken Camps is either an animal trainer, or expects to be training animals some time in the near future. Some are experienced people who are here to increase and solidify knowledge and improve skills they already have and have been using for some time. Others are experienced with other methods of training and are here to learn a new approach to training. Still others are new to animal training, have little or no experience, and are here to get started learning how to train animals without force or conflict using methods that are supported by scientific data.

The majority of the people here are dog trainers. Some are professionals, some are hobbyists, some are wannabe professionals, or former professionals seeking to find a better way to train dogs. There are people here who train dogs for

  • competitive sports such as obedience, rally, agility, and freestyle.
  • service dogs for disabled persons.
  • basic pet good manners.
  • problem-solving for issues such as aggression, fearfulness, excessive barking, etc.
  • the military (there is a group here from the Norwegian military who work with explosive-detection dogs).
  • the police (there is a group here from the Dutch Police, including a man named Simon Prins who directs training efforts for military and police in various countries, and about whom I will probably have more to say).

There are also people whose goal is to train birds.

  • Swedish graduate students seeking more effective and efficient ways to train birds used in their research projects.
  • a Belgian performer who does adults’ and children’s comedy shows and wants to train his own animals for his shows because trainers he has hired have fallen short of expectations.
  • a Spaniard who works with falcons owned by the President of the UAE.
  • a woman who will train birds that will participate in avian research at Stanford.

And some who are interested in horse training

  • to overcome behavior problems such as fear of loading into trailors, spookiness, biting, kicking, etc.
  • for basic ground manners and pleasure riding.
  • for competition such as dressage, jumping, etc.

There have also been two veterinarians here so far, one from Finland, and one from Norway.

A number of people who work with exotic animals, zoo animals, and marine mammals have been through the camps. In fact, this type of training has revolutionized zoo animal care and maintenance, greatly reducing the use of forced restraint, which is dangerous to people and causes severe stress to the animals, and tranquilizers for routine medical and other maintenance procedures. It is also useful for efficiently moving the animals from one location to another without the use of restraint or drugs.

So, that is a general picture of the types of people who attend Chicken Camps, and gives some idea of the different applications for this type of training.

Tomorrow I will try to sum up the first two weeks as best I can.