Monday, November 7, 2011

Clicker Training Different Species

Here is Kate doing target training
A few weeks ago I attended the APDT conference in San Diego as part of my continuing education and to maintain my certification.  It is important for dog trainers keep up with current trends in dog training and to do continuing education of some form.  Attending conferences is also a good way to meet others in our field.

One of the big highlights of the conference (at least for me) was Terry Ryan's (Legacy Canine) Click-A-Chick workshop.  This 3 hour workshop involved the art and science of clicker training chickens.  You may be asking yourself, "but, you are a dog trainer, why clicker train chickens?"  There are many reasons why this workshop is such a big hit amongst dog trainers:

1)  Chickens have fast, twitchy movements and it hones the hand-eye coordination needed for effective clicker training as well as help you to become very precise with the timing of your click.

2)  Chickens don't wear collars and leashes so it forces you to train an animal using a more "hands-off" approach.  Many people who train dogs fall back on popping the leash and other methods of physically "correcting" the dog.  When you train other species like birds or cats, you quickly learn that physically correcting or prompting an animal is really not necessary to teach a new behavior (see my cat video below).

3)  Chickens will walk or fly away if you do not keep them engaged. So, you have to be on your toes and observant to make sure they are being reinforced for desired behaviors.

4)  Training a different species with different mannerisms and body language from canines can help develop your observational skills.

Me and the chicks hanging out before the workshop
Here is a video clip from the workshop demonstrating target training (similar to what we do in class with our hands as the target) and the learning theory concepts of extinction and extinction bursts (I don't know why I am talking to the chicken, probably a habit from training dogs).  As you watch the video, think about how some of these concepts apply to dog training:

Here is a clip demonstrating the amazing things you can teach chickens to do (this is from a longer chicken training camp/workshop):

This was an extremely fun workshop and it gave me an appreciation for how different it can be to train non-canine (in this case avian) species. The scientific and learning principles are the same but each species is a little different in how fast they move, their motivators, their level of intelligence and perception and how precise you have to be with timing and reinforcements.  Puppies seem to move in slow motion compared to the chickens.

Here is a clip of some of the tricks my cat learned through clicker training.  Like the chicken, there is no leash and everything is hands-off.  She is learning some of the same skills that I teach in the basic class.  More videos to come in the near future:

So if you want to learn more about  the science of animal learning and why these methods are effective, here are a few good resources