Agility – it’s not just for dogs anymore!

Do not be alarmed! This is not an AKC approved breed of dog!

I didn’t want anyone to panic and think there was a new breed of dog with feathers! It’s chicken agility you see, Bailey-Farhoody style! As many of you know, I have spent the past few summers and then some, training with Bob and Parvene at their Operant Conditioning workshops, fondly called Chicken Camps by the attendees. We train chickens to do tasks (scientifically they are called chicken models, as we are using them to model principles of behavior and learning). Bob and Parvene have designed specific tasks for us to train so that we get to practice operant conditioning as we are learning the principles. So very effective to attend lecture on the principles of changing behavior, and then go train the “white ladies”, and let them tell us exactly what they think of our training skills. The weak of heart, or strong of ego should think twice before attending! The ladies will bring you to your knees as they reflect back to you exactly what you have trained!

The last workshop I attended was called Teaching. You cannot attend this workshop until you have completed the other four, Discrimination, Cueing,Criteria and Chaining. Teaching is unique, in this workshop Bob and Parvene assign you a partner, you cannot choose you own. Then when you pick your two birds that are yours, you are not the trainer, your partner is. The point of this workshop is to have you apply the very principles you have learned on the “white ladies” in the past four workshops, to teaching your partner how you want your bird to be trained. How well your bird is trained by your partner is a direct reflection on your teaching skills, exactly the point of the workshop.

So, your trainer (partner) that has your birds, they have to do exactly what you tell them to when training. Even if they would do it differently, they have to be your “hands” as to how you want your bird trained. Then when you have your turn as the trainer, you are training your partner’s bird, and you must do exactly what they say, even if you would do it differently. WOW! That was so hard! The real point of the workshop was for the “teacher” to see how effectively they were breaking down information and relaying it to the trainer, who then was training their bird.

Can you see where things might get hairy? What if you know how to train a certain behavior better than your partner who is training your bird? The bird is on the table and you have told them to reward at a certain place, but their timing is always late or early? Or they cannot get the reward in the right place? Or the misunderstood and rewarded at a different place than you had instructed? Can you see how the frustration with your partner can build? As Bob Bailey would say “Does this have ANYTHING to do with dog training?”.

It has everything to do with dog training and chicken training and people training. As a trainer your student, whether it is a dog, chicken, horse, person or rat, reflect back to you your ability to impart information in a way THAT being can understand. So, if you were training and you realize that your partner was always late with a click, you had to modify YOUR behavior, YOUR instructions to make it doable for that person to train better.

It’s the same with our dogs. When we get frustrated with training, we have to modify what we are doing, what we are teaching and how we are teaching it, so that the animal we are working with can have success. If our dog, student or chicken is frustrating us, then we should look in the mirror and realize that they reflect back to us exactly what we have trained.

This gets us to “chicken agility”!! The task that we had 5 days to train was an agility course for our birds. Our birds had to be set on the table, pass a red cone, do a set of weave poles, enter a curved tunnel, come out, go to an A frame, make the contacts on both ends and then we could reward. Challenging if I was training the bird, now I had to train a person to train my birds for me!!

One of the challenges that Bob and Parvene had was that one of your birds could go through the weave poles and then go right into the nearest tunnel opening and your other bird had to do a cross over, go by the tunnel opening right in front of it, and find the other side, go through that , come out, not go through the weave poles again, but go find that A frame. I have to say, sometimes when Bob is describing our challenge on Wednesday; they make me laugh out loud! I can see the problems so clear, and then I know there are things I haven’t even thought of yet! I love that puzzle of how to get the behavior.

On Sunday, our last day, we had two 20 minute sessions with our own birds to train. That’s it, and then it was show time.

My big learning take away from Teaching was break it down, break it down, break it down for your students! Make sure they have the skills set and physical ability to do what you are asking and if you have a willing student and they are not making progress, it is on you as the teacher to present the information they need in a way they can process and apply it.  There is no difference if that student comes with hair, hide or feathers 🙂

So, thank you Jackie, my most excellent partner! You were an awesome trainer and you were my perfect teacher! Here is the outcome of my teaching workshop.

This is my red entrance bird. She did a nice confident job of the tasks: 

Here is my bird that was to cross over after the weave poles.  She did it, but I held my breath!  Reward that too much, and they stop at the tunnel entrance waiting for the click, reward it not enough, and they skip the cross over and just take the entrance ahead of them.

Not she started through the weaves, and popped out, I must have rewarded that entrance just a little too much, looks like she wanted to do it again!  Just like I would a dog, I abort the trial and start over:


2 Responses to Agility – it’s not just for dogs anymore!

  1. Jan Conradt December 10, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    Thanks for sharing…. I cannot believe that anyone can train a chicken to do
    anything!!! So, this is a very good lesson for me. And I like your description
    of the activity and the detail.

  2. Carol Bowling June 7, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

    I have heard a lot about Bob Bailey’s chicken training and have always wanted to try it. You did a fantastic job explaining what good instructional training is. As a retired school teacher this is hard to take. . .their aren’t enough hours in the day considering the range of students we have in our classrooms. With more time and the right instruction, we could reach so many more.

    The same applies to the students we have in classes for dogs & their owners. Great reading and videos. Thanks!

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