A few years ago I found myself stuck at a border crossing, trying to get from Vancouver to Sequim, a little town in Washington State. For those of you familiar with the Twilight Saga, Sequim is located 16 miles east of Port Angeles....To us dog trainers, it's the home of Terry Ryan.
Why was I heading to Sequim? That's what I was trying to explain to the boarder guard.
Thankfully he found my explanation entertaining, though the irony that I was embarking on a three day Chicken Training Camp over the Easter long weekend was not lost on either of us.
Terry Ryan's Chicken Training Workshops are where curious dog trainers go to test their skills against a creature who really doesn't care how large your ego is. It has nothing to do with credentials, and everything to do with timing, technique, and patience- and a little creative problem solving.
Fellow students had come from as far away as Australia, and Taiwan. As well as dog trainers, there were also primate handlers, and a breeder of a rare species of crane. In previous workshops Terry had frequently hosted teams of deep sea fishermen, and employees from various corporate backgrounds. It seems that Chicken Camps make for great team bonding retreats, which is hardly surprising considering “communication” and “compassion” are highly utilized skills during your stay there.
So what was I doing exactly? Well, to start with we were desensitizing our chickens to being handled, and introducing them to Clicker training. Pairing the sound of the clicker with a piece of corn (a chicken's primary form of currency), trainers were quickly able to shape intricate behaviours, marking and reward all the correct steps along the way to the end goal.
Within a short period of time we were able to get our chickens to colour discriminate between different coloured disks, dance around plastic cones, run through tunnels, and manoeuvre through weave poles...behaviours the border guard found almost unbelievable when I tried to describe them.
At the end of three fabulous days I was exhausted. Our chickens were little Rock Stars, who totally outshone us, and I left with a real appreciation for what's possible when your subject is motivated by food. Saying that, I didn't leave Sequim hungry either. I had way more eggs that weekend than I knew what to do with, one of which was laid directly into my hand mid training session – it was Easter after all.