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This is a guest article by Peta Clarke. It also appeared at Dog Lovers Digest on March 31, 2010.

I’ve always been a person who needs time on their own. As an only child, I spent a lot of my formative years in imaginary worlds with imaginary friends pondering the meaning of the universe and setting lofty goals that any eight year old would be proud of. At thirty eight I still need time to myself for pondering life, but also know the importance of spending time with those people I have come to call friends. Not a word that I toss around carelessly, those humans who I have chosen to knight with this label are few and far between and share the honor with several other beings of the feathered and furred variety.

Good relationships are the foundation of a happy life. Those of us who consider our dogs friends and even family know the immense value that comes from just having them around. Coming home to bright eyes and waggling bodies can make even the toughest of days brighter through no other reason that the way they make us feel when in their presence. All those years of domestication give us an animal that has a longer socialization period than its forbearers and who will form strong bonds with humans with very little exposure. Dogs basically come programmed to adore us, seeing us as virtual superheroes with very little effort on our part. And is that not what being a friend is about? Making us feel loved and worthy of that love no matter what.

As a trainer of exotic animals, my job is about good relationships. Without a solid base of trust or need the animals I work with would flee from me or attempt to kill me. I don’t have the luxury of domestication with an eagle or a seal. I have to work every day at building and maintaining their desire to have me in their space and interact with me. Zoo trainers often refer to this as ‘rapport building’. Before we do anything in the name of training behaviors, we have to establish a relationship of trust. What zoo folk call ‘rapport building’, scientists call ‘desensitization’ and ‘counter conditioning’. What we call ‘trust’ they call a ‘conditioned emotional response.’ But whatever you call it, it is vital that the animal have a positive association to you. How your seal, chicken, wombat, dog or human feels about you is important.

Rapport building is very much a gradual thing, being built up, just like the trust and love you have for a good friend, over time and through experience. They are not things that are given, they are things that are earned. Even when the animal is one that was born in captivity and has been around people all its life, we still go through rapport building with each and every trainer that will work with that particular animal to ensure each relationship is good. While there are a number of ways we will go about getting the animal to accept us, initially food is our number one tool. An important factor at this stage is making the availability of a favorite food dependent on us. There has to be a clear contingency – the presence of the trainer has to come to predict the opportunity for food for the animal to begin feeling different about us being around. This way we can speed up the association because the animal learns that the only time it will have access to good stuff is in the presence of a human. Approximations are also used and are important to remember. Meeting the animal with the level of interaction it feels comfortable with is imperative. The last thing we want to do is reinforce behaviors associated with arousal and anxiety and have these as the predominant emotions that are evoked when working with the animal. We may, for instance, start by throwing half a mouse under the door to a new eagle and standing back to the side so that the animal can sense that we are there, but can’t see us. Gradually we will work up to being in with the bird and asking the bird to move towards us for the food. Negative reinforcement is often the big player for us at this stage. What does the animal want? Us GONE! No worries, just sit there calmly and we will leave…

Trust occurs not only through associating ourselves with what the animal wants most in the world, but also through us taking care not to place the animal in a situation or context that may make them feel anxious. This is vitally important and a factor that, when missed, becomes very obvious over time. I’ve worked with seals that were so aroused by the prospect of getting a mullet or a herring that they could not stay on their station on stage. A ‘station’ can be anything that the animal can fit its whole body onto. Such as a big fake rock for a seal, or a matchbox for a budgerigar. In dog speak you can think of your dog’s ‘station’ as his mat or bed. In the case of our seal, because reinforcement for being on the station (the behavior we want) had been delivered when the seal was exhibiting behaviors that were occurring due to his anxiety level (whale eye, quick short, sharp breaths, erratic body movement) these behaviors grow, as we would expect, due to the laws of learning. Obviously these behaviors are counterproductive in the long run to the behavior we are trying to train, which is simply to stay on a station.

But there is a more evil demon lurking in the shadows. Through the process of classical conditioning, any strong emotions that regularly occur are associated with all the stimuli that are consistently present in the environment when they occur. The Conditioned Emotional Response is an important aspect of early training to be aware of. You want, no you need, your animal to be calm and confident in training sessions. Why? Well how well do you learn when you are stressed or nervous? And when it comes to working in with some animals, well, let’s just realise that the most consistent stimuli in a training session is the trainer. You do not want your 300kg (660 pound) seal feeling anxious every time you are around. It could literally be the death of you. All good trainers, whether they have a seal, dog or child in front of them understand that body language gives us a window into the animal’s emotional state, which has a big part to play in the resulting behavior that we see. By ensuring that the body language you are seeing is telling you your animal is calm and confident, you set your animal up for success and you set yourself up in some situations, to live another day.

One way to really establish a feeling of confidence in your animal is to give the animal as much power over their environment as is possible. Having the power to choose how you interact with your environment is imperative for any animal’s well being. No one likes to be forced. When you work with wild animals that come into care for various reasons, you more often than not start working with an animal that has had all the control it once had in the wild stripped from it in the name of saving its life. A seal, for instance, that has come in due to a shark attack has come from the freedom of the ocean to the confines of a small pool. Every effort it makes to get away from its human caregivers is met in defeat. Whether it chooses to flee or aggress, it fails to escape. The effects of Learned Helplessness on animals and humans are well documented in the work of Martin E. P. Seligman and well worth researching.

We can make use of this information in our training. By allowing our animals the chance, when safe, to even slightly increase the distance between it and the thing that makes it nervous, we can use negative reinforcement not only to strengthen the behavior that we want, but also greatly increase their trust in the situation and in you. You gotta love that side effect.

The amount of force that many of us use in our training has reduced a great deal over the past decade or so. And it can sometimes appear in disguise. When you use a well established behavior to prevent another undesired behavior, it could be said we are using constraint. By asking the animal to perform a behavior we know it has a high likelihood of performing, even in uncomfortable circumstances, we in essence force the animal to do what we want. Even though you can’t put a lead around the neck of a seal for instance, if the animal has a strong targeting behavior; where the animal has been trained to glue its nose to your fist when presented in a specific way, you can ask for a target to prevent the animal from fleeing. Depending on the strength of the behavior, this can literally force a well trained animal to stay put when every fiber in its body is telling it to run. You do this at your peril though, because the next time you ask the animal to trust you, you may just find you are ten steps behind where you once were. While this can be a useful method for helping animals get over a fear of something, never forget that the body language the animal is giving you tells you what it is feeling.

Let the animal run back to the safety of its pool or fly back to its aviary and you just might find that the animal’s confidence in the situation and their trust in you will grow quickly. “Hmm, don’t really like that thing, but when it’s around I get treats and heck! I can always get away if I need to….” This really is an interesting point, because in many ways it seems to fly in the face of operant conditioning – aren’t we reinforcing running away by allowing the animal to escape the scary situation? If used poorly, a trainer will definitely see a pattern of escape developing, for sure. One of the most important aspects of using escape as a reinforcer is the trainer having control over the behavior through the establishment of a cue for the ‘escape’. That way we can reinforce staying calmly by giving the animal the cue to escape. This places us and our animals in a win/win situation. The trainer must establish the cue for escape and use it as a conditioned reinforcer when they see confident behavior in the direction of the goal. I have actively reinforced the escape behavior positively with food, especially in a situation where the animal has had a history of being forced to stay in a context that makes his eyes pop out of his head and been punished for running off. This is quite common with dogs that have been worked through more traditional methods, where the thought is sometimes “show him you’re the boss and you aren’t worried about it, so neither should he!” With animals that have a strong station behavior, placing the station at a greater distance away from the scary thing and cuing them to go there as a negative reinforcer for calm behavior will formalize the behavior of escape. Stationing is a great basic behavior for every dog and like all targeting behaviors, hugely useful in a variety of setting.

All too often, both in the dog world and the exotics world, trainers forget that what is the most valuable reinforcer at any moment changes and the animal – through their body language, especially what they are orientated to – will tell you what it is they want. Watch your animals and where possible, give them what they ‘ask’ for when they give you desired behavior. This surely is the Mecca of reinforcement training.
I remember working with a bull elephant once who was being crate trained for an upcoming move. Everything in the name of positive reinforcement had been done, carrots, apples, banana muffins– you name it, but still the elephant was obviously very nervous of the crate. He would walk in only so far, reach that long grey trunk the rest of the distance so most of his huge body could remain close to the door for a speedy back out get away once he had grabbed as much good stuff as possible. Once out he would eat and come back for another go. Hmm.

We were getting nowhere until we decided the thing he wanted most in the world was not carrot or apple, but escape. How to give him that? Wasn’t he getting it already? Sure, but the behavior we saw just prior to him backing out and escaping was full of anxiety – wide eyes, flapping ears, quick, jerky movements. This was the set of behaviors that were being reinforced. He already knew a cue for the behavior of backing up (a handy one to have on elephants) so the next time he came in we cued him to back up when he only had one foot in the crate. His eyes became wide, but this time with not with fear but surprise! In under two weeks, using a combination of negative (escape) and positive reinforcement, we had him calmly waiting in the crate for his next banana muffin. In fact, we had trouble getting him out of the crate for a while! Often you quickly see the animal will begin to not respond to the cue to escape and choose to stay in the situation that had them so scared not that long ago. I reinforce that choice grandly! It is telling me that the animal is becoming more comfortable and understanding that it has a choice in the matter.

An important aspect of giving the animal choice in this way is always being careful to keep the animal below threshold, as with our elephant. This places them in a place where they can more readily make the choice you want (to stay with you) and prevents any negative emotion and behavior (such as aggression) becoming associated with the situation. Remember, you get what you reinforce. If you are in a situation where you are working with a dog that’s a little nervous of something, say a trash can, you need to watch the body language and cue him to escape when he is still showing signs he is ok. If you wait for him to be whale eyed and lip licking before you cue him to move away, these behaviors (and the emotions that prompted them – think elephant!) will grow through the law of reinforcement. Yikes! Just what we don’t want. Not to mention what it does to your relationship!

None of us should be surprised by the confidence an animal gains from not being forced into a situation that makes them feel threatened. As always, when we think of situations where we have felt nervous, for whatever reason, we know how grateful we were when some kind soul understood and respected our need. Whether that need was ‘silly’ as in getting the heck away from an innocent creepy crawly or more sensible in a serious situation, people who show us empathy and care are always people we feel we can trust. It’s the same it seems, whether you are a man or a mouse.

Peta Clarke is a Nationally Accredited Trainer with almost fifteen years experience working as a professional animal trainer in a variety of areas both in Australia and America. While Peta’s first love is working with dogs, her experiences in the field of animal training range from elephants to goldfish. As a trainer and presenter of animal shows in zoos on several continents, she has had the opportunity to work with many exotic animals, but centres her work in this area on working with free flighted birds and marine mammals. Whether it is a seal or a seagull, Peta has found that every interaction taught her more about being good dog trainer. She believes it was a real turning point in her understanding of the power of reinforcement training. “I thought I was using positive reinforcement well when I would work with dogs, but after I started training birds – animals that can just fly away if they are not interested in your ‘game’ and later seals – animals that could kill you if you didn’t have their total trust, I realized that if I wanted to truly be the best trainer I could be, it was time to pull my socks up”.


As well as a career as an exotic animal trainer, Peta also works extensively for Animal House Animal Talent Agency based in Sydney, Australia, training and working animals for the International Film Industry. Her credits include “Babe”, “Superman Returns”, “Wolverine” and many other local films and literally hundreds of television commercials. Some of her favorite memories working animals on set have come from working the cottonelle Labrador puppies for ad campaigns from around the world. Hard work, she says, but always amazing how quickly an 8-week-old puppy can learn!


In addition to these two roles, Peta also runs her own animal training and consultancy business, Animal Training Solutions, based out of Australia. Peta spends time consulting on both pet dog and parrot behaviour and training issues, advising wildlife parks and zoos on improved training practices and show development. She also is a sought after speaker in Australia, regularly teaching Certificate level animal training and behaviour courses for aspiring animal trainers and an invited lecturer for many dog obedience clubs and related assoications. She has also served as Vice President for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia for 3 years.


She shares her home with Harris and Pearl, her two boxer dogs and Jacob Brown, a Long Billed Corella.

I recently learned of the Dog Welfare Campaign. It’s a multi-organizational and international effort to educate the public about dog behavior and the problems of using aversives in dog training.

Xanja

I discovered this campaign after reading through a number of statements from professional veterinary associations on the topics of the use of punishment, particularly the use of punishment by a very well known TV celebrity.

Within the last year, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior issued a position statement on the use of punishment and the American College of Veterinary Behavior issued a position statement concerning the training methods employed by the TV personality Cesar Millan.  The ACVB stance is based on the aversive training techniques commonly found in the way that he addresses behavior problems in dogs.  While they did not mention him by name, the association was made when the ACVB made their statement regarding the partnership between the manufacturer of Frontline and Heartgard pet products with Millan.

In mid-December, the British Veterinary Association and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association issued a news release. This time they specifically mentioned Cesar Millan.  The release announced that these two UK associations were teaming up with welfare organizations, behaviorists and trainers “to warn of the possible dangers of using techniques for training dogs that can cause pain and fear, such as some of those seen used by Cesar Millan ‘The Dog Whisperer.’” To this end, they have put together the Dog Welfare Campaign. And while the site speaks specifically to dogs, the principles are the same for all animals.

The detrimental side-effects of the use of aversive training have been well documented for decades. As seen from above, the veterinary field is becoming increasingly involved and recommending that caregivers use positive reinforcement for behavior modification. Further, they urge individuals to know who it is you are going to for any type of training or behavior issue. Anyone can call themselves a behavior expert; it is up to you to know the individual’s qualifications and methods. Unfortunately, a well-credentialed trainer may still use heavy-handed, aversive training techniques.

Worse, a celebrity trainer can get away with this example of flooding and learned helplessness on a cable network channel. In the first few seconds, he tightens his hold on the leash and then he kicks the dog! This is then followed by the dog biting him. He then continues to lead and choke the dog to the point that he can grab the dog’s neck and force it to the ground. The dog has gasped for breath a few times, and is clearly out of breath and “fight” by the time he has pinned it.

Fionn

So how is it that these trainers are still out there, with some obtaining celebrity status? Some of it is certainly that there is a general lack of understanding; education is certainly part of it. But it is easy to find yourself caught up in the way they are explaining what they are doing. Language is powerful and by using the “right” words, aversive training can be made to sound not so bad at all. A few months ago, Cesar Millan did an online Q&A with the Washington Post.  I kept the transcript of that discussion, knowing that it could provide good material to discuss. Nothing in the online chat reached the level of severity seen in that video, but the use of aversives is still present.

Let’s examine one question and answer

Ellicott City, Md.: Hello, Cesar! I watch your show all the time, and I adore daddy and Junior! I have an 8-year-old Maltese/Bichon mix who will only obey commands for treats. She’s very smart, but also very obstinate. How do I wean her off the treats, and get her to obey just because I give a command?

Cesar Millan: This is a classical case where the dog outsmarts the human. To reconnect with common sense, we are going to do the exercise with a leash and we are not going to say a word. We are just going to use body language. So if we move our hand up we want our dog to sit down. If the dog doesn’t sit down then we are going to help him by gently and firmly pushing his rear to the ground. What this is doing to the dog is to make him curious about this unusual way of being from you which is no sound or scent involved — just a silent energy and body language. What this does for you as a human is it encourages you to use natural resources. You become the food. You become the treat. Keep sessions short but you must follow through.

The best place to start here is probably by doing a functional analysis. The behavior we’re looking at is the dog sits down. The antecedent is pushing his rear to the ground. And the consequence is the hand is removed from the dog’s rear.

Background: Dog doesn’t sit when hand is raised.

A: Push dog’s rear to ground

B: Dog sits down

C: Hand removed from dog’s rear

Probable future behavior: Dog is likely to sit down more often.

This is a fairly clear example of negative reinforcement. The behavior of sitting is likely to increase or maintain (reinforcement) to remove (negative) the pushing hand.

Now, let’s look at this from the human’s point of view.

A: Dog doesn’t sit down

B: Push dog’s rear

C: Dog sits down

PFB: Human is likely to push dog’s rear more often.

This time, the human is experiencing positive reinforcement. The behavior of pushing the rear likely increases (reinforcement) to have a sitting dog (positive). Notice that human is being reinforced for applying the aversive!

Now look at his answer again. The dog is not “curious about this unusual way of being with you…” The dog’s behavior is clearly a response to a physical push on its rear, not a “silent energy and body language.” And while it is true that the human has become the reinforcer via pushing, he is not a positive reinforcer like food or a treat. Your action is negative and something the dog is trying to avoid by sitting. Without the rosy language we can reword the answer to say,

If the dog doesn’t sit down then we are going to force him by pushing his rear to the ground. What this is doing to the dog is to give him no choice of removing this uncomfortable pressure on his rear, except to sit down. What this does for you as a human is it encourages you to use force more often to make your dog do what you want.

That doesn’t sound nearly so pleasant, and wouldn’t sell many books, ads, and TV time.  However, that is what I see as a far more fair representation of what is going on.

Maddi

We’ll analyze other responses in a future post. These include the fallacy of dominance, constructs, and mind reading dogs.

There are a number of resources for more information on the problems with Cesar Millan and alternatives to his methods. The first two links below are an excellent place to start.

http://www.dogwelfarecampaign.org/

http://beyondcesarmillan.weebly.com/index.html

http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/images/stories/Position_Statements/Combined_Punishment_Statements.pdf

http://dacvb.org/fileadmin/documents/ACVB_Statement_6-16-09.pdf

http://www.bva.co.uk/1675.aspx

http://c1.libsyn.com/media/729/05198_11_Working-with-a-W_006.m4v?nvb=20091124215507&nva=20091125220507&t=02a4036c82636f83d27e2

[Note: This post was edited to avoid the potential confusion of the term punishment. For the purpose of studying behavior, punishment only serves to decrease a behavior. There is no value judgment associated with the use of the word punishment. However, there is a lot of negative association with the everyday use of the word. So, we felt it best to remove punishment and replace it with aversive stimuli. And, after all, we want to remove the use of all aversive stimuli in our daily interactions! Thanks to Sid Price for pointing out this potential source of confusion.]

From everyone at AEF, we want to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

We resolve for 2010 to provide more education for you and the animals that you care for.  We will do this in various ways including seminars, workshops, this blog, newsletters, and consultations. If you have ideas or suggestion for other ways that we can help you, please let us know, we’d love to hear them! Just send us an email – animaleducation@gmail.com.

We also have a new year’s challenge for you! We all try to use positive reinforcement with our animals and avoid using aversive stimuli, but how aware are you of the times when you do use a small amount of aversives? We all do it, often several times during the day.  We just are not paying attention to it. And, to make it more difficult to identify, our animals tend to be such good behave-ors, changing their behavior as a function of consequences, that it is even harder for us to notice what we’ve just done. So, the challenge is to “open your eyes” to those times you are using negative reinforcement or positive punishment. It might be that you block movement up your arm with your hand, slowly close a door on a bird “trying to escape” its cage, or shoo the dog away with your foot. Part of this challenge is that you need to note it – mentally, audibly, or, best of all, write it down. Many of us work so hard on addressing big behaviors without the use of aversives that we miss the small things. Once you become aware of your use of these aversives, you can develop more positive, less intrusive behavior-change strategies to have an even better relationship with the animals in your lives! Help others by sharing your findings and leaving a comment.

[Note: Rita's back for the last day!]

Today is the last day of Chicken Camp. We had our last training sessions in the morning, when we trained our partner’s chickens, and then one final one in the afternoon right after lunch when we finally got to train our own for 20 minutes. Then, evaluation time.

Bob circled around the tables with everybody in tow to see the show. Each one of us got to demonstrate what our birds where capable of. This time it was the chicken “owner” who was going to reinforce the bird. A few of us had some very good behaviors, with the chickens performing the whole obstacle course for only one reinforcement at the end. Other birds needed a few clicks and feed here and there, but overall, everyone did a good job. And, everybody was still talking to their partner. Even Bob complimented us on being one of the best classes for pulling through the week with humor and light spirits.

My first chicken, my best chicken, missed the tunnel. And to think that was the behavior she knew the best. Down the poles she went, weaving beautifully, and then, instead of marching into the tunnel, left she turned straight onto the A-frame. Grrr. Oh well, out of sheer exhaustion after 5 intense days, I took it.

My second chicken did comparatively better. While I had to reinforce her a lot through the poles, she managed to do the entire obstacle and hit the finish line with her head high (so to speak; she is a pecker). This little bird has been my best teacher this week. She started out on Thursday by offering behavior at a slower rate than the first one. By Saturday, she was not moving – it was like having a frozen chicken on the table. What happened?

What happened was that I had taught her to be even slower.

I thought a lot last night about this little bird, where my mistakes had been with her, and then it hit me: labels. Since the beginning she had been my “slow” bird. She is slow, she needs a lot of help to get her going. She is not getting it, so present the cup a lot to get her moving. This way of thinking about her got me to lower my expectations and I started asking less and less of her, to a point where I stunted her learning. She became incapable of offering behavior because I stopped asking her to.

It fills me with sadness to think that I failed her. I think of all the animals in captivity, and all the humans, whose growing potential is similarly stunted just because of a careless label – “He is dumb”, “She’ll never get it”. But I am also filled with gratitude for this little chicken for the huge lesson she taught me this week. I can’t take the chicken home, but I will take her teachings with me.

So, the end. Tomorrow we fly back to the US. Time went fast in Borlange.
And to quote Bob:

“Are we better off today than we were 3 weeks ago?”

YES!!!!!!

[Note: Rita took a break today.  So, Wendy wrote about her day at Chicken Camp!]

Today was our last full day to teach our partners to train our birds. In the morning, my partner and I were still struggling to get the tunnel behavior. I had one chicken who was terrified of the tunnel, so much so that it would walk backward and slide around the table. My other chicken and my partner’s two chickens were also frightened with the tunnel, and so we spent roughly 20 minutes with each bird this morning to continue our desensitization and counter-conditioning program. The idea was simply to feed the animal as much as possible near the tunnel to address the respondent fear behavior while also training the operant behavior of walking through the tunnel for reinforcement.

We progressed to the point where my chickens would walk through the fully extended tunnel, and my partner’s chickens would walk through a half-shortened tunnel. We strengthened the behavior on my chickens by introducing the next component in the chain, the A-Frame. While the tunnel behavior was not 80-90% fluent and we normally would not put the behavior into a chain at this point, we decided to see what would happen if we introduced the A-Frame. The thought was that since the entrance to the A-Frame was near the tunnel’s exit that the chicken would receive immediate reinforcement (that is, the opportunity to perform the next behavior) as it came out of the tunnel. It worked magnificently and really strengthened the tunnel behavior. During the lunch break, I convinced my partner to try this design with his birds, the ones I was training. As it would turn out in the first session after the lunch break, we were able to get the tunnel and A-Frame behavior for his birds as well. (Note: This design will not work 100% of the time, but sometimes it’s worth at least giving it a try.) We were really happy with each other, our communication, and our chickens.

While desensitizing the tunnel over two and a half days, we also maintained the behavior, so we were eager to see what would happen when we introduced that first part of the chain. While maintaining a high level of reinforcement through the weave poles (a segment we worked little on during the morning), we got the chain for all of the birds. We then started to fade out and vary the number of reinforcements, and the chain still maintained. We even have one bird each that crosses over into the tunnel, although Bob gave us permission to train the birds to go straight into the tunnel if that’s what they offered — since we had spent so much time to desensitize the tunnel.

Bob and Marie were really surprised that all of our chickens were initially frightened (and one, terrified) of the tunnel. Bob would come by and observe our sessions and comment that the training looked good and that we were doing what we needed to do — that positive feedback was really appreciated. Typically, the chickens are nervous at first but the chickens soon realize that it’s a very easy behavior to get reinforcement. As frustrating as it might be sometimes to desensitize an animal to something, you learn a lot by going through the process. I had a similar experience last week in the chaining workshop, and I am so grateful to have had these opportunities to improve my skills as a trainer.

The best part of the day though was when my partner thanked me for a good day before we left for the evening. We had such great communication throughout the day, helped each other implement the plans, discussed what behaviors we saw, and made changes as necessary. We focused on positive feedback by pointing out the things we were doing right while executing the plan of the other. Instead of noting the obvious mistakes (late clicks, missed opportunities, etc.), we knew the other was aware of such and viewed those mistakes as learning opportunities.

We have two or three training sessions tomorrow morning to strengthen the chained behaviors. After lunch, we will get our chickens back (the ones our partners trained via our instructions) and spend one session training them. Our goal is simply to maintain the behaviors since our training has been a team effort from the beginning. Then, we will watch each trainer demonstrate the behavior of his/her chickens during the evaluation. I’m not concerned about the evaluation, as I’ve achieved my own goals this week — changing my behavior in response to the animal, and improving my skills as both a trainer and a teacher.

For more information about Chicken Camp, visit http://www.house-of-learning.se.

A short recap of the last two days’ activity. We have been training, training, training. Oh yes, training our partner’s chicken and through our partner, of course. It has been an interesting journey. For the most part, people are getting along fine and most are still talking to each other and acting friendly.

But today (Friday) the first signs of tension started to come. This is the day the pressure came on, since we MUST have got the 3 behaviors – A-frame, tunnel, and pole weaving – for both chickens. Tomorrow (Saturday) we will need to assemble the pieces together and rehearse for Sunday’s demos. So we are all starting to feel, uhm, pressured to get results.

I saw a few people snapping at each other. A small drama going on between two, with one self-proclaimed frustrated by noon and shedding a tear or two by mid afternoon. Hopefully things got sorted out by evening as I saw the two parties immersed in a long conversation with each other. The human behavior going on in this workshop is certainly very interesting.

I got my first bird going on the poles, she does it at least once for only one reinforcement at the very end. I am also close to chaining the A frame and tunnel, and by tomorrow I should have all the pieces together. The second chicken… I don’t want to talk about it :-)

That’s it. I need to go now. We have the social dinner now, with a traditional Swedish spread of foods – the locals call it a Smorgasbord. Bon appetit! Or rather, Smaklig maltid!

Today we started our third and last workshop: Teaching. This class is all about teaching other people how to train your chicken to do a chain of behaviors. The goals, as Bob explained, are to

  1. 1) learn to communicate in a clear, effective way; and
  2. 2) learn to follow instructions.

It will be a good lesson for all of us.

The procedure is as follows. As usual, we are in groups of two. Each of us is a trainer and a coach: we train the other person’s chickens following their instructions, which are prepared by them (the coach) the night before and written with great detail. Things like when and where to click and feed, what to look for to feed, down to the smallest elements of the response, need to be worked out for the trainer to be able to train with precision. So each day we have homework.

The chain of behaviors is: start at one end of the table, pass a cone (WITHOUT going around it in a loop – devious Bob!), weave through a set of poles, going into a tunnel, coming out a tunnel (shaped as an arc at the other end of the table), walking up and down an A frame, ending at the start. Again, later I will see if I can post a picture of the diabolical
machinery.

Today we went through the usual preliminaries – refreshing our cup presenting and clicker pressing skills, choosing the chickens, evaluating their feeding response, and how they reacted to the clicker. Then it was time to “Ask the animal”. We put our chicken down on the table to see what she got. In my case… nothing. They tried to go around the cone, so off the table went the cone. They looked at the poles like Uh?, skipped the tunnel completely, and took their sweet time to even put one foot on the A-frame.  My partner, Louise, did not score much better either.

Clearly I’ve got a lot work to do. Or rather, THINK, PLAN, and DO.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me  to start writing my plan for tomorrow. I think I’ll start with the A frame. This looks simple enough to give my partner and I an opportunity to get acquainted with each other, and gain some confidence. I also want to start making some deposits in Louise’s trust account by reinforcing her for what she does well. My goal is to get to the end of the class with a well-trained chicken AND a partner who’s still talking to me. Isn’t this the main purpose of this workshop?

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