Archive for July, 2009

Days are going by fast at Chicken Camp. Wendy and I are rapidly learning a
mountain of new information from Bob’s lectures and especially from the
hands-on practice sessions. As Bob often says, those white feathered
ladies are the real teachers!

We were given the task to train our two chickens to peck the white center
of a black disk, initially. Then they were gradually promoted to pecking a
similar, smaller target affixed on a vertical plank. So far so good, and
most of us were able to get good behaviors within a reasonable number of

Then Bob asked us to put the pecking under stimulus control (on cue), the
cue being the red light of a laser pointer. Laser on, peck; laser off, no
peck. Simple, in principle. SO very difficult, in practice, since the
pecking behavior had such a strong history of being reinforced without a cue.

But wait, it gets more interesting. Bob would do a chicken evaluation at
the end, where the bird will be required to peck on cue, and stand still
doing nothing at all – with the light off for a whole 12 seconds. If you
know anything about chickens, you’ll know that things like scratching, for
example, are very, very intrinsically reinforcing to them!

The fact is, chickens move FAST. You have to be very careful to time your
click just right on the peck, and turn on your light at the very precise
moment of the right behavior (cues are reinforcers!) or you’ll end up with
a bird “convinced” she can turn on the laser light with a bob of her head
or worse! Holy crow.

Training is a mechanical skill. I am finding it out the hard way! Between
holding the cup with the clicker and the feed, operating the laser behind
the plank, and thinking, my brain functions are strained to the max.
Thank goodness the sessions are only a few minutes long…

Cueing is turning out to be a lot tougher than we thought but oh, so very
fundamental to training. This is one crucial Camp, and we are already
thinking of taking it again next year. If we can survive this one, that

That’s all for now. Happy training!


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Wendy and I were picked up by Marie Folgequist, our host and owner of House of Learning, and given a ride to the workshop building. There we met the rest of the class, and after formal introductions, the morning lecture started.

Bob started with a review of the principles of Behavior: Reinforcement, Punishment, Extinction, Generalization, and Stimulation. He reminded us what behavior is all about: observing what animals do, and recalled Bailey’s principle #1: If it does not work, change YOUR behavior! Easier said than done, as most of us know well. We also talked about the importance of the environment in affecting behavior, and then he started introducing the topic of cues.

Hearing Bob talk is a rare treat because he knows so much of a time long gone, when behavior science was just peeking out of the laboratories into real life. He is one of the earliest pioneers of positive reinforcement training and knew Skinner personally. His recounts of his personal knowledge of those early days are simply priceless. And so are his teachings.

As is true with most training workshops, Chicken Camp (CC) also has a hands-on part where we get to train chickens. Why chickens? Because, as Bob says, “they are simple, but not stupid”. Chickens move fast and are strongly motivated by food. They provide a true challenge for every teacher of behavior in terms of testing your timing and communication skills.

In CC we are organized in groups of 2. Each person has 2 chickens and we work with one bird at a time. One person is the trainer, the other person is the “coach” in charge of providing feedback to the trainer. Sessions start at 15 seconds each; this seems really short, but you learn very quickly that you can get a lot of behavior in those precious 15 seconds!

Bob is in no hurry of training the birds. We started with practicing our manual skills of clicking and feeding, aiming at packing as many click and feed tries as possible in 15 seconds (the record was 50). Then, out came the chickens.

The first thing we did was to evaluate their behavior with a few sessions of simple click and feed. This helped out in gauging how to feed, how much food to put in the cups, how fast they moved, etc. The first behavior we taught them was to target, peck a white spot in the center of a disk laying on the table. Simple enough, and we all got it pretty fast. Then, we had to teach them to peck at a spot on a disk taped to a vertical panel. Tomorrow our first task will be to put this behavior on cue.

It was an exciting first day, and both Wendy and I are happy but dead tired! As I type she is already asleep. I think I will follow….

Before I close, here’s two Bailey behavior pearls:

* Cues are reinforcers

* Reinforcement is a process, not an event

Good night!

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Hi from Sweden! We (Wendy and Rita) just arrived in the city of Borlinge,
North-West of Stockolm, where we will be training some chickens for the
next 3 weeks. Say what?!? Yes, you read right: chickens, as in Gallus
Domesticus, the bird we all love and cherish in various ways. Did you know
that chickens make excellent companion animals?

Why Borlinge, Sweden? Well, Borlinge hosts the House of Learning where Bob
Bailey teaches his in-famous Chicken Camps I, II, III, and IV. Having
attended Chicken Camp I with Bob last year, we are here to complete our
gallinaceous education and end the summer in full glory.

Stay tuned as we share our learning with Bob and the chickens in future

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AEF Symposium & LLP Wrap-up

It’s all over…

…the 2009 Animal Education Foundation Symposium was outstanding!  I’m so proud of everyone who worked so hard to make the weekend a success.  The speakers were excellent and nicely complimented one another.  The attendees were attentive and their desire to learn was very obvious (and encouraging!).  We are so lucky to have so many friends to help make our first major event so successful – thank you all for your support, even those unable to attend.  Not only was it great seeing familiar faces and strengthening those relationships, it was also encouraging to see so many new faces!  The weekend gave us new projects and new ideas for the future.  We’ll keep you update on those developments as they unfold.

Before I thank those individuals and organizations whose support made the weekend possible, I need to acknowledge Wendy Kiska and her tireless efforts in organizing and coordinating virtually everything before, during, and after the events.  Her dedication and hard work are the reason we were able to successfully and professionally put on the Symposium and Workshop.

Finally, AEF would like to thank all of the supporting individuals and organizations.  Thank you for making these events a success!

Speaker Sponsors ($500+)

Jim & Diane Barry
Santa Barbara Bird Farm (Phoebe & Harry Linden)
Roses Pet Emporium (Margo Rose)
Richard & Kathryne Thorpe

Corporate Sponsors ($125+)

Animal Environments/Bird Cages by Carmen
Fallston Veterinary Clinic

Individual Sponsors

Dr. Meredith Davis, DVM
Don & Ann Fragale
Vanessa Hirsch
Keith Marton & Rebecca Murphy
Kraig & Karen Marton

Product Donations

Richard Thorpe

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Amazing Keas

We’re all swamped with preparing for the Symposium – hard to believe it’s just over two weeks away!  If you haven’t yet made plans to attend and registered, there’s no better time than now – http://www.animaleducationfoundation.org/index.php?page=online-registration!

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a new blog post!  So, here’s a quickie…

I came across this video about a year ago, and I still find it fascinating.  If you are as amazed by these Eintsteins of the avain world as I am, you will love the book Kea Bird of Paradox.

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