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Evaluation day! The morning started with some final training sessions. Bob warned us that now was NOT the time to push the bird for more behavior, but rather we should wisely use the training time to achieve specific goals that would maintain the learned behavior(s) and sustain the work performed in the previous days. He had us write down a specific plan for what we intended to achieve in each of the remaining sessions, and then polled us randomly to discuss it.

My plan was simple: maintain the walk on the apparatus with the discrimination behavior on the platform for both chickens; and chain the cone behavior to the descent from the ladder for my first bird. Unfortunately I did not get the “count” – my chick did not learn to stop on her own after three loops around the cones. I suspect I needed many more repetitions for her to learn the pattern.

After lunch (BTW, meals are very good, prepared at a local restaurant), it was time for the closing phases of the class. First, delivery of the certificates of completion of the camp with the mandatory picture together with Bob. I hope I did not close my eyes, as I always do.

Then, evaluation time. Each student demonstrated the behaviors their chickens had learned in front of the whole class. Most chickens did well, performing the chain without hesitation. In a few cases the behaviors crashed, perhaps due to a change in the stimulus picture or maybe poor planning on the part of the trainer? Almost everyone picked discrimination behaviors involving colors, and additional non-discrete behaviors were tossing an object off the platform, pushing a ball into a gully, pulling a rubber band. The prize for the most creative chain goes to Henriette, a dog trainer from Denmark. Her chain consisted of the chicken going into a tunnel, climbing up the ladder, walking across the bar, tossing an object off the platform, walking down the ladder, into another tunnel, and finally pecking the eye of an M&M toy delivering a pellet. I took a video of this and as soon as I figure out how to download it to my computer I will post it.

Our evaluations went well. My chickens performed smoothly. My highpoint was when Bob complimented me on my quiet behavior, remarking how much I had improved since last week. He noticed! Wendy’s first chicken was a riot. She was so slow, it took 3 minutes to complete the whole behavior. She even dropped a little present on the platform and stopped to look at it. People had tears in their eyes from how much they were laughing. Wendy has done wonderfully with this chicken, who at the beginning would not even look at the apparatus. Her second chicken went faster.

All in all, a good day. We ended it by treating ourselves at a nearby Italian restaurant, La Cantina. Today and tomorrow we are relaxing (much needed). Wednesday the third, and last, Camp will start: Teaching. This one promises to be even more intense than the previous two. We will be paired up in groups of two and each one will have to write a very detailed training plan for the other person to teach their chicken a behavior. A lesson in giving and following instructions. A potential war of egos?

We’ll see what happens. It’s only 10 in the morning, but I think I will take a little nap now…

[Note: Just a reminder, the Chicken Camp posts are from Rita!]

The end of a very intense day at Chaining Camp. We are completely exhausted! Aside for the training, Borlange is experiencing an unusual heat wave with tempeatures of 88 F and of course, no air conditioning. It is quite stifling inside the barn and the late afternoon sessions are very trying on everyone, including the chickens. But we continue heroically, since tomorrow is evaluation day.

By now our chickens have learned to walk on the entire apparatus for one reinforcement at the very end. This is the basic requirement of the class, so we are confident we have met the goal. Additionally, we are now working on adding two more behaviors, one performed before getting on the apparatus and one on the apparatus. One has to be a discrimination task (color, shape, etc) and one a non-discrete behavior that exercises our criteria-setting skills.

Wendy and I picked color discrimination for all our chickens. They have to knock off the platform a pin of a given color during their walk. For the extra behavior, I picked going around two cones for my best chicken, and pushing a toy truck into a carport for the second one.

The cone behavior consists of three rounds around the cones a few inches apart at the end of the apparatus walk (after coming down the ladder) and then, the chicken is required to stop by herself. In other words, she has to learn to “count” the loops. This afternoon I chained it to the ladder and the pins, and tomorrow I will have to work a little more on teaching the pattern to the chicken. We are almost there, we’ll see what happens.

Wendy is also doing very well, considering her chickens had a slow start with the apparatus. They both learned to discriminate but still they do not have those transitions on the apparatus down pat. She is working on smoothing them out.

My behavior has changed 100% from last week. I am now a very quiet trainer, no more telegraphing with body movements and even eye contact. Will it last when I go back home and start working with my irresistible parrots who seem to command kisses and cuddles out of me every second of the day? That’s my challenge.

Tomorrow, evaluation day. We will have to demonstrate the behaviors of our chickens in front of the whole class. I feel like I am back in school!

Today was a very good day at Chaining Chicken Camp. Both Wendy and I made a lot of progress with our two chickens walking on the apparatus. My two birds gained in fluency thanks to a high rate of reinforcements, and many, many repetitions. They now walk the whole length – up the ladder, around the pole on the first platform, on the bar, around the pole on the second platform, down the ladder – in one direct shot.

My own behavior has progressed tremendously from last week as well. I have learned to stay absolutely still, and what a difference this has made in my training. My chicken really, and I mean REALLY, looks at me and if I make a movement, even a tiny one, at a crucial turn on the apparatus I end up losing her and getting another behavior in the way, one I do not want. Amazing teachers these white ladies.

But the real hero of the day for me was Wendy. Her chickens yesterday were simply looking at the ladder and staying still – a true dead chicken behavior. We thought they were stuffed chickens. Today they were responding a little more, and by the end of the day Wendy got them to the point where they are both walking the whole apparatus! She is a BRILLIANT trainer with amazing intuition and the ability to always be one step ahead of the animal. And, she is a great coach for me, the best I could ever have, providing honest feedback and catching me being good. I am so proud
of her!

In Lecture, Bob talked about the critical importance of making written plans for our training sessions, with excruciating detail. He defines a behavior as a constellation of responses performed in sequence (no fixed
order) or chained (with fixed order). For example, the final behavior of the chicken walking on the apparatus consists of many responses: climbing the ladder, walking on the platform, walking on the bar, etc. In turn, each response can be seen as an ensemble of elements: a chicken walking on a horizontal bar must lift the foot, move the foot forward, shape the toes appropriately to walk on a narrow bar, touch the bar, shift the weight on the foot, etc. Our job is to break down the final behavior into its responses or even elements and plan how to teach each one.

The sun is setting on Borlange, ending another great day at Chicken Camp. We are ready for bed and tomorrow’s new endeavors. Sweet dreams!

[Note:  The Chicken Camp post are Rita‘s , recounting her and Wendy’s previous day(s) of learning.  Unfortunately, I (JJ) had to stay stateside.  I hope you all are enjoying these pieces!]

Another Wednesday, another Camp. These next 5 days we will be going to work on Chains of Behaviors. The chickens will have to learn to navigate an apparatus consisting of two raised platforms, connected by a horizontal bar, with two ladders at each end. The apparatus was especially designed by Bob and, of course, devilishly so (by his own admission) to make life harder for us.

For example, the rungs on the ladder are shaped such that the chicken can not grip them, and separated more than a normal chicken step. At the top of the ladder, where it connects to the platform, devious Bob has planted a protruding rung that – oh so conveniently – offers a perch for these naturally roosting birds. Trainer watch out for clicks with both feet on that high spot! And of course the bar had to be impossibly narrow, so that our chickens will have to learn to walk like graceful Olympic gymnasts by evaluation time. Grr.

All chickens will have to learn to walk up one ladder, walk across the bar, walk down the ladder. Wait – there’s more. We will have to come up with 2 or 3 additional behaviors to be done one low, one high. One will be a discrimination one, and the other a non-discrete one, one that will truly stretch our criteria-setting skills.

Clearly we’ve got some work to do.

But first, most of today was spent by brushing up on the basic trainer skills: click and feed. Without the chicken. It goes like this: at the beginning, we had multiple sessions of 30 seconds each per person where each of us tried to jam as many cup presentations as possible. Some people got up to 60! A real workout if you ask me.

Then, we moved to the number exercise. We had four pieces of paper with the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 written on them, arranged in front of us such that we had to reach right and left and front. In a 15 second session Bob would call out numbers at a fast rate and we had to present the cup, still empty, to the right number. Incredible how long 15 seconds can be. And how many numbers you miss, especially when Bob cleverly gets you into a pattern: “ 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,2,4” – and you keep hitting that number 2!! But the message is loud and clear: coordination, focus, fast action. Add the
click before presenting the cup and it gets even worse… add food in the cup and watch the pellets flying all over the table.

We also got to know our chickens by simply bringing them to the table and observing how they feed from the cup for a couple of rounds. I got two fast ones, while Wendy has two thinkers. Then we evaluated their behavior having them peck at a simple round target on the table, with clicks and feed, and observing what they do: how the eat, whether they follow the cup, how they peck, etc. Lots to think about. (Bob always starts all the workshops with this, BTW.)

We ended day 1 of Chaining with a homework assignment: make a plan for what we will be doing tomorrow. Remember:

THINK
PLAN
DO

I know, I know… I have not written in awhile. But Wendy and I are so tired when we come back to our hotel room at night, that we barely have any strength left to drag ourselves to the beds and we fall asleep in front of the TV!!!

Chicken Camp (CC) is usually exhausting and this 7-day long CC is particularly so – being the combination of what used to be two separate courses, Cueing and Criteria. (Next year they will be offered separately, BTW.)

Today and tomorrow we have the day off and we plan on doing absolutely nothing. Well, sort off. Wendy has some work to do and I will take the chance to summarize what we did in the last 5 days. Already 5 days. Where did the time go??

Let’s see… On Day 4 we were done with the laser on cue behaviors and we started thinking and planning for the next behaviors. We would have to train our chickies for two separate behaviors, one for each of them:

  1. Going around two red cones at some distance from each other. The final behavior, the one Bob would evaluate the chicken on, would consists of 2 full loops around the cones without reinforcement (and that includes the trainer NOT doing anything – perfectly STILL) with the cones 4 feet apart on the table;
  2. Completing a figure eight around two yellow cones. Again, at evaluation the bird should do two full figure 8 loops around the cones located 4-6 feet apart.

So, how do you train a chicken to go around two red cones? First, you “Ask the animal” (another Bailey-ism). You put the cones on the table next to each other, gently deposit your chicken nearby, and observe what she does. The hen may surprise you by offering the behavior or part of it; as the observant and alert trainer you are, you capture it with a click and feed, and build on successive approximations.

Ah, successive approximations. By this time the chicken knows you so well that she very easily will come toward you, the food dispenser, but what about those steps away from you, and around the cones either way? What usually happens is that the bird will turn around on herself and come back the same way she has walked up. If she moves at all.

And here comes the brilliance of the “click for motion, feed for position” principle, straight out of Behavior Economics Theory as Bob explained during lecture. Suppose you have clicked the bird for walking towards you as soon as she walks past the outer edge of the cone closer to you (paying close attention she is NOT watching you or the cup!); where are you going to feed her? Absolutely NOT in front of you because that area already has a high reinforcing value and it is very likely the bird will come to a halt right there the next time. Instead, you are going to feed ahead of the bird, at the position where ideally you would like her to walk to the next round. What happens is, the chicken rushes to that location to get food and is already positioned for the next walk.

That’s not all. You will encourage the “right” motion forward by bringing back the cup after feeding in a circular arc that follows the path ahead of the chicken. To avoid luring, the movement is swift and fast, and you feed holding the cup high, which also minimizes food spills. To avoid patterns you vary the point of clicking and feeding in a “zone” – specified regions around the cones.

The “zones” truly brought home to me the concept that reinforcement is a process, not an event. It is a fluid ongoing mechanism that has a marked start, with any signal that predicts reinforcement, and ends somewhere somewhat – or maybe not at all.

Being the brilliant trainer and teacher that he is, Bob makes it sound so easy, but in reality it is not. These chickens move so fast it is hard to think and coordinate all the movements at the same time, and set criteria and keep them, or change them in a split second. Being a chicken trainer requires very prompt reflexes, and an ability to change your behavior on the fly.

But we made it. Both Wendy and I graduated one bird each on the red cones with flying colors, and on the last day we were able to get the other chicken to learn the figure 8. That turn around the distant cone was soooo hard to get for me, my hen kept turning the wrong way. With a combination of clicks and feeds in the right zones, and some environmental manipulation (setting up the cones slightly apart), she finally got it but by then her crop was the size of a baseball and she was slowing down. There is no arguing with a chicken who looks at the cup instead of eating from it, so I had to say my goodbyes to the figure 8 evaluation. Sigh.

But changing our behavior we did, and this was the most important lesson, the only lesson Bob wanted us to learn. After all, you can’t take the chickens home, but you take your skills and knowledge with you forever.

One week down, two more to go. Can’t wait to see what the white ladies will have to teach us next.

Has this experience whetted your appetite for Chicken Camp?  Check it out! http://www.house-of-learning.se/chickencampengelsk.htm

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
repetitions.

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
is.

That’s all for now. Happy training!

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!