Posts Tagged ‘cueing’

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


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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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