Elvis and MePublished March 5, 2008
People often ask me if I train anything other than dogs, then offer up their spouses or children as potential subjects. (And by “spouses” I mean to say “husbands.” I’ve yet to have a husband ask me to train his wife.) Dogs are my mainstay, but years ago I spent a week learning how to train a very unlikely subject: a chicken named Elvis. “Chicken Camp” is a rite of passage for many positive dog trainers. Run by renowned animal trainer Bob Bailey, the camp is a wonderful opportunity for dog trainers to hone their training skills in a most unusual fashion, with a most unusual subject. Why chickens? It turns out they’re smarter than you might realize. (Step away from the KFC.) Chickens are hearty, they learn quickly, and the trainer is rarely tempted to second-guess the chicken’s motives. The chicken isn’t refraining from performing an action because he’s “mad at you” or because he’s “willful.” He’s not doing what you want him to because you, the trainer, are doing something wrong! If you make a mistake during the chicken training process, you’ll know it within a few repetitions. The paramount trick at my chicken camp was to teach the feathered students to peck a ping-pong ball on a string (it was set up kind of like a horizontal tether ball) hard enough so that the ball flipped over the bar. Yikes. Oh, and the chicken had to perform the behavior three times in a row. Difficult? You bet. But my team and I managed to do it. (Yes, I’m wearing Mom jeans, but the photo was taken seven years ago!) I have a yard filled with potential training subjects up at my parents’ house, but so far I’ve only been tempted to try to train them once. As valuable as the chicken camp experience was for me, I think I’ll stick to my furry friends.
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