Chicken camp helps Stellarton dog trainer hone skills
Chicken camp helps animal trainers develop observation skills, says Alex Keir
A Nova Scotia dog trainer recently spent two weeks honing her skills as a trainer — not with her furry, four-legged friends, but with a couple of two-legged, feathered fill-ins.
Alex Keir, who co-owns Good Dog Works! in Stellerton and is a certified pet dog trainer, travelled to the United States earlier this month for chicken camp to train under renowned animal trainer Bob Bailey.
The camp took place at a dog training school in Columbia, Md., where participants worked with a breed called white leghorn chickens.
Keir said training sessions were based on things chickens can naturally do.
"You can train them to pull a rubber band and back up down a table, which would be like a worm," she said.
"We trained them to do some match to sample. So you show them a green light and they peck the green target. You show a red light and they peck the red target. You show the blue light and they peck the blue target. And if you don't show any light they wait until you show a light."
Keir also trained her two chickens, Circa and Henrietta, to go around a cone and do a chicken dance.
Chicken camp helps animal trainers change their behaviour to improve their skills, she said.
"It's really about honing your observation skills so you can really see what the animal is about to do, because if you wait until the animal's doing it you're going to be late," said Keir, who adds that chickens move faster than the fastest dogs.
While there may not be bunkmates at chicken camp, participants do partner up. Keir's partner was a zookeeper from Australia who works with Tasmanian devils.
"We spent a lot of time laughing and alternating crying because you know, you finally trained your chicken to peck at the table cloth, it's doing its little circle dance and it's scratching looking for food instead of doing its beautiful figure eight around the cone," she said.
Keir said the biggest challenge was being humble enough to change her own behaviour.
"Learning to watch that chicken and anticipate what it's about to do before it does it is really hard," she said.
But hard work, even with chickens, pays off. Keir said she's already noticed a difference in the training she does with dogs since practising with poultry.
"It's so fascinating," she said.
"I noticed right away that my timing, I am so much faster and my food delivery is so much faster."