Training Chickens! Follow These Simple Steps...

April 14, 2016

Chickens are perceptive and intelligent animals. Perfect. That makes training them a snap. It really is that easy. Forget about the days and $$$ you spent trying to get Fido to do…well, pretty much anything. Chickens are built to learn. AND, they are built to learn from humans.  So, training your chickens to use the Chicken Swing has nothing to do with using the Chicken Swing. Stay tuned. 

Chickens are perceptive and intelligent animals. Perfect.

That makes training them a snap.It really is that easy.



 The Problem With Dogs


Dogs are domesticated pack animals that live under strict hierarchies. They have also been neotenized (many breeds do not fully mature mentally), and selectively bred to do very specific things (herd, track, guard). All of these hardwired behaviors inhibits their ability to learn. This is why we have to jump through hoops to try to get through to them (usually succumbing to hiring a dog trainer), and training dogs takes a long time. 


Trying to get your border collie to hang out with you and stop chasing the cat is going to be a challenge, because they have been selectively bred to chase.  Teaching your husky to not attack your chickens is an even bigger challenge. Training dogs is based on obedience and repetition. They also tend to revert to instinctual behaviors rather quickly (think feral packs). And that’s why you are told to NEVER trust Fido around the chickens when you aren’t watching.

Dogs are sound and smell animals. Their world is very alien to ours. As predators, they

have a hard time relating to the nuanced social and “verbal/visual” world of humans. 



Why do we have leash laws? Because many dogs will just take off.  Unless you specifically train a dog, most will bug off on some wild sniff chase never to be seen again. No one ever said, “when the dogs come home to roost.” Fido ain’t comin’ home!


Dogs are sound and smell animals. Their world is very alien to ours. As predators, they have a hard time relating to the nuanced social and “verbal/visual” world of humans. 


And this leads us to…


Training Chickens is a Snap


Chickens are social prey animals. They are visual/verbal animals and they are omnivorous hunter/gatherers. Hmmmm…sounds familiar doesn’t it. Chickens live in our world. They communicate through body language and speech. They do not use smell very much, and they interact with their surroundings through sight.  As prey animals they are instinctively geared to looking out for each other — we call this empathy.  The only animal physically and intellectually able to learn English was a bird. In behavior circles birds are known as the feathered primates. Their brain power equals that of monkeys, apes and dolphins.


Chickens live in complex social set-ups that are flexible, nuanced and based on reciprocal maneuvering.  Chickens learn through understanding, not obedience. This is a key factor, because they UNDERSTAND what they learn. Birds can comprehend high-level abstract concepts. A chicken views you as a “colleague,” not a boss. Chickens want you to be a part of their flock. 

Chickens learn through understanding, not obedience. This is

a key factor, because they UNDERSTAND what they learn.



Working With the Birdbrain and The Chicken Swing


Your chicken swing has arrived! You are so excited. You unpackage it, and wow – super cool, the chickens are going to go crazy over this! 


The minute you walk into the coop with this fun toy you are greeted by astonished faces, rapidly tilting heads, popping eyes and then —AAAAH!  


Chickens: “What the HECK is that!!!!????”


Chickens are prey animals. New things are scary until proven innocent. Chickens have not been bred for neoteny – their brains fully mature. They still retain much of their natural thinking (dogs are no longer wolves, but chickens are still Gallus Gallus, the wild jungle fowl).  And that takes us to… 


Step One: “OK, show me how this thing is “fun”


Habituation and desensitization. Prey animals need to turn their fear off in order to turn on their curiosity. You do this through habituation first and desensitization second. With chickens, you may not even need desensitization as they are pretty darn curious (they find food through curiosity).


    1. Set the swing in their run or coop. Just lay it down. Leave it there. 

    2. By day two most birds will be ignoring it! Yay! You just completed the habituation phase.         Don’t rush this. Wait until the birds don’t care about the swing.


Step Two: “What do we do with this contraption?”


    1. Begin handling the swing, move it around. Set it down in different places. This is upping         the stimulus – desensitization. Go to the next step when the chickens couldn’t care less         about the swing.

    2. Show the birds the swing. See what they think about it. What you want is bland curiosity         or disinterest. “Why is that human showing us a pile of rope and plastic?” 

    3. NOW you can hang the swing in its spot of glory.  The height you set the swing depends           on the breeds you keep.  Hamburgs, Leghorns and English Games will want it up high.           Your Silkies, Cochins and Brahmas will need a ladder – set theirs’ lower. 

    4. Wait a few days. The chickens may actually start fooling around with it. Chicken brains           seek out stimulation. They need stuff to do and new places or objects to check out.        

        Perching on things ain’t their first rodeo. Don’t teach your chickens how to perch – they           know more about that than you do. 

Chicken brains seek out stimulation. They need stuff to do and new places or objects to check out.



You’ve just trained your birds to “discover” the Chicken Swing. Congratulations. They did it all on their own, of course – what could a flock of birdbrains possibly learn from a bunch of humans anyway?


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