For years training alternate species to dogs (and horses) has been on my list of things to do. Ages ago I was consulting a mentor about whether or not to go to Chicken Camp and she said that she went years ago and that “…honestly, you’re not going to learn anything much you don’t already know”. Since it costs a pretty penny, I rationalized with myself that just about anyone with chickens would be more than willing to let me mess around with training them (and probably ask if they could video, thinking that it’d be full of good laughs). I also thought about doing the Karen Pryor training academy program which involves training an alternate species…and I thought a hedgehog would be someone interesting to bring into the family. However, I have ethical issues with getting an animal just for sake of the class, and would not temporarily use an animal, that animal would have to become my permanent pet. And, to be honest, I don’t want too many pets. That’s a big reason why I train other people’s dogs for a living…to practice training without becoming the doglady with 10 dogs and piles of poop and fur everywhere.
Now just about everybody else who’s attended the chicken camp sings praises for it, so don’t be deterred in going after that program. And, if you are new to operant conditioning, KPA has a lot to offer (though it is a business and don’t let them convince you that she’s the brains behind marker training). But, above all, make sure you train more than your own best friend. Long ago, back when horseback riding was my pursuit, it was apparent that different horses are drastically different to ride and train. What’s right for one is possibly totally wrong for another. Training a species with such a different perspective of the world than your dog is invaluable. Getting the timing and reward placement and other details correct is the only way you can achieve with an animal that won’t “rescue” you and make up for your errors.
Years ago I had the chance to work with someone’s chickens (check out Pecking Order). More recently, I got a few ducks. The logistics of separating ducks is touchier because ducks are much more socially connected and tend to panic when they are apart from their flock. I have a plan to set up stations where each duck will get rewarded for maintaining their station while the working duck gets rewarded for the behavior we’re working on. But, the whole set up requires some time to get feeding tubes or some such set up with platforms that the ducks can stand on (they actually slip on a lot of surfaces, like a chunk of bare wood). With my most cherished learner, my toddler, soaking up the majority of my time, the ducks have been on the back burner. But they have a lovely recall to the word “Come on”…which, incidentally, my toddler believes is what they and other fowl are called :D!
Want to see a trained fish? Here’s a clip of a father son team that did a brilliant job: