I recently was asked by a house chicken web list that I am on to write a description of how to clicker train chickens. They wanted to know how to train their chickens to use a litter box. We can train parrots and house rabbits that way, but ... I am having some doubts about chickens and litter boxes. But here goes, the following is what I posted, and applies to any animal, happy reading:
Clicker training is a very simple concept based on reward based training. A "click" - or a verbal reinforcer, signifies what action or behaviour it is that you like and is immediately followed by a treat. It is imperative that the treat be rewarding to the recipient; for instance, if you were trying to teach me Trigonometry in Arabic with white chocolate, no go. But offer me dark chocolate, we're there! So make sure that you are working with what your chickens consider to be yummy.
Clickers can be procured at places like http://www.dogwise.com or party stores where you can buy them in bulk. They and the verbal reward must ALWAYS be followed with a treat, even if you click by mistake. It is your contract to the training venue. For instance, I used to have a very bad habit of holding a class dog's leash in the same hand as my clicker. When they would pull, for some reason, it always made my thumb click the clicker. I did not want pulling. But I clicked. So I would give them a treat, and move the leash to the other hand. Next time they pulled - no click, no treat, but I was QUICK to click and treat the NOT pulling as soon as they stopped. Voila. Training accomplished.
You start by "loading the clicker". Take a handful of treats, click, and then treat. Your only goal is to make the chicken aware that when she hears a click, she gets a treat, and to associate the sound with the yummy.
As soon as she is associating the noise with the treat and eagerly looking at the treat delivering hand, you can begin to shape behaviours. You are basically just going to pick something to reward and reinforce - it can be a head turn to the left or right, a pecking action at the floor, it can be anything completely random. You are basically just teaching the chicken to learn to offer you behaviours that you pick and choose that it can repeat for rewards. It can be a pro-po of nothing. For example, I took my first Border Collie, Piper, out to the driveway to
teach him clicker training. He was a $4,500 dog already trained in Canada goose management, but I wanted to teach him to learn to learn. As I was sorting my treats, I dropped one on the ground. He looked down.
I clicked. I instantly had a downward glancing dog.
Then a squirrel ran by and he glanced left. Now I had two behaviours.
Before we were done, I had a dog that looked left, looked right, looked
down, looked down and held his head down (Mom? You liked this before but I am not getting a treat, should I hold this downward look a little longer for you to notice?), and bobbed his head looking down twice (Mom? You liked it the first time, how 'bout twice?). That training session lastedall of 5 - 10 minutes.
As far as clicker training to use a litter box, honestly, I am not sure
that is possible. The way the chickens' alimentary tract is set up makes
frequent defecation a biological norm. But we might want to bring in
Barbara Heidenreich, parrot expert, to this discussion, because parrots
can be potty trained, but psittacines are very different from chickens.
One also runs a risk of a parrot "over-holding" itself and getting
impacted. Check out her training website at:
I have taught bunny obedience classes for rescue house rabbits, and
they can be potty trained, and I will be training an African Crested
Porcupine next Monday night (different issue) but I am just not certain
that chickens can be litter box trained, I would love it if anyone had any input to the contrary.
I hope this helps, ask any questions away!
Have fun, hug your chookies,