10 Tips for Clicking with Your Chick

Did you know that it's completely possible, fun and rewarding to train a chicken? Chickens are highly-trainable due to their emotional intelligence and ability to learn quickly. Most chickens learn best through the use of clicker training — rewarding positive behaviors through the use of a clicker. For further information and everything you need to know about clicker training your chicken, check out the new book “Click with Your Chick: A Complete Chicken Training Course Using the Clicker” by Giene Keyes, which launches August 13. Below are some things from the book to consider when training a chicken.

1. You can start training a chicken as soon as it's born

I will often start with my little chicken call — “chick-chick-chick” — while they are drying off in the incubator. At this point, they don’t have anything to associate it with, but I hope that just hearing my voice will help with bonding.

2. Your energy affects chickens

Every creature has likes and dislikes, and, believe me, our animals can read us like a book! They are masters at observing our energy and making those “first impressions” (often better than we can).

3. You can train your chicken with a clicker the same way you'd train a dog

Your chicken will learn to associate the small “click” with a prime reinforcer, like food. It’s cool because it becomes a game for your chicken — she will try to see what behaviors she can offer to get you to click, and for her to get the treat!

4. There are good and bad times of the day to train a chicken

There are good and bad times of day to train your chickens. Once you have training established, it will be easier, but you have to remember that they do have limitations. I love training chicks that are younger than four months old because it’s pretty easy to train them at any point during the day. Thinking about how they are most active (and hungry!) early in the morning, this makes a great training time. Often times in the afternoon they are going to take their dust bath, or relax. This may not be the best time for training. After they are a bit older and have started laying eggs, you want to watch your bird to see what time she usually lays. I can guarantee she’s not really going to be thinking about chicken training, she’s going to be thinking about laying her egg!

5. You can train roosters, too!

Roosters can be just as smart as hens, right? However, once their testosterone kicks in, they certainly have other things on their minds. They are smart creatures, but you cannot train out instinct. If you have a rooster that you want to train, I suggest starting young, before adolescence hits at around four months of age. If you have only a rooster, and no other chickens, you’re probably pretty safe. He might decide that you are his hen and become possessive over you, so be wary of that.

6. Chickens are highly intelligent

One reason it's so easy to train a chicken is because you are working with a highly intelligent animal. Recent science tells us that chickens possess communication skills equal to those of some primates and that they use complex communication to convey their intentions. Like they say at Edgar’s Mission, an animal sanctuary in Australia, “If someone calls you ‘bird brain,’ say thank you. It might be the best compliment you’ve ever received.”

7. Nurturing is important

When training chickens, nurture plays a large role. Your chicken has to feel safe around you, and sometimes you have to teach him or her how to learn. It sounds silly, of course. As Sophia Yin states in a blog post, “... training of simple tasks just involves a few things — a hungry animal in a comfortable environment and a trainer with good timing.”

8. It’s all about positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement works by presenting a motivating/reinforcing stimulus to the chicken after she displays the desired behavior, making the behavior more likely to happen in the future. For example, when you call “chick-chick,” your chicken comes running because each time you say “chick-chick,” you leave yummy treats for her. She is more likely to display this behavior in the future.

9. Chickens have varying levels of stress

Stress is something that can take over the mind as well as the body. Each chicken will have a different level for tolerating stress. Just like with people, some may become stressed out easily, and some may be more like ducks and let things roll off their backs (that was strictly pun intended, for all of my duck-loving friends). You’ll need to observe each chicken to help create an environment that is less stressful for her in order to properly train her.

10. Start handling your chicks young

It'll be easier to train your chickens if they are comfortable with you from an early age. I like to start handling my chicks when they are just a few days old. Day-old chicks are pretty fragile, and, if you’re like most people, you’re probably getting your chick when it’s between three and five days old (from a feed store, shipped from a hatchery, from a swap meet or from a friend). I’ve gotten my chicks from all of these sources as well as hatched my own. Your chicks can even get used to you before they even come out of the eggs!