Training Chickens

Utilizing operant conditioning to train chickens reveals they are indeed an intelligent bird.

| December 2017

  • A mother hen “home-schools” her chicks emphasizing that it is important for chickens to be outside to sunbath, scratch in the dirt, and scavenge for creepy crawlies.
    Photography by © Joe Blossom/Alamy Stock Photo
  • Clicker training can produce astonishing results, such as the ability to skateboard.
    Photo by © Paul Brown/Alamy Stock Photo
  • Gail Damerow has raised chickens for more than four decades and has written extensively about poultry and other livestock, gardening, and rural know-how, which she explores in her book “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens”.
    Photo courtesy Storey Publishing

In Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens (Storey Publishing, 2017) by Gail Damerow, she walks through the steps on what you can do to keep your birds healthy and safe. This includes how to choose the right breed, protecting your flock from predation and disease, managing shelter, feed, and water, and understanding fowl behavior. 

Fowl Intelligence

The term “dumb cluck” in referring to a stupid person is an insult to chickens. For far too long chickens have been considered not too bright, a perception that has gradually changed over the past few decades. In the 1960s, German physician Erich Baeumer wrote a little book — the title translates as The Stupid Chicken? Behavior of Domestic Chickens — in which he demonstrated that chickens are a lot brighter than most people believed at the time.

Since then, the status of chickens in general has improved to the point where some have moved from the coop to the house — and I don’t mean the hen house. Chickens have joined parrots and parakeets as house birds. I met my first house chicken in the 1970s. This hen slept at night in a basket in her owner’s bedroom, traveled in the car happily tucked in her little basket, and enjoyed watching television. I have since heard from several other house-hen owners that chickens love TV.

Although a chicken needs to spend daily time outdoors doing what chickens do — sunbathing and dust bathing, scratching in dirt, and snacking on such tasty treats as creepy crawlies and tender green things — more and more people find that a single hen of a calm breed makes an entertaining but challenging house pet. The limiting factor is the difficulty of house-training a chicken.



I have brooded lots of newly hatched chicks in my house — at one time I was known as the lady who keeps chickens in her living room — but I never had a chicken as a house pet. I did once have a rooster that was smart enough to come into the basement in the wintertime to warm himself by the wood stove whenever I was dumb enough to leave the basement door open.

Self-Control

That a chicken can recall the past and anticipate the future has been proven by British researchers. In 2003, Siobhan Abeyesinghe and her colleagues at the Silsoe Research Institute determined that chickens are capable of exercising self-control, which requires resisting immediate gratification in anticipation of a future benefit.






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