Thursday, February 12, 2009

Introducing TAGteach to Fishermen Part 3

An ongoing account of TAGteach introductions, triumphs and tribulations!
This is the third installment of ,
TAGteach, Parrots and the Men from the Bering Sea!

Part 3: Egg laying and Clicker Training Give a Bear Hug to TAGteach and Poker Chips

January 2008, Seventeen members of the Seafisher management team arrived in Sequim, Washington for the first ever collaborative TAGteach-Clicker Training seminar for commercial fishermen.
Terry and I were honestly a bit apprehensive.
Would our training interest these tough guys?
Would they participate or sit back sullenly, arms folded, waiting for the day to end.
Had we prepared a program that would be applicable and beneficial to the crew of a commercial fishing vessel?
No time like the present to find out!

All seventeen guys were seated with coffee and snacks neatly placed on the side of their desks next to their pens and yellow pads of paper.
Note taking?…They had come prepared for work. In fact they were seated and ready fifteen minutes early. The guys were immediately rewarded for their attentiveness with real poker chips that could be used that night at a local casino.
Big smiles and laughter broke out…success…this reinforcement plan was used throughout the day to encourage participation.
Note: casino chips are great reinforcers!

How does you pick up a chicken?
Will it peck my eye out?
Will it fly off the training table?
How do you hold it so it doesn’t…uh…leave droppings on you?
All very good questions answered with great patience by Terry during the first few minutes of class. The guys quickly warmed up to their egg-laying beady-eyed, clucking partners and got down to the serious business of clicker training chickens.

The training sessions were brief as chickens can only be trained for a few minutes at a time. This left plenty of time for Terry to introduce the basics of using a clicker, operant conditioning and force free training. The guys quickly learned you cannot force a chicken to do anything except get back into its cage. Yelling, cajoling and threatening would only be met with a blank chicken stare. On the other hand you can encourage a chicken to do all manner of chicken things and then reward them when they do. Walk over here; climb on top of that, peck the paper with the picture of a flounder on it instead of the paper with a mackerel on it on so on.

The group was amazed. They could train a chicken to do a variety of skills without raising their voices or even using language at all. If I can train a chicken…I can train anything! Yep, the seed was planted.

Next Installment:
Chickens to Champions: Making the TAGteach Jump

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