Monday, April 25, 2011

The Power of Positive Reinforcement

I have the greatest news ever! Over the last two and a half years, every time a chicken has escaped, Reckless has killed it. Sometimes before I even know there is a chicken out there. It was always a quick death, however. He is a very skilled predator! He has probably killed about 10 or 15 chickens during that time.

I have been working with him using positive reinforcement techniques. The more I use these techniques, the more I see the value in them. Anytime we were out in the yard and a chicken got loose, I would call Reckless to me, and give him a yummy treat reward (of which I pretty much always have in my pocket!). It gradually got easier and easier to do. This actually gives the dog a CHOICE of whether to go kill the chicken, or come to mommy. A couple of weeks ago, I had not one, not two, but THREE chickens escape all at the same time. Reckless saw them before I did. He stood there, and shook like a leaf. He wanted to go get that chicken so bad! He turned to look at me for direction, and I told him he was such a good boy, and gave him a jackpot reward (about 5 treats in a row). That was it! He then and there decided that killing chickens wasn't so worth it after all, and I can now let him in the field with all the ducks and other fowl, and he just sniffs around. I am so proud of my boy! For those of you who know Reckless, you will probably get what an accomplishment this is. He is a high-drive dog made up of whippet, border collie, and 3 separate terriers. All high prey-drive breeds.

Which brings me to the farming part of the story.

Over the last few weeks, I have had ravens coming in and stealing my eggs in the field. Then, my neighbour called me and told me he saw a raven come down and kill a chicken! I expected that of a hawk or osprey, but not a raven! Then, that week, ravens (or something) killed about 7 of my chickens, and ate ALL my eggs. This kind of thing can be really devastating. It makes you wonder why you ever wanted to be a farmer in the first place. It is so hard and harsh sometimes!
So, both Reckless and Kybosh observed me screaming and yelling and chasing a raven each time I saw one. They very, very quickly learned what I was upset about, and now all I have to do is say 'RAVEN', and off they go, zooming towards the bird of prey, and chasing it off! It is really cool and fun to watch, actually. And the best part, now that Reckless is no longer a chicken killer, I can open the gate to the field, they will go chase off the offending bird, not harm any of my livestock, and come zooming back to me. I now have four fully-fledged farm dogs, who are helping me make my living now. Gives me goosebumps, it is so wonderous!!

There was an osprey in my field also the other day. It was friggin' HUGE. It was down, harrassing my muscovy ducks. Another minute or two, and I'm sure he would have had one dead. So, I called my two awesome doggies, yelled 'RAVEN', and off they went chasing that osprey off. Then, I freaked out a bit, as Reckless is about the size of a duck, and that osprey could really drag him off, too, if it wanted. Luckily, nothing bad happened, but the bird sat in a tree, and watched me for hours, seeing if we would leave the scene so he could get one of my fowl. Bad bird! My only real defense is to be outside every minute possible, so I can send the dogs after the birds. Harder if I have to go out anywhere. Those birds are sneaky. So, I've been keeping my field chickens in their coop in the morning, as this is when they lay most of their eggs, and letting them out to forage in the afternoon and evening. Turns out they have been laying way more eggs than I have been giving them credit for. They were just laying them all over the field, and the ravens were picking them off. So with this new routine, I have been getting between two and a half and 3 doz eggs each day. Which is what I should have been getting all along! Maybe they will actually pay for themselves now.

1 comment:

Clemens Rettich said...

What a great story. Or bunch of stories! I love the positive reinforcement story and the fowl management story!

Thank you!

Flooded Driveway

Flooded Driveway
Too much RAIN!