Updated: Jan 22
Thor is almost six-months-old now and has been with me for about two months. He is as tall as most of the Maremma pups I have been using as mentors! He is more resilient in most situations than he used to be. This is a lovely age! Thor will head back to his real home soon, now much better prepared to step in alongside the sweet female Maremma who waits for him there.
In his life job Thor will be guarding lots of free-range chickens so about a month ago I bought four mature hens to use in his training time with me. Our first chicken introduction did not go well because of trainer error! I let Thor down, big time when I underestimated the little hen in my lap. She managed to peck his tender nose three times before I put a stop to that. Thor did not regain his confidence in that session.
Over the following two weeks, he spent much of his time in the field you see my pony in so that he could learn about chickens from across a fence. On this training day, I was surprised to find out how much negative association Thor still had because of being hurt by the chicken on his first visit.
When I brought him through the gate and into the chicken stall, he strolled right through the four hens gathered there without a glance their way. When I took him off the long line and stepped outside I thought he would follow me - not so! I learned that Thor had made a negative association with the area where he was hurt and not with the bird that hurt him. Interesting!
Thor loves the clicker game, so I went into the stall with him and clicked for some easy behaviors like eye contact and following my hand as a target. He found his confidence as we worked, and after about four clicks, he was willing to come outside with me. Once there, he was fully back on track and never wavered. Nice job, Thor!!!
Those cheeky hens fluttered and chattered all around him, under his nose, and even under his belly. Thor kept his presence of mind beautifully. Our full session with the chickens was just under three minutes. If you add the beginning and the end of the training session, which included snapping on the long line, gate manners, and targeting to my hand, our training session was about six minutes. Perfect.
And this time, I didn't make any big mistakes, thankfully. Boy, did I watch those hens! Trainers aren't perfect any more than dogs (or chickens) are. All that can be done when a mistake is made is to do your best to mend the situation and then kindly and mindfully go forward again.