How to Train Your Chicken

It’s my own fault. When I first brought them home, I exited the house a dozen times a day, treats in hand, and made my way to the girls with some of their favorite delicacies in the world: corn on the cob, pasta noodles, brown rice. Each time I went outside, “click” went the door handle, “slam!” went the screen door, and I arrived with treats. Who could blame them for being programmed so quickly to this routine? Door click + door slam = treats!

Now I’m working to reverse the situation. It has made a monster of Mabel the Sable Black Label. Her raucous little voice emerges from her beak with all the force and intensity of a small freight train braking for a half-mile. Sometimes, a full mile. She won’t shut the beak! She leads the charge to the front of the run, Goldie and Marguerite rushing behind her at a turbo chicken pace like I’ve never seen. They stand at the front of the run, chicken necks craning, head tilted to the side, clucking and calling to me. Pavlov’s dogs got nuthin’ on these hens.

I am now reprogramming. It is a difficult process, as Mabel’s intelligence only sharpens over time, and she continues to anticipate my excursions from the house with extreme vigor. So every chance I get, every opportunity to be in the kitchen, I slam that screen door. “Whack!” And stay inside. The freight train groans for a bit, then stops. I do it again. Squawk, then stop. Sometimes the squawk is so angry and anxious that it is sure to wake the neighborhood. By the end of the first day, it was reduced to a few short calls, then silence.

Today is a new day. The raucous calling is back as I open and close the door. She just ended a litany of squawks that would make any rooster proud. Had to last a full minute. I cringe as I sit in my office, praying that she’ll stop. And finally she does. Whew! We can only hope the neighbors are safely-enclosed in their dog-infested houses with their televisions blaring the Today Show.



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