It’s Me or the Dog (or Chicken)

Well, the cat (ahem… chicken) is out of the bag, and I can now tell you about being on It’s Me or the Dog on Animal Planet.

Last July I got a call from a producer from the show. He wanted to know if it was true that learning to train chickens is an effective way to learn how to train dogs. The answer is a resounding YES. There’s so much emotional neediness that owners bring to their relationship with their animals. They think that their dogs should behave out of unconditional love. But, love isn’t enough to teach a dog to sit quietly, and to pee outside, and to not snarl at guests. To get a dog to do these things, and the other behaviors that make a dog a good household companion, requires training. How to train is made clear by working with chickens.

Dog owners often resort to baby-talking, pleading, bribing, yanking and yelling, which is ineffective at best, and counter-productive at it’s worst. Instead, I use a clear form of communication called “clicker training.” This works on all species, from fish to elephants; I use it with my chickens. Training a chicken shows that getting angry and using punishment, or conversely, sweet-talking and tossing food, will not get you the behavior that you want. What is effective is to break down the behavior into small steps, and to reward each moment on the the way to the end goal. I use a clicker because it marks each step in a clear and distinct way. Using this technique, I’ve taught my chickens to follow a target stick (note the one in the photo.) A trained chicken will go anywhere with confidence. Coco posed with aplomb on a toy truck in the MARTHA studios. Philomena, the hen in this episode, was willing to walk over scary shiny black plastic. As you can see in the show, this same technique was applied to the poodles and the pig, and didn’t they look relieved that their owners were finally communicating in a way that made sense to them!

Watching the show, you might think that it was exaggerated, but Matt and Melissa (the dog owners) were even more eccentric in real life. The 6 minutes that I was on was edited down from 2 1/2 hours of filming. You never know what the producers are going to do, so I was relieved that I came across as being the sane one, and that my training technique was clearly presented. I know that my name was misspelled, but otherwise, I was pleased with the show. What did you think? If you missed it, it’ll be on reruns. Check the Animal Planet listings. It’s also available on iTunes (The episode is titled, The Castle Goes to the Dogs.)


  1. CAnt wait to see the episode! Why did the silly girl wear her tank top? Probably trying to get some attention! sigh…

  2. Awesome! Good for you… Would love to learn some clicker training from you for our hens. I have two clickers that we used to train our hounds with. Perhaps you would be so kind as to post a video on a training session with one of your hens? My daughter would just love to do this with our hens!

  3. I saw the episode, I thought the couple was a bit more than eccentric personally.

    I laughed at how afraid Matt was of a hen, cracked me up. I thought it was funny when you told him he was a big chicken.

    Tell us about the dwarf pig, it was too cute. I see a revisit to the problem of unwanted little piggies just like what occured with regular pot belly pigs. I volunteered at the Humane Society of Missouri’s rescue ranch for farm animals and it was a huge problem, they were some Saturdays while I was there that 2 or 3 would be dropped off from the Humane Society’s in the metro areas of the state. For some reason people didn’t realize that pigs would up root up their lawns, flower beds and gardens, that they grew, ate a lot, needed their hooves trimmed and grew tusks.
    You need a license to get married, to drive, many take parenting classes. A license and training/education should be required to own any pet IMHO.

    • I was very worried about the health of the pig. It appeared cold and lacked the vigorous attitude of a pig. Of course, that could be that this is a “teacup” pig – a designer animal bred for it’s small size and cute factor. Like teacup dogs (yorkies, poodles, etc.) they often have neurological issues. Also, when an animal is that tiny, you can’t feed it indiscriminately. You have to be very careful they’re getting the right nutrition. So, I don’t know what Mud’s future holds.

  4. So sorry I missed it. I will have eagle eyes out for the re-runs. I just posted about your wonderful cookbook on my blog. Please pop over and tell me what you think. I hope you like it!! From Beyond My Kitchen Window. Type it as one word, it should come up on google.

    • I appreciate the comments on your blog! When you post here, you’re welcome to put your URL in the space provided so that others can find you.

  5. I saw the episode too, and I’m with Ken… eccentric is an understatement at best, and also got a laugh from the ‘big chicken’ thing. Your brief appearance was a welcome bit of realism and the clicker training method seems to work beautifully. As before (on MARTHA) you came off friendly, exceedingly knowledgeable, a good teacher, and funny, too — basically, just the natural you.

    That little Mud was about as cute as anything I’ve ever seen! So sad to hear he was possibly not in the best of health. Was this brought to the owners’ attention, do you know? I hope so.

    • I don’t know much about pigs – but I do know that they are gregarious animals and the babies live in large litters. Also, they need warmth. Mud was very young to be taken away from his mom and siblings. He was tucked away in a pantry closet, shivering and looking miserable when I met him. Hopefully, he is now thriving with attention and training.

  6. Dang! I missed it, will catch it in reruns. Just wondering was the couple in the picture off camera or were they on the show? Bizarre choice of clothing for TV!

    • The “interestingly” attired couple, Matt and Melissa were the dog owners that were getting help from Victoria Stillwell. And, no, they didn’t dress any different for the camera than real life.

  7. I thought you were wonderful. I didn’t even know you were going to be on and was so surprised. I thought you were very natural and funny. As a clicker trainer, it was interesting to see the couple’s timing getting better as they worked with their dogs. It cracked me up when I saw you on Martha Stewart and she clearly didn’t get the clicker thing and was clicking at the chicken trying to get her to do something.
    That was very exciting……what is Victoria like??

    • I’m very pleased to see good training happening on television! My segment had the most “correct” clicker training – much of the rest of it was luring. But, it’s positive, it works and it’s an alternative to the dominance/yanking school out there. In real life Victoria is just as she appears on TV. Polished and capable. Sincerely devoted to positive training. I’ve a feeling she’s also quite fun, too, but I didn’t have much time with her.
      For Martha, I had about 40 seconds to explain the target stick and the way I mark and reward the behavior I want. The run-through with the producer went perfectly. As you noticed, though, Martha grabbed the stick and started clicking. I’m just glad I wasn’t caught on-screen with my mouth gaping open.

  8. also has this episode available for $1.99. When was Mrs. Golson on Martha Stewart ?

    • April, 2010. If you click on the underlined MARTHA in the post, it’ll lead you to the segment. I’m on at the very end.

  9. Nope, no gaping mouth but I could tell you were a bit shocked. Who wouldn’t be if Martha grabbed something from them? The chicken was thinking “JACKPOT”