The subject of training chickens is often brought up. "How do I do it? What can I teach them to do? How long will this take? Can you teach an old chicken new tricks?" Those are some pretty common questions. Many people teach their dog some tricks, but chickens can also be taught tricks. While some chickens can do outstanding tricks, teaching simple ones can be enjoyable to watch and not very time consuming. Most importantly, keep calm and gentle with them when you're around them. If you want them to feel safe around you, the last thing you want to do is make a gesture they feel is frightening.
The simple trick of going inside at nightThis trick is probably among the more time consuming tricks to teach your chickens. You want them to go into their coop at night by themselves, but how can this be done? Let me state that the first requirement for this is patience. It will take quite a few nights until they start to get the hang of it.
Every night, you'll have to go out with your chickens as the sun is setting and help show them what to do. I usually start by patting my leg and calling to the chickens while I stand by their coop door. If that doesn't work, I start to herd them in. By herd, I mean I stand behind them and start to walk towards the coop as they move forward too. This process will take many nights and have a few stray chickens associated with it, but your chickens should start to put themselves in within a couple weeks.
In the course of my chicken-keeping years, this has not given me much trouble. Teaching chickens to lay in the nesting box takes up more of the chickens' time than it does yours. First, put either wooden/plastic eggs or golf balls in a nesting box. These can help trick a chicken that it is an egg in there, and therefore that is where eggs belong. With my new pullets about to lay, I put them in the nesting box with an egg from one of my laying hens already in it. The new pullet stares at that egg and looks at the nesting box a bit. When she lays, I'm happy to see the small egg in the nesting box.
Jumping for treatsThis is a trick more for fun than making your chicken-keeping job easier. It's very fun to watch a chicken jump for a treat.
Start off by holding a piece of their treat (bread, peas, meat, etc.) between your fingers about 2 feet in the air. Some chickens will be so determined to get that treat that they will attempt to jump and get it. They may not get it at first, but their aim will improve. Once they have gotten it at 2 feet, move it up a few more inches. You can keep moving treats in your hand up a couple inches until you get to what you determine to be their maximum jumping height (usually about your shoulder level). You can repeat this process during other treat givings to give the chickens the idea of what to do.
I first did this trick with a young pullet who was slow to get treats if I threw them, so I held a treat above her head and she jumped! I eventually moved the treat to about 4 1/2 feet up in the air, and she continues to get the treats without a problem to this day. Family are impressed to see my jumping chicken!
Hopping on a lap or armThis is also a trick more for fun than utility. Some chickens will do this automatically because they like you. This trick has not had the greatest success rate for me. You can put the chicken on your lap when you sit down, and some may realize they like it and continue to hop up on your lap. You may also try to lure them up by means of treats. Don't be discouraged if some don't pick up this trick as some chickens are just not that social.
I don't suggest placing a chicken on your arm to perch on it because the chicken may have trouble balancing and fall, possibly hurting them-self. The only way I allow this is by my one hen, who trained me to do it. Yes, trained me to do it. I walked into the coop one night and reached my arm out to gather eggs, and she hopped right up. She picked up the habit of hopping onto my arm every night as I gather eggs. If one of your hens picks up the same habit and decides to train you to do it, be careful. Don't move your arm too much while she's on you and watch her to make sure she has good aim for your arm.
Called by nameGetting a chicken to recognize when you call their name does take time. This trick is best started when they are a young chick; you hold them in your hands or arms and pet them while saying their name. In order for the chicken to learn this trick, you'll have to do it at least a couple times a week for most of their life. Once the chicken has learned this trick, you may notice that the chicken sticks their head up or maybe comes to you when you call their name.
Able to be picked up easilyThis is one thing that has always stunned me. I walk up to nearly any member of my flock and they show no resistance to being held. They don't run away or anything. I thought it was normal for chickens until I heard here on BYC of some people who have to chase most of their chickens in order to pick them up. Then I got to thinking- what have I done with my chickens to where they're so comfortable around me? The one thing I could think of is I've held them a lot since the day we got them. The chicks were just so cute and interesting that I would pick them up for a few minutes and watch them for hours. The moment that I realized maybe picking them up often is the key was when I got 5 adult hens from another chicken owner. Having not raised these new chickens, they all ran away from me (some continue to do so). My chickens are very comfortable around me and I begin to wonder if I own them or they own me.