Nova Scotian dog trainer heading to US 'Chicken Camp'

John Brannen
Published on June 10, 2014

Dog Trainer Alex Keir smiles at Vida, a French Brittany spaniel, as she performs and obeys her commands. Keir will be heading to Maryland for two weeks to improve her training techniques using chickens. The course will be taught by world-renowned animal trainer Bob Bailey.

©John Brannen - TC MEDIA


Dogs and hens may not appear to have much in common,  Pictou County business owner and certified dog trainer Alex Keir will fine-tune her training skills using white leghorn chickens.

Keir, owner of Good Dog Works! in Stellarton, will be heading to Maryland for two weeks of intense training. Though she’ll be working with chickens, she has no plans on opening a chicken training business.

“I won’t be coming home to train chickens, I’ll put it that way,” she said. “It’s more about going to study the purpose of training and once you learn the basics the same rules apply, regardless of the animal.”

Keir will work with Bob Bailey, the U.S. Navy's first director of animal training and one of the most renowned animal trainers in the world.  

“This is an opportunity to study with the best,” Keir said. “Chickens are much faster to train than dogs, so you really have to be on your toes.”

Back in the 1960s, Bailey, helped the navy train animals for military applications. For example, training was undergone for a crow that carried a camera and took photos and a cat that carried audio eqipment.

It won’t be the first time she’s crossed paths with Bailey. He and his wife Marian were in Halifax conducting a Chicken Camp when Keir met them. She spent a week at their training school in Arkansas and just last year attended a weekend designed especially for dog trainers in Florida.

At her country home in Scotsburn, Vida, her French Brittany spaniel, effortlessly obeys the usual commands, such as sit and stay. There’s always a reward for good behaviour.

Because of all the training to learn how to train animals better, Kier believes Good Dog Works! has been keeping Pictou County well ahead of current dog training trends. She said that when it comes to animal training, a lot has changed in the last 20 years.

“Dog training has changed from corrections-based training to reward-based training. There are dog sports too to keep them fit and busy. That was unheard of almost 20 years ago.”

Simply put, dogs that aren’t mentally stimulated or exercised are more apt to engage in undesirable actions. Dogs left to their own devices don’t usually end well.

“As part of the training process we have to train the dog, of course, but the human master also has to be trained.”

Keir encourages staff members to take part in educational events each year to improve and broaden their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with what science has to offer in dog behaviour, training, care and management.

“It’s rewarding work,” she said. “Especially now that we’re helping to train the second or third pet from clients.”