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New Resources for a New Year

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I am excited about the new year! We have so many new resources available for you. (We’ve been busy!)

ClickerExpo 2017

We have remarkable faculty members and new topics featured at each ClickerExpo location in 2017. ClickerExpo always provides new ideas and a new perspective on techniques that improve my training. The conference is one of the best sources of new inspiration for me every year.

This year we will be returning to Portland, Oregon, January 27-29 (sold out!). We still have openings for ClickerExpo in Stamford, Connecticut, March 31-April 2, and registration is just about to open for our return to Billund, Denmark, November 3-5.

In addition to Expo, we have created several new resources: a course for veterinary professionals, a course focused on cat training, and a new book anthology featuring a collection of articles from many animal trainers. I’d like to share what I find so compelling about each of these projects.

Better Veterinary Visits

We launched the Karen Pryor Academy Better Veterinary Visits course in the fall of 2016. It is designed for veterinary professionals and for trainers who work regularly with veterinarians. The course offers an overview of training fundamentals that can be used in a veterinary clinic or hospital. The bulk of the course focuses on handling the challenges encountered when pets are brought in for a veterinary visit. Subtopics in this area include making the waiting room experience more comfortable, getting a weight, brushing teeth, clipping nails, applying medication, drawing blood, and so much more. Each topic explores how to deal with these needs quickly and on the spot if the patient has had no previous training. The course also includes training plans for each of these tasks when the client has the interest and time to pursue training.

The overriding goal of Better Veterinary Visits is to reduce stress during a pet’s visit to the veterinarian. We have designed this course in collaboration with the Fear Free initiative, spearheaded by Dr. Marty Becker. We hope to reach veterinary clinics, hospitals, and practices all over the world, and expand the tools available to veterinary professionals. The course serves as a great introduction to the use of positive reinforcement for the beginner, while going into depth about many husbandry behaviors for the experienced trainer. In addition to detailed training plans, we have asked experienced trainers to provide tips to aid in the training and maintenance of medical behaviors, and supplemented the course with these resources.

One of the tips that I contributed to the course describes how to teach animals to accept variety in order to make uncomfortable behaviors more acceptable. Examples include how to teach an animal to accept needle insertion for blood or injections, and to tolerate unusual flavors when administering oral medications. These are challenging tasks, because it is difficult to recreate the uncomfortable steps of each task during training. Trainers struggle to simulate the exact feeling of the needle, or the exact flavor of a future vitamin or medication; the animal usually detects the difference and becomes reluctant to complete the behaviors. Through my experiences training these procedures with many species of animals, I learned that instead of trying to teach the animal to accept a specific sensation (touch or taste), it is more effective to teach the animal that the sensation will be different each time presented. In other words, each time I practiced for an injection, the way I touched the animal at the injection site on their body varied: hard, soft, sharp, dull, hot, cold, wet, cloth, metal, plastic, rubber, etc. No two training sessions provided the same sensation. After dozens of training repetitions, the animal no longer startled at the feeling of something new or different. When it came time for a real injection, the animal perceived it as just another variation. The fear factor is diminished or, in most cases, eliminated.

The same training approach applies to administering oral medications. Trainers often mix medications into a favorite treat like peanut butter. But to prepare the animal for the feeling of pills and the taste of different flavors, I mixed the peanut butter with a variety of textures and flavors: morsels of meat, pieces of cookie, sour liquids, sweet flavorings, salty substances, etc. Each practice session was different; ultimately the changes taught the animal to accept variety. My suggestions are just examples of the many tips that I hope trainers and veterinary professionals will find useful in the course Better Veterinary Visits.

Train Your Cat!

Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior is often associated with dog training. However, as an organization we have always considered ourselves a positive-reinforcement education organization serving the entire animal-training community. We have received frequent requests for more information about cat training, so we have responded with our new course, Train Your Cat!, that launched in December.

The course is designed primarily for beginners who want to know how to start training their cats. It is also useful for experienced trainers who are new to cats and want to learn more about the differences in training and understanding cats vs. dogs. The course covers fundamentals, includes great videos, and provides detailed information about reading cat body language. Some body language differences between dogs and cats are fascinating. For example, dog trainers may interpret a cat’s erect tail as a sign of stress, when in fact it can be an affiliative gesture. Here is a short excerpt from the course material on cat body language that addresses erect tail posture:

Tail Posture: Affiliation Behavior – When a cat approaches you with his tail pointing skyward and the tip of the tail slightly bent or in a question mark shape, he is expressing his interest in interacting with you. It’s a friendly greeting behavior. A little twitch to this tail position indicates that the cat is particularly excited to see you and anticipates something good. This tail movement is often seen when you are walking toward his food bowl to feed him.

We plan to include courses about other species in the future.

Better Together

In the anthology Better Together: The Collected Wisdom of Modern Dog Trainers, we have selected 60 articles featuring invaluable advice from 28 of the most respected trainers in the business. The articles include gems written by Karen Pryor, Kathy Sdao, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Hannah Branigan, Laurie Luck, Nan Arthur, Laura Monaco Torelli, Debbie Martin, Emma Parsons, Terrie Hayward, and so many others. The book will debut at ClickerExpo Portland, but you can also reserve your copy in our online store.

Each article was written as a standalone piece, so the reader can pick up the book and turn to any article of interest and find value. But we designed the book to be read from start to finish, taking the reader on a journey that begins with an introduction to clicker training, and progresses through basics for puppies, basics for all dogs, and socialization. The book then moves on to more advanced concepts with chapters on solving problems, dealing with aggressive dogs, and how to create a thinking dog. I particularly like Karen Pryor’s new Modern Principles of Training piece, which she has created to replace her famous Ten Laws of Shaping -- just one of the many highlights included in the book. I am hopeful that Better Together will be a valuable resource for trainers of all levels. You can learn more or reserve your copy here.

New resources: an ongoing goal

As we look forward in 2017, we will continue to answer the needs of the positive-reinforcement training community. Please don’t hesitate to let us know about the resources and tools that would be most helpful to you!

I wish you, your family, and the animals in your life a productive, positive, and peaceful New Year.

Happy Training,

Ken

About the author
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Ken Ramirez is the Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer at Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT). A trainer and consultant for nearly 40 years, Ken most recently served as the Executive Vice President, Animal Care and Training, at Chicago’s world-famous Shedd Aquarium. He is the author of several books and DVDs, including ANIMAL TRAINING: Successful Animal Management Through Positive Reinforcement, which has become required reading for many trainers in the zoological field. Learn more about Ken Ramirez.

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