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15th Anniversary ClickerExpo Highlights

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It’s hard to believe that ClickerExpo is already 15 years old! We just wrapped up an exciting Expo in Southern California. I wanted to share some of the highlights from the conference and encourage those who missed it to join us in St. Louis in March.

Great people

At Expo, I met so many wonderful new people, including several trainers with livestock-guarding dogs (LGD) who responded to my letter about Tulip last month. These trainers shared with me their experiences with various guardian-dog breeds. I met trainers who are working to raise awareness of positive reinforcement in South Korea, Japan, and the Czech Republic. I met so many people passionate about conservation! My opening talk and my new presentation on conservation training opened the door for a wonderful dialogue with attendees about using training to contribute to conservation. I enjoyed meeting people at all levels of experience wanting to share their enthusiasm for learning more about positive reinforcement training.

I didn’t see every presentation but, of the ones I attended, here are a few standouts:

Spot remover

One of the new presentations that I found useful was Hannah Branigan’s Spot-Remover: Clean Up “Not Quite Right” Behavior. This presentation focused on how to get rid of those pesky behaviors that creep into our training: that extra foot movement, the unwanted head bob, or the vocalization that is inadvertently reinforced. We should have been more observant and careful in the initial training, but now that it’s there, how do we get rid of it? Hannah did a wonderful job breaking down the training cycle. She showed clever ways of interrupting the “A-B-C cycle” to get rid of unwanted extra behaviors. She suggested solutions that included adjusting the environmental set-up, changing the placement of reinforcement, improving timing, or re-shaping the behavior altogether. There were many enthusiastic nods of recognition, understanding, and appreciation in the audience during her talk. Hannah presented the information with humor and great insight, and I found it refreshing.

Scent-detection sports

Join Ken at ClickerExpo 2018
St. Louis (March 16 - 18)
I was looking forward to Sarah Owings’ presentation, Right on Source: Clicker Training and the Nose Work Team, and she did not disappoint. Sarah and her dog, Tucker, have been competing in nose work since 2015; by the end of 2017 they achieved elite status in the sport, which is an exceptionally short time interval. Although nose work is a positive reinforcement sport, the clicker is not used. Sarah decided that she would go into the sport with an open mind, but continue to use the clicker training tools that she knows best. Her presentation did a great job of melding “nose work” with “clicker training” and showed them to be very compatible. I particularly liked how Sarah took many of the nose work terms and presented the clicker training equivalent. A “hide” is essentially a “target,” an “odor” is a “cue,” “odor obedience” is what we might call “fluency,” and a “false alert” is a “stimulus control error.” I thought Sarah did a great job making nose work accessible to clicker trainers, and clicker training accessible to nose work enthusiasts.

The theme of giving animals “control”

We had several presentations dedicated to the concept of giving animals control at this year’s ClickerExpo in California. Emelie Johnson Vegh, Eva Bertilsson, and Peggy Hogan continue to refine their excellent presentation Animals in Control that focuses on teaching an animal how to communicate to the trainer when the animal is ready to proceed with a difficult or uncomfortable task, such as a medical behavior. I repeated my talk Dr. No: How Teaching an Animal to Say “No” Can Be the Right Prescription, which focuses on a problem-solving protocol that allows animals to opt out of uncomfortable procedures. In her new presentation, Please Sir, May I Have Some… Control, Dr. Susan Friedman shared scientific evidence that control is a primary reinforcer.

We have a long way to go before we fully embrace and understand what it means to give animals control, but I am excited to see so many talks focus on the subject, as increased implementation will improve animal welfare.

“But my animal’s not food motivated!”

One of the things that I love about our Expo faculty members is the creative new ways in which they explore common problems and concerns. I enjoyed Kathy Sdao’s presentation, But My Dog Is Not Food-Motivated, addressing a complaint we often hear from clients. Kathy shared strategies for looking at eating as an operant behavior and discussed several important mistakes that she encounters when working with problem eaters. She showed examples of how food can become “poisoned” when it is used improperly. Often, in an effort to counter-condition a dog to a fear-inducing stimulus, food is presented too soon, causing the food to become a predictor of bad things. Some clients upgrade to a higher-value reinforcer when they are eager to get a particular behavior, inadvertently teaching their dogs to hold out for the “better” food, and giving the dog the label of a finicky eater. These are just two of the many examples Kathy gave to help explain why dogs might “not be food-motivated.” Kathy offered practical advice and presented it in her usual entertaining and engaging manner.

So much more!

I’m looking forward to the upcoming ClickerExpo in St. Louis (March 16-18, 2018)

I’m looking forward to the upcoming ClickerExpo in St. Louis (March 16-18, 2018) and can’t wait to discover new gems and learn more. I hope to see you there.

Happy Training,

Ken

 

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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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