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2007 in Review: Building the Power of the Click

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In a business article I wrote for this website in 2005, I noted that clicker training needs to become popular with the mainstream, to be the people's choice. One of the central tenets of that proposition must be raising the goals that pet owners have for their relationships with their dogs. If pet owners are bogged down by what could be called a culture of obedience, they are saddled with low expectations for interactions with their pets. And, if they have low expectations, in most cases they don't need something special. "Any ole" training method can get a dog to perform a down.


Changing expectations—educating people—to increase the popularity of all-positive training methods is a core goal of Karen Pryor Clickertraining (KPCT). This past year set the stage for some very exciting developments that I hope will move us closer to that goal in 2008. Today we have more tools than ever before to help each clicker trainer individually, and bolster the momentum of clicker training as a whole. Here's what's happening and how you can participate.

An empty chair at HQ

For the better part of 2007, Karen Pryor sequestered herself in her home office, working on her newest book—a true labor of love. Until it was finished (just a few weeks ago) Karen was like a prisoner in her home, fingers to keyboard and pen to paper. I called her to make sure she was eating, and began to think of her project as the PENitentiary! We missed her at the office, and are thrilled to have her back.

Tentatively titled Reaching the Animal Mind, Karen's book is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2008 by Scribner and will be marketed to a huge, cross-sectional audience. This is a major opportunity for clicker training to reach new territory. Engaging our clicker training community to spread the word can help even more. The more buzz we create around the book, the more attention it will get, and the more attention it gets, the greater the likelihood of substantial national coverage—and clamoring for clicker trainers.

Don't Shoot the Dog, Karen's original, breakthrough book that launched clicker training, was a book of piercing clarity and an engaging how-to manual—a portable bible on marker-based reinforcement training. Taking us forward from where Don't Shoot the Dog left off, Reaching the Animal Mind is a renegade trainer's analysis of a lifetime of interaction and learning among animals.

Changing expectations—educating people—to increase the popularity of all-positive training methods is a core goal.

While Don't Shoot the Dog was about the training process, Reaching the Animal Mind is focused on training's impact. Don't Shoot the Dog discusses the scientific processes of training through markers and reinforcement; Reaching the Animal Mind describes how those processes are central to making leaps in cognition, emotional connection, and communication with animals. Karen takes us on a marvelous, cross-discipline journey through the stealthily intersecting world of neuroscience, behaviorism, and ethology, and introduces us to the vital personalities and characters (animals and people) within them. She deftly handles past and future critics' charges of anthropomorphism and pseudoscience.

Don't Shoot the Dog was published without the intent to capture the public's attention. That it caught the attention of so many—hundreds of thousands—for so long was amazing good fortune. Reaching the Animal Mind is our chance to reach millions more in a shorter timeframe, and introduce clicker training to the mainstream.

Reaching the Animal Mind is our chance to reach millions more in a shorter timeframe, and introduce clicker training to the mainstream.

The importance of traffic

For much of the world, the "informational face" of clicker training is www.clickertraining.com. People, lots of people, come to this website looking for information on training their pets. Clickertraining.com is now one of the top 50,000 sites in visitor traffic in the US, and among the top 200,000 sites in the world, according to Alexa Web Information Service. Visits to our site are up more than 12% this year to date; we average 60,000 visits a month. More first-time visitors than ever are finding out about clicker training and the website is engaging the repeat and frequent visitor, like you, as well. So, keep reading, commenting, contributing, and linking to us.

A web community is only as vibrant as its members. Luckily, we have tremendously vibrant members in the clicker training community: folks who are generous in sharing what they have learned and experienced. The 2007 re-launch of clickertraining.com, with its interactive features including a company blog, user blogs and user training diaries, was designed to provide additional forums for community discussions and mutual assistance.

Those of you who are regular contributors know that you earn points and rewards for website contributions. In the first 10 months after re-launch, we registered more than 6,000 users and welcomed contributions from almost 1,500 different people, hailing from countries all around the world. Every month there are new and exceptional pieces that teach, inspire, or amuse. Some of these pieces we write here at KPCT, some we solicit from writers outside of the company, and some are submitted by the community via user blogs. Your submissions are read by trainers and pet owners, and when our editors see something they think is really on target, that piece is promoted to the front page to give it even more exposure. Here are some of the "most-read" articles from 2007:

The education train

ClickerExpo has become the essential education event for those who train or teach. Our first ClickerExpo, held in 2003 in Chicago, attracted 200 people. Our latest events in Cleveland and Los Angeles each attracted over 400 attendees. Yes, 800 people in total! That tells you something about momentum.

ClickerExpo has become the essential education event for those who train or teach.

We get a wonderfully creative, talented, and varied group at ClickerExpo: neuroscientists and newspaper journalists, top dog trainers and newcomers, active canine sport competitors, equestrians, and marine mammal trainers—and more. They're all there to learn, so it makes for a stimulating, interesting crowd. As labor-intensive as it is to oversee and teach at the events every year, it also re-energizes us; the ClickerExpo faculty looks forward to ClickerExpo, too. They love to teach.

This year ClickerExpo will be held in Los Angeles, California, and in Lexington, Kentucky. Please join us, learn more than you could imagine, and meet a community of like-minded trainers from around the world. Come with or without your dog! When you plan for the upcoming holidays, remember to give yourself a well-earned gift—the chance to attend ClickerExpo.

Seeing—and hearing—is believing

One of the newest ways that some of our community members have contributed to clicker training education has been through our Canis Film Festival contest, which debuted successfully in 2007. Submissions for the next festival will begin being accepted in the fall of 2008. Get those cameras rolling!

Another way we're reaching out to learners is through www.clickertraining.tv, the online resource for clicker training video tools. We spent a lot of time in 2007 bolstering our inventory of valuable training clips. Our fully searchable database allows you to search for video content for training a specific behavior or a specific species—or just for amusement. Each month we add a free clip to the collection, and each video in the regular library includes a free preview so that you can see before you buy.

And if you haven't checked out our podcasts—free for registered community members—take a peek at our podcast offerings. A new podcast is offered every month, and you can subscribe to the free podcast through iTunes, Google, or other podcast clients. The first ten installments of the Phoebe Chronicles are available (click on the podcast link at the bottom of each article page), as are other articles read by their authors, including Kathy Sdao, Melissa Alexander—and me!

If you haven't checked out our podcasts—free for registered community members—take a peek at our audio offerings.

A world of difference

After many months of intense, company-wide effort, this summer we launched Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior. The first course offered is for clicker trainers who are teaching dog training. The program is a combination of online and onsite learning designed to work with students' busy schedules. We even have an International program. Our goal is to create excellent and successful clicker trainers, and then have them multiply like rabbits throughout the world! We encourage you to participate, as soon as you can.

We currently have 12 teaching locations and approximately 50 students enrolled in the program. This first group of students will graduate in early 2008.

It's exciting to think that in a year or two we could have 100 or more Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partners. This certification means that trainers have made a commitment to teach and to train in ways consistent with the force-free principles and practices of the Academy—and that they have the skill and competence to do so.

Building this world of certified clicker trainers—certified with knowledge and skill—supports the development of the next group of clicker trainers. Trainers need a way to distinguish themselves from the charlatans that call themselves clicker trainers but hold a clicker in one hand and save the other for a leash "pop." Maybe you've seen Google ads such as: "We expose 5 clicker training myths!" While we can't stop the ads or the pretenders, we can render them ineffective by setting meaningful standards and educating the public and influential organizations about the differences between us and "them."

Our goal is to create excellent and successful clicker trainers, and then have them multiply like rabbits throughout the world!

Clicker training also needs a mechanism for establishing partnership and cooperation among professional clicker trainers. Remember that old line, "When three trainers get together, the only thing they can all agree on is that two of them don't know what they are talking about." Cooperation is one part confidence and one part mutual interest. Our Academy program encourages both. We provide confidence when all trainers holding Karen Pryor Academy certification uphold the same practices and standards. We provide mutual interest with:

  • Cooperative marketing that boosts everyone's business
  • A referral network infrastructure with colleagues who can help from you across town (so you can take vacation!) or across the nation (where they are trying something you may want to replicate locally)
  • My favorite, the ability to hire with confidence a certified trainer to teach classes so that you can expand your business

Our school is fun

I want to add a few words of encouragement for those who might be nervous about jumping back into an "academic" environment. For some people, school felt like punishment and the mere mention of it can inspire chills. Our program is a substantially different experience than any other school or educational experience you may have had. It's intense and thorough, but fun.

Why do we make it fun? As clicker trainers, we've observed that you learn much faster and retain information much longer when you're having fun and are properly reinforced. In fact, our classes are so much fun that the teachers sometimes jump in spontaneously; faculty member Helix Fairweather posted a video of herself completing an assigned homework exercise. To see Helix's video, click here. Want to learn more about the Academy? Here are the details on enrollment.

We've been delighted by the reaction of veteran clicker trainers as they experience the course. In closing, I'll share a discussion board post that describes one student's view of the Academy. Maybe it will inspire you to register as well.

Here's to the future of clicker training—it's here now!

Posted by: "Patty"
Sun Nov 11, 2007

I know I've posted on this subject the last time that I attended a workshop, so forgive me for blathering on about it again, but I'm just completely floored.

This academy program is FANTASTIC. This morning I am getting ready for my second day of my second workshop (I'm emailing from my hotel room) and I just can't say enough about it. The online units are great, truly, really good stuff, but the workshops... holy cow, they are amazing! We have such skilled trainers in our group and it [is] SO fun and SO supportive. Of course the program focuses on positive reinforcement techniques for training dogs, but man oh man, you should experience the positive reinforcement given to the TRAINERS. You all walk out feeling like you are incredible.

Imagine ClickerExpo, now imagine one-on-one with one of the faculty, who just keeps telling you everything you are doing right. Then you have the other students (my group has nine but we are the largest group in the country) who are unbelievable trainers themselves saying "go team go!" The units teach you how to do the stuff, four different techniques to improve latency let's say, or back-chaining a specific behavior or whatever... you try it with a particular behavior and then you iron out the kinks with the group at the workshops. Totally safe, totally positive. It's fantastic.

Thanks for indulging my little commercial here... I swear I get no kickbacks, ha. I just really think it is great and I wanted to pass the word.

Patricia McKenzie, MS, ABCDT
Repertoire Animal Training & Behavior

About the author
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Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and TAGteach International, and a member of the ClickerExpo Faculty.

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