Lessons and Thoughts from ClickerExpo

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Yesterday was such a full day at Expo, just packed with training wisdom, great advice, and plenty of funny moments—like discussing chicken camp with Terry Ryan over dinner, then looking down and realizing I had chosen chicken as my entrée that night! It’s difficult to embody the spirit of the day in a blog entry, but here are just a few of the many, many things that resonated with me yesterday


ClickerExpo Panel Discussion

ClickerExpo Panel Discussion, From L-R:
Julie Shaw, Karen Pryor, Michele Pouliot,
Aaron Clayton, Ken Ramirez, Kay Laurence,
Helix Fairweather, and Jesús Rosales-Ruiz.

During a panel discussion at the end of the day, Expo faculty members all agreed that the best way to effect change and to reach others who don’t agree with your training method is not to berate them, judge them, and tell them they’re wrong. It is to show what’s possible with this cool thing we’re doing with clickers. As Kathy Sdao put it, “We’re having a party over here and you are all invited.”


Kay Laurence reminded us that while the use of clicker training as a popular training method is relatively new, the concept of being nice to your dog to get him to do what you want is not. She read a quote that described how a shepherd always treats his sheepdog with kindness, never yelling at him, and never raising a fist to him. The surprising part (and judging by the wows and gasps in the audience, it was a surprise to many of us) is that the quote was from 1803.


After watching yet another brilliant and wonderfully entertaining video of Ken Ramirez training his dog at home, Laurie Luck leaned over and whispered, “I want to be reincarnated as one of Ken Ramirez’s dogs!


A delightful video from keynote speaker and neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp revealed something charming: rats laugh! The laughing rats are really a metaphor for the much-larger point that animals do indeed have emotions. While this probably comes as no surprise to most dog owners, Jaak has gone to great lengths to prove it to the many skeptics out there. It baffles me that despite his years of work, careful research, and seemingly irrefutable proof, some of his colleagues remain unconvinced that an animal can feel scared, angry, or happy. These are people with minds far more brilliant than mine. How can this be?


Alexandra Kurland says that one of the most wonderful things clicker trainers do is listen to our animals, since most of the time what they’re trying to tell us is very important. Like the horse that respectfully declined to come over when a rider asked him for permission to climb aboard. Later that day, the rider found out that the horse had a very sore back—that’s why he didn’t want a human on his back!

A punishment-based trainer might simply have assumed the horse was being “stubborn,” punished him, mounted him anyway, and risked hurting him even more.

Good clicker trainers understand that when our animals refuse to perform a well-known behavior, it’s probably for a good reason. As Alex put it, “One of the greatest gifts you can give an animal is the ability to say no.”

Are you at ClickerExpo? Tell us about your favorite moment.

About the author
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Lori Chamberland is the Director of Karen Pryor Academy. She also provides limited in-home dog training in the Hudson, MA, area. A canine sports enthusiast, Lori and her dogs have competed in agility, K9 Nose Work, and Treibball. 

Julie Shaw's picture

Favorite Moment

Lots and lots and lots of favorite moments but I was on the edge of my seat when Jaak Panskeep mentioned the possibility of the new anti-depressant medication that is in the works.  Depression is a horrid and life stealing thing which grows deep in my family tree.  I'd like to so those branches of that tree pruned way back!  Otherwise, my next favorite moment (moments) was having our expo family back together.