I grew up on a ranch in Southern New Mexico, a 6000-acre ranch sprawled across desert terrain at the base of the Rocky Mountains. I still visit my family’s ranch regularly, but it has not been a major part of my life in recent years. I’ve lived in cities for the better part of my professional career, so colleagues and friends were surprised to find out that I left Chicago, where I lived for almost 30 years, and moved to a 13-acre ranch in the Seattle/Tacoma area.
Why the move?
I have been in my role with Karen Pryor Clicker Training for nearly three years, and I missed the freedom of being able to play with and train animals every day—something I could do easily when I worked at the aquarium. There was no reason to stay in Chicago, since my responsibilities could be carried out anywhere, so I decided to explore ranch properties in various parts of the country. I was looking to find a location that met several personal needs, including space to house a variety of animals. I finally settled on a place in Graham, Washington.
Karen Pryor National Training Center
As I began the search and discussed some of our long-term plans with Karen Pryor Clicker Training staff, we realized that The Ranch could serve an important role for the company. It could provide a permanent location for new courses and seminars, and serve as a place where we could experiment with new ideas and explore innovative methods for teaching and training. The more we talked about ways that we could utilize The Ranch, the more excited everyone in the organization became about the possibilities.
Registration Opens June 8 at 1pm (ET)
On June 1, we made our first public announcement about The Ranch and launched the website to share the courses and seminars we are offering. One of the best things about our three primary courses is that they offer a hands-on component that will allow participants to obtain practical experience working with a variety of species, including mini-donkeys, goats, and a few species still to be determined. We plan to offer courses all year long, and are gearing the material to trainers at all levels of experience. The first course launches in September.
Farm animals, the next overlooked frontier
For me, The Ranch provides several great opportunities. The facility allows me to continue practicing and honing my training skills with different species. The classroom on The Ranch gives me the chance to continue teaching, and sharing what I learn with, others—something I truly enjoy. But one of the things I’m most excited about is the opportunity to work closely with farm animals and to think of new ways of enhancing their quality of life. Most of our Ranch residents will be adopted from ranch and farm rescues in the Washington area.
The welfare of farm and ranch animals is area topic that I feel is grossly overlooked. There are approximately 165 million pet cats and dogs in the US; in contrast, according to a census of farm and ranch animals, there are estimated to be more than 10 billion ranch animals in the United States. Because these animals come from the meat industry where the majority are slaughtered, there is not a great deal of focus on their welfare, and even less focus on the benefits provided by training. Temple Grandin deserves a great deal of credit for bringing these conditions to the forefront of the public’s mind, and for generating significant changes in the care and treatment of these animals. The American Humane Association has also been a leader in certifying farms and ranches for providing their animals with improved welfare. I would like to explore what we, as trainers, can bring to the understanding, care, and welfare of these wonderful animals.
Like so many new ideas and projects, it is impossible to know what we will learn and discover working at The Ranch, but I am eager to find out. I will report on new developments through articles and postings on our website. I am hopeful and optimistic that great things will come from the work we do on The Ranch. It is a new endeavor, so I will be taking small steps, and allowing the programs to grow gradually. Certainly, many of the ideas will come from the students who pass through our courses and seminars! I always find that the best ideas come from collaborating with others, and I am eager to meet and share ideas with other trainers in the years ahead.
The one thing I know for sure is that I want to take training in new directions for farm and ranch animals. The way I will be doing things on The Ranch will be very different from what I experienced growing up. This is not my grandfather’s ranch! I am hopeful that recent research and developments in the field of animal welfare, enrichment, and positive reinforcement training will open new doors for the animals we care for at The Ranch, and for the students who take courses with us. Where all this will lead remains to be seen, but I am sure it will be an exciting adventure.