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Reflections on ClickerExpo Europe 2014

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As I sit in London’s Heathrow Airport awaiting a flight to Russia (more on that trip in a future Letter), I cannot help but reflect on this past weekend. Our very first ClickerExpo in Europe came to a close last night and all of us at KPCT breathed a sigh of relief, pride, and satisfaction. The conference was a resounding success with more than 330 attendees from 26 countries participating in Sessions and Labs led by Kay Laurence, Michele Pouliot, Emelie Johnson-Vegh, Eva Bertilsson, Cecilie Køste, Karen Pryor, and me. Those 330 people were packed into three rooms where we conducted two Sessions and one Lab concurrently. We had a waiting list of nearly 100 people who were just hoping one of those 330 attendees would drop out! Like every ClickerExpo I have ever participated in (and that’s a lot over the past 11 years), it was an exhilarating experience for me! But I approached ClickerExpo Europe with a bit of apprehension and uncertainty; I wasn’t sure it would be the same for me.

The perfect setting for ClickerExpo's first European debut

The perfect setting for
ClickerExpo's first European debut

There was a great deal about this Expo that would be different. Holding ClickerExpo in Europe for the first time was a big deal, but that was not the only thing that made this a first. It was my very first Expo in my new role as Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer of Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT). It would be my first Expo as more than a faculty member. Would my focus be different? Would I be too busy to enjoy Expo? Would the worry and concern of making sure all the attendees had the best time ever be so overwhelming that I wouldn’t get the same Expo experience I had come to expect and enjoy? Well, I needn’t have worried—it was a very fulfilling experience.

The logistics were very well handled by Lynda Taylor and David Hobson and their great team from Positive Animal Solutions based in the UK. They joined us as partners and really handled all of the onsite logistics from dealing with registration and working with the hotel to running the store! They were a joy to work with. Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Certified Training Partner (CTP) Gillian Cross handled an eager group of volunteers that assisted throughout the Expo. And although we missed the huge contingent of KPA CTPs we are used to having at the US Expos, we did have 13 graduates of the program in attendance, as well as a good number who are signed up for or taking our Dog Trainer Professional program in the UK. That’s right, both of our new UK KPA faculty members were at ClickerExpo Europe (Sara Benton and Linda Ryan) and there was a buzz of excitement that we would now have the Dog Training Professional program regularly available in the UK. Sara and Linda assisted KPA Director Lori Gwyr, joining her at our KPA table to inform attendees about the great courses we have available through KPA.

KPA Director Lori Gwyr with new UK KPA faculty members Sara Benton and Linda Ryan

KPA Director
Lori Gwyr (center)
with UK KPA faculty members
Sara Benton (left) and
Linda Ryan (right)

The Expo attendees seemed to have a high skillset, with less than 25% of the group considering themselves beginners. Most exciting was that more than 90% of them had never attended an Expo before. They had heard about the US ClickerExpo conferences, and they were excited to see what it was all about. Probably not since the first two or three years of ClickerExpo have we ever had such a high number of first-timers. It gave me the chance to really see Expo through their eyes! New Expo attendees were in awe of our speakers and seemed thrilled with all the new information we shared. Lest those of you in the US be concerned that you missed out, not to worry. Because it was our first time in Europe, most of the instructors spoke on topics they have taught at previous US ClickerExpos.

The feel of the Expo, the energy in the rooms, the sharing of information, and the camaraderie among attendees seemed just like the previous Expos I had experienced in the US. Aaron Clayton, President of KPCT, hosted the opening and closing ceremonies and moderated the panel discussion, as he always has at US Expos—with great skill and humor. Surprisingly, much of his unique brand of humor actually translated reasonably well over here (although, admittedly, not perfectly)!

But the star of this ClickerExpo was, of course, Karen Pryor. The majority of the attendees had never seen her in person, but all had read at least one if not more of her books. We also were able to offer the attendees the chance to purchase Karen’s brand-new book literally fresh off the presses, On My Mind: Reflections on Animal Behavior and Learning. It is a collection of essays and articles that Karen has written in this very space over the years. Attendees were thrilled to be the first to get the book. The limited number of books that we sent over here were sold out within the first few hours! Karen taught one class along with the rest of us, but we reserved her spaces for the group Sessions. She did an opening welcome in which she talked about how science and clicker training have started to come together, and she did a closing talk on creativity. Perhaps the highlight was the Saturday night sold-out dinner. Karen was the speaker and her talk was titled Friendly Takeover: The Growing Influence of All of Us. Karen used no PowerPoint, no video, just talked eloquently and shared stories about the growth of clicker training around the world. She kept the crowd riveted for nearly an hour, and when she was done they gave her a standing ovation that seemed like it would last forever—and it very well may have had Karen not stood up and gestured for everyone to sit back down. They were appreciative, to say the least!

Karen receiving a standing ovation after her Saturday night talk.

Karen receiving a standing
ovation after her Saturday night talk

Now that I am thinking about it, I am not sure why I was worried. We know that positive reinforcement training is important and valuable and more and more people are clamoring to learn about it. I was so thrilled to meet so many trainers with varying experiences who were so eager to learn and anxious to get home and apply it with their animals. The clicker revolution really is spreading and I am so proud to be a part of it!

We have some exciting things planned for ClickerExpo 2015 in Portland, OR, and Dearborn, MI (there are still some spaces available in Michigan, so I encourage you to sign up soon). I can’t believe the next Expo is only a few months away! As ClickerExpo Europe came to a close, we announced that we will be returning to the UK with another ClickerExpo in October of 2015. We also have our sights on other European locations for the years after that!

Well, I have to run, my plane is departing for Russia and I should have an interesting couple of weeks there! I look forward to letting you know how it goes.

Happy Training!

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