In this blog, we’d like to share our experience at the ClickerExpo 2017, a 3-day conference program, in Stamford, Connecticut.
“Click”. We have not yet entered the hotel before we hear the first click of a clicker. We are about to begin three days of seminars and labs at Karen Pryor’s Clicker Expo. Karen Pryor is CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. Her work with dolphins in the 1960’s revolutionized animal training with force-free operant conditioning. Among many other titles, she authored the seminal Don’t Shoot the Dog and pioneered the path to shaping behavior through the use of a tiny tool called the clicker. The clicker is used to mark a specific moment and communicates to the animal that they have earned a reward. Clicker training is even being used in person to person communication! Worldwide, programs are being developed to teach carpenters, ballerinas, surgeons, and people with special needs to improve their technical skills for better efficiency and safety.
Everywhere we look, people and their dogs move in unison. “Click-Treat”. It’s magical. Everyone is excited and the energy is contagious. We wish this is what NYC looked like all the time. Dog and handler teams moving through their day together. All too often in cities we are restricted by where our dogs can go. Here at the Expo, people with dogs and treats linger about, everyone ready to learn from each other.
One of our favorite seminars was Kathy Sdao’s Recall Lab. Kathy Sdao, author of Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace is known for her work with wild dolphins in Hawaii to locate and defuse underwater explosives. In Kathy’s lab we learned fun ways to teach and reinforce a reliable recall. Kathy shared a story of hiding hamburgers in trees along a path that she and her dog often walk. When her dog came on cue, Kathy discretely reached up, pulled a burger out of a tree and gave it to him. You can bet her dog’s recall was reliable from that point on. Next time you are on a walk with your pup, look up New York, we may have placed a burger in a tree.
Our mentor, Chandra Gavin CCPDT-KA, participated in Kathy’s recall lab with her pup, Kraken. When he was first adopted, Kraken exhibited behaviors of resource guarding, separation anxiety and severe lack of impulse-control. It was such a joy to watch Chandra and Kraken work together with Kathy on focus and off-leash response in a small room full of food, toys, people and dogs. It was a tremendous challenge for the pair and, as we watched with baited breath, they did a fantastic job! Together, they won the hearts of every other trainer in the room. Watch Video
During lunch, we sat with Ken Ramirez and spoke about the science of clicker training. The majority of the conversation was on the technicalities of “free shaping”. Free shaping involves marking and rewarding for incremental steps towards the targeted behavior without a lure. A dog’s natural mode of learning is through trial and error. This technique uses that process to greater reinforce the targeted behavior. We learned how to use environmental prompts effectively and creatively by way of Ken’s recent butterfly experiment. Yes, you read that right. Ken has recently returned from a trip where he was asked to train butterflies.
We were able to connect and discuss case studies with a cast of outstanding trainers: Laura VanArendonk, Susan G. Friedman, Debbie Martin, Ken Ramirez, Emma Parsons, Michele Pouliot, Terry Ryan, Terrie Hayward Kathy Sdao, and Lindsay Wood among others. At the conclusion of every lecture, we felt stronger about our work. Each seminar left us excited and bursting with new techniques. Training a dog is hard work and can be even harder in a city like New York. We left Karen Pryor’s Expo with a greater understanding of how, not only to excel under the limitations of our environment, but to expand the way that we engage with those limitations. And we cannot tell you how excited we are to have come back home to share them with you and your family!
“Review what you know to reveal the new” – Dr. Jesus Rosales Ruiz
“Changing does not mean you have been doing it wrong, it just means you want to get better!” – Michele Pouliot
Learn more about the ClickerExpo