I THOUGHT IT WAS ABOUT DOG TRAINING…..WHO KNEW? I had the opportunity to go to Clicker Expo this year in Los Angeles. I thought I knew about clicker training before this past weekend but after attending the Clicker Expo I realized I knew very little. The event was created and hosted primarily by Karen Pryor’s Company Clickertraining.com. A quick Google search of her name will bring up books, tapes and training products on clicker training. Her company has recently started a clicker training academy where one can obtain a certification using this process of interacting with animals. I attended this event with the hope of learning something new about dog training, how dogs learn and how maybe I could accomplish my training goals with less conflict. I was not disappointed. The staff of instructors/lecturers were highly skilled and for the most part highly educated. I attended a couple of lectures and a “lab” with Ken Ramirez. (Ken Ramirez, vice president of animal collections and training at Chicago’s world-famous Shedd Aquarium, develops and supervises animal care programs, staff training and development, and public presentation programs for the marine mammal collection. He oversees animal training for all animals in the aquarium, including fish, sharks, and reptiles. He joined Shedd Aquarium in 1989.
A 30-year veteran of marine mammal care and training, Ken worked for nine years at Marineworld of Texas. He also coordinated marine mammal care programs at Ocean Safari in South Padre Island, Texas, and has acted as a consultant or coordinator for many marine mammal programs throughout the world. He began his training career working with guide dogs for the visually impaired and has maintained a close connection to dog training throughout his career. Currently, Ken has a new pet training television series in development.
Ken has been active in several professional organizations, including the International Marine Animal Trainer’
s Association (IMATA), of which he is a past president, and the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, where he has served on the board of directors since 1987. He also has served on the board of the American Cetacean Society.
In addition to his other work, Ken has written for several scientific publications, including Marine Mammals: Public Display and Research, and Soundings, published quarterly by IMATA. He teaches a graduate course on animal training at Western Illinois University and authored the book ANIMAL TRAINING: Successful Animal Management Through Positive Reinforcement, published in 1999. The book has become required reading for many animal trainers in the zoological field.)
Ken is a great teacher, trainer and author. His lecture on secondary reinforcers was really impressive. I began creating multiple reinforcers as soon as I got back to training on Monday.
Since I enjoy competitive obedience trials I am always interested in getting the highest possible reliability with the least amount of conflict and (here’s the catch) with no training collars, leashes or other types of devices that are attached to the dog during competition. I think that what Karen Pryors organization is offering is a means toward that end. That’s not to say that I’m a clicker training fanatic but I see great value in teaching a dog how to actively participate in the learning process. Am I ready to give up my choke chains, prong collars, shock collars and devote my life to Clicker Training? No, not yet. But I would be very willing to take a six week old puppy and create a positive foundation that would last a lifetime using a Clicker and treats. I would also be very willing to continue on with the Clicker throughout that pups life to continue teaching and reinforcing behaviors. That being said, when I’m at the park with my dog, and if he bolts after a squirrel that is running toward the street and into traffic, I’ll be relieved to see him turn on a dime and come back to me because he was wearing an electric collar. If my dog and I lived in a bubble like, for example oh I don’t know maybe a Dolphin in a tank, I’d be more inclined to take that leap into Clicker Utopia. Dogs will be dogs and I just love mine too much to take that chance.
To conclude I think that all dog trainers should learn the principles behind Clicker training but I believe in a more balanced approach. My clients come to Beyond The Leash for results. They are not looking for Competition level obedience but they are also not looking for something warm and fuzzy that takes a long time with low reliability. We all would love to be able to train our dogs with no verbal corrections let alone physical corrections. Ideals exist only in the imagination, perfection is never obtained. We must treat our dogs with dignity, respect and fairness. Give them plenty of exercise and love and don’t correct them out of shear frustration. They don’t know why the hell your jumping up and down making a lot of noise. If you need a trainer find one with experience and compassion. Find a dog trainer that really likes dogs! I was surprised to find and still am surprised when I meet trainers that obviously don’t like dogs. Sometimes many years of experience means old school methods and just plain career burn out…….