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Clicker Expo 2013: Ten Years of “WOW”

Karen Pryor and I

Karen Pryor and I

Clicker Expo, held twice a year and organized by the Karen Pryor Academy is a three-day conference where dog trainers and others that work with animals can attend to learn about trends in the industry and participate hands-on with their dogs on various learning labs.

I attended ClickerExpo in San Francisco this past January and was impressed with many aspects of the conference but the two main overarching pieces that I particularly appreciated was:

1) the scientific approach that premised most of the talks and

2) The emphasis on modeling with our human counterparts the very principles that behavior professionals practice and preach about .

I won’t bore you with the scientific approach piece, but I will tell you about the  impact #2 had on me.  As a professional dog trainer that applies the use of positive reinforcement principles, we reward desirable behavior with consequences that the subject deems valuable.  The theory is that behavior that is reinforced is likely to repeat.  So we go on and on talking about the importance of catching our dogs doing the right thing so we can reinforce them, and how it’s important to watch our dogs closely so that when desirable behavior occurs, we’re there to say, “that’s right, that’s what we wanted”.  In essence we teach people to be good observers of behavior and good at reinforcing good behavior.  Well, this is all good and dandy, but what about people?  How many times have we complained to our significant others about a million things but forgot to mention how grateful we were for that one tiny little thing that we really appreciated?  If you’re a manager, how many times have you focused on that one thing that your employee did wrong and forgot to mention how thankful you were for that one thing he/she did that made something else go really smoothly?

ClickerExpo 2013 in Sn Francisco, California

ClickerExpo 2013 in Sn Francisco, California

At ClickerExpo, we had opportunities to get better at reinforcing good human behavior.  Every time, someone did something you really appreciated, you had a chance to provide them with a raffle ticket.  The more raffle tickets you got, the higher your chances of winning the raffle items.

Just to give you an example, right before I attended the conference, I became deathly ill with some weird flu/virus type thing and one particular day of the conference, I had to exit several times in the middle of lectures so as not to disrupt the lecture with my cough and in order to prevent my germs from being shared.  Well, every time I did that and someone noticed, I got a raffle ticket.  For those that brought their dogs, every time someone caught them in the act of doing something right, whether it was exiting the room if the dog barked, or working at the dogs’ level in terms of space, they had an opportunity to get a raffle ticket.  And in general as you met people and conversed, anytime anyone did or said something you really appreciated, you had the opportunity to give them a raffle ticket.

When working with dogs, it’s really fascinating to see how well this principle works, but after ClickerExpo, I was pretty amazed to see how well this principle works with people too.  I got so good at it, I ran out of all my raffle tickets before the conference was over and I  got so many raffle tickets, I won a prize (maybe cause I was really sick, or maybe cause I was really nice–okay fine, probability had a little to do with it).  Nonetheless, it gets you modeling the principles of the work that you do day in and day out.  At the end of the day, you’re living the positive reinforcement life not only with dogs, but with the species that you can’t ever get away from…PEOPLE!  What a concept, it pays to be nice to people too.

To learn more about clicker training click here.

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