Clicker Expo is a three-day training and behavior conference presented each year by Karen Pryor Clicker Training, twice in the U.S. and once abroad. In January I attended the west coast option in Irvine, California. It goes without saying that I enjoyed the myriad of lecture and lab topics but what I enjoyed most were the conversations I had with my peers in between sessions, over dinner and even after we returned home. So many of us were inspired by similar topics. Since leaving Clicker Expo, there has been a lot of brainstorming among us and an excitement to incorporate these great ideas into our businesses. Truthfully, I had moments at expo when I said to myself, “Why am I not already doing this?”
One conversation in particular that made a huge impression on me was a group discussion after opening session the first day of expo. My friend and colleague Melody Hennigh of Busy Beaks Academy out of Oakley, California brought the most unique companion to expo, her brown headed parrot Sage. Who brings a parrot to a primarily dog and horse behavior conference? A parrot trainer of course! It seemed so novel unless you know Melody and if so, it just seemed normal. Many of us gathered around to meet Sage and participated in lots of oohing and aahing. One person in the group was the esteemed Dr. Susan Friedman, psychology professor at Utah State University, pioneer of the application of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to captive and companion animals and the founder of behaviorworks.org. In the course of dialogue my blue fronted Amazon, Oliver came up. I made what I thought to be a comment not worth acknowledgement by anyone when I said, “I don’t share much video of the work I do with Oliver anymore.” That caught Susan’s attention.
Her response stuck to me like glue, so much so that I have been plotting my response to it ever since. She said, “But you MUST. You need to get it out there. You need to be presenting it to bird clubs and everywhere and to anyone who will listen”. The passion in which she said it was so palpable I felt like she had grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me squarely in the eye and explained that the quality of life of all captive parrots depends on it. But she didn’t do that. She said what she said, I followed with “yeah, I should” and the conversation moved on to other topics. It was a brief dialogue that had such a powerful impact on me. Let me explain why.
In the world of science-based, positive reinforcement, force-free training there is a movement to stop bashing what you don’t like and promote what you believe in, lead by example. Anyone who knows me or spends 5 minutes on my website understands that I don’t use choke, prong or shock collars. I don’t use verbal reprimands and never use physical coercion including leash corrections. I choose to teach and train using methods based on decades of behavioral science that include positive reinforcement and the principles of applied behavior analysis (card carrying Susan Friedman student). Over time, I have evolved to a place where I don’t feel I have to say too much about what I don’t do but rather explain my approach to training and behavior modification. If it feels right to you then we are a good match. If it doesn’t, we are not going to work together. But choosing this path to working with animals is not enough. Talking to you about it, is not enough. I have to show you.
Why? Because we live in a world where the labels I choose to describe the methodology I subscribe to (positive reinforcement, force-free training) have been hijacked. We live in a world in which some trainers use clickers and food to associate electronic collars that deliver shock with good things. The incorporation of elements of science-based training tools with devices that deliver shock, physical pressure and discomfort has saturated the dog training profession. The science is winning in many communities but, I am a minority among the trainers in the community in which I work. Results matter and it would be foolish to think that the trainers that choose to use other methods don’t get results, they do. Some are intended results and I’d venture to say that some are unintended. When I see a video of a dog trained with an electronic collar, most of the time I see a dog void of joy. There is body language that screams, “I am being controlled by a remote control.” The dog simply seem robotic. When there is a more joyful, humane and safe way to train, why choose any other way? I need to show you that there is joy in using science-based training and you are not sacrificing results as a consequence.
Earlier I mentioned I have been plotting my response to Dr. Friedman since that first day of expo. This is it. I am committing myself to three things in 2018.
For years I have referred clients to other great trainers with fabulous YouTube channels because why reinvent the wheel when there is Kikopup, Donna Hill, or Pam’s Dog Academy? Because, we are stronger in numbers. I need to contribute to the proliferation of science-based training and behavior modification and make it more accessible to the public. I need to show you. I will share more of my work with dogs in the online community. I will be posting videos to YouTube and offer FB lives that educate, not just show off training in action. If you would like to show your support of my new “shout it from the roof tops” endeavor, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. Please be kind, it is in its infancy stage.
I will become a champion for parrots as I am for dogs. I will post video of training Oliver and educate the public about the plight of parrots. I will prepare a presentation for the local bird clubs and forge a relationship with The Oasis Sanctuary. This sanctuary is located in Cascabel, Arizona near the town of Benson in Southeastern Arizona. Its mission is to provide permanent sanctuary for parrots and build naturalistic habitats (free-flights) for the birds in their care. Oasis works with avian and animal welfare organizations in an effort to ensure that every parrot in captivity has a safe and loving home and that the remaining wild population is protected from commercial exploitation. Oasis also educates the public about parrots and their proper care in captivity and their place in the wild.
On May 1, 2018 I will be adding parrots to my services for training and behavior consulting. When I adopted Oliver in May 2015 there was NO ONE locally to help me navigate this new species in my life. I reached out to my online training community and with the mentorship of Melody Hennigh at Busy Beaks Academy and Vicki Ronchette at Braveheart Dog Training I discovered I already had much of the knowledge I needed to help him overcome his cage-bound life. I would like to help others understand that they need not overpower an animal that weighs 15 ounces when they can teach them to have choices in their care and enjoy it.
Thank you to Dr. Susan Friedman for the inspiration to not only be better every day at my profession but to also shout it from the roof tops!