APDT Conference: Day 1

No quotes just straight into the conference.

First up was what I considered a key-note with a key-message as Ken Ramirez delivered his session on “Tales from the Field: The Diverse Faces of a Professional Trainer”. I have heard Ken before and if ever you get the chance he is highly recommended.

This session included Ken’s thoughts on professional dog trainers, ethics and philosophy, balancing science and practical application, skills beyond training, finding your niche, and the future of training. Actually before I get into this, the opening included some pretty good stats on this conference, for instance there were close to 800 people at the opening session and from countries including USA, Canada, Australia (yay, me!), Chile, Brazil, Venezuala, UK, and Finland.

The APDT in USA has recently changed their name from Association of Pet Dog Trainers to Association of Professional Dog Trainers. This is more than just training for a paycheque but more about how one represents oneself in the industry. Practical experience is a valuable asset but so is a knowledge of the science and a familiarisation with the current trends. I strongly believe in this, which is why I continue to go to these conferences. Learning should never stop.

Ken also spoke about the importance of an ethical foundation. The end goal should be the animal’s welfare not just reaching a goal. I think this sometimes goes past us, which is why I am not a fan of say fading out a lure because the curriculum says we should do this after one or two sessions – who says this, the trainer or the dog?

And talking about methods in dog training, Ken’s experience is in zoology not dogs but in any training program a positive regime should be first; however, there needs to be acknowledgment that there is more to training than positive reinforcement. Ken is disappointed that so many poo-poo any other method of training and if we are truly professional then there must be acknowledgment and there must be knowledge so that a trainer can explain why they may use a specific method over another.

Teaching is training – training an animal how to live in our care; how to live in our world successfully. The cornerstones of any animal care must be: health program, nutrition program, environment and behavioural management. The primary reason for training (for the benefit of the animal) is: physical exercise, mental stimulation and cooperative behaviour.

A professional trainer must be well-read and well-practised. They must understand various techniques, they must know when and how to adapt, they must be versatile and be able to speak about the myriad of techniques. Ken was quite critical of trainers who call themselves positive trainers, yet they spend their time criticising any other method or trainer without any acknowledgment that those methods are based on science and do work. You don’t have to use them but you have to be able to explain why you are using what you are in any specific situation and why it is the best for that particular session.

Training is successful because we adapt to the needs of the animals and the needs of the situation.

Ken also gave some practical experience of where his niche lies – as that is what we should do, find what you are good at, where your skills can be best used and be passionate.

Ken’s practical examples are based on “exotic” animal training for a purpose and they are great, he also spoke about his mimicry training with dogs (I have heard the full session on this before and it is fascinating to watch and hear – he is drafting a scientific paper on this). If I get around to it I might add some to this blog, otherwise come to one of my NDTF lectures as I have spoken about some of Ken Ramirez’s training in the past and now have some new examples.

Highlight of the day without a doubt.

Chicken Training

Seems like months ago – well, almost one month ago anyway I was at the APDT Conference in San Diego. On Day 5 of that conference I had the fun of doing some chicken training with Terry Ryan (see earlier post). Now that I’m home I’ve also managed to post a short video clip on youtube.

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APDT Conference – Day 5

Last day of the conference (Sunday but I’m a bit slow) and this was the day I was most looking forward to – another chance to do some chicken training with Terry Ryan – Bob Bailey even dropped in.

There is some great theory on operant conditioning and how to handle chickens and how they learn. Great fun. We trained our chickens how to discriminate a pattern on a card about 1″ x 1″ amongst very similar other patterns. Timing and reinforcement is so important. And it was really good to see how extinction works, including the extinction burst.

Jim and Mindy

I was training a leghorn called Mindy and with having a not so good at timing or reinforcement partner really helped to demonstrate learning theory. Video will come later (the Mac does not have firewire, which Jim’s video camera requires to download). So for the time being you can see me and Mindy.

(I will write up about the last session another time.)

APDT Conference – Day 4

This was a bit of a lazy day for me – brunch and farmers market (see the earlier posts) rather than conferencing but then in the afternoon I rejoined the dog crowd. I only went to two sessions and then spent a few more dollars on books and dog stuff.

First up was a session on Rally-O. For the non-dog people, you can look this up and read all about it. For the dog people, it was a good session and once again I have expanded my knowledge on this dog sport that is still in its early infancy in Australia.

My second session was one I enjoyed because it was with the master – Bob Bailey. I’ve seen him before and I just love the early videos he shows of his work with the CIA and the Brelands and he even showed one with two pidgeons playing ping-pong that was research conducted and narrated by Skinner himself (if you don’t know these people, do yourself a favour and look them up and then learn a little about operant conditioning).

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APDT USA Conference – Day 3

Day three of the conference and all is going well – very tiring but interesting. This was the first day where there were different streams to follow – I went off to see Grey Stafford (Director of Conservation for the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium in Phoenix and author of Zoomility: Keeper Tales of Training with Positive Training) present on 2,4,6,8 – How Do We Approximate. I really enjoyed this session, many things were not new, but the way he presented the information and provided a different view on the Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequence of training was very enlightening. I will get around to doing a separate blog on this – maybe one quiet night in Memphis or Nashville – or maybe there will be no quiet nights.

In the afternoon I went on a field trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (a half hour drive to get there on one of those yellow school buses we in Australia see on the Simpsons – and a two hour drive to get home because some idiot decided he wanted to jump off some bridge over some highway). I love zoos and this one was one to love. (Wait for the blog on this as there is a bit to write – for a teaser, ever seen a Cheetah walked on a lead?)

Giraffes at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Giraffes at San Diego Zoo Safari Park


APDT USA Conference – Day 2

Reading this, you may not have caught up with what happened on day one of the conference as I didn’t write that post up until later – something to do with necessity for down-time. Anyway, Day 2 was dedicated to impulse control – very interesting topic with a variety of speakers offering thoughts on impulse control and management. A skill all dog trainers and dog owners wish they could just wave a wand and impart on to all dogs. Unfortunately, this is not always possible but all speakers agreed that impulse control is trainable just that with some dogs it is easier than with others and in all cases it takes impulse control from the dog owner.

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APDT USA Conference – Day 1

Day one of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) USA conference is always full-on and crammed with information and speakers. Nothing like a bit of brain overload when allegedly on holiday overseas. But there is always something to take away from a conference like this.

Sessions started with Karen Pryor (the “founder” of what we know as clicker training) who provided a comprehensive and interesting history of clicker training – or if you prefer, operant training with an event marker. One of the many things to come from this talk was a small snippet on using a mechanical clicker as opposed to a verbal “yes”. Research has demonstrated that behaviour response learning to a click is 43% faster than the voice during the acquisition phase of training. After this, a voice is better. In other words, to obtain the better results, use the click in the teaching phase but then this can be faded and replaced with a verbal marker once the behaviour is learnt.

I also liked her comments on primary reinforcers (e.g. food) as being good for teaching general information – “this is a nice place, you are a nice guy, I will hang around” – whereas a conditioned reinforcer (e.g. click) teaches a specific behaviour – “do this because it pays off”. So for example, you might like to go into the room because good things happen there, but the conditioned reinforcer will train you that once you enter the room you have to take your hat off and hang it on the hook.

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Dog Play

I read an article the other day by a trainer I really respect in the dog training world and he was talking about motivation and how to get the best out of your dog – There is no greater training tool or benefit than having a strong, direct and connected bond with your dog moulded around your and your dog’s personality. Done correctly nothing can match it. Developing this from when your dog is a puppy has the long term benefit of imprinted behaviour, which essentially means that ways of dealing with you (or not if not followed) are hard wired into the core behaviour the dogs carries through the rest of its life.

– and it made me think about motivation and play. For instance, how much should we play with our dogs and at what level?

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BSL – yes or no

Today, Friday 30 September 2011, is a critical day in the dog owning world of Victoria, Australia. Today the amnesty on restricted breed dog ownership ends as council officers now embark on the government mission of hunting down the unregistered pit bulls, putting a loop pole around their necks and taking them away for a shot of the permanent sleep medicine.

You could well imagine the outcry, the planned protests, the unplanned protests – and the smiles on the faces of those whose life it is is to not live next door to a dog, especially a dangerous one.

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Jim’s Philosophy of Dog Training

Those involved in dog training know of the four quadrants – positive and negative reinforcement; and positive and negative punishment – and there are many different ways of applying the quadrants to have a dog perform the behaviour that you would like. But training methods aside, the dog handler needs a mantra.

I have mine and it is something I express to all handlers who come to one of my classes. I call it Jim’s philosophy of dog training – The F’s and P’s of dog training. I’ve picked them up from various sources, added my own twist and I believe that having something solid to follow provides a basis for good dog training.

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