APDT Conference: Day 5.2

You know what it’s like when you come home after five weeks overseas – it takes some time to get into the blogging again as there are so many things to do back home. But, I’ve finally decided it’s time …

Second last session for the conference and I listened to Julie Hecht on “The Science and Politics of Anthropomorphism”. Fascinating topic, supported very well with some great research and reference to this document – EpleySchroederWaytz2013

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APDT Conference: Day 4.3

Some basic but otherwise interesting stuff to conclude Day 4 – Irith Bloom with a problem solving session titled “Shut Up Already! Dealing with Excessive Barking.”

Irith was quite a good speaker so it made the session interesting. She classified the types of barking into one of the following:

  1. Alert barking – generally occurs in response to a new or sudden stimulus
  2. Demand barking – reinforced by attention and any attention is often good enough
  3. Anxious barking – often no obvious trigger and is likely to be emotionally motivated
  4. Aggressive/Fearful barking – usually reinforced by distance

She then spoke about each and offered some helpful training.

Alert barking – strategies included the blocking access (physical/visual), adding white noise to the environment, etc. She also likes to teach “Quiet”. And another stagey is “click for barking”. The way this works is Bark->Marker->Food. Repeat as many times as necessary with a goal to reduce the number of barks to one or even zero over time. Ultimately, ‘alert-worthy’ stimuli will cue the dog to go find the handler. She had a video of this with a dog barking at the door and showed even within a short duration the dog went to the handler rather than bark at the door.

Demand barking – is often highly resistant to extinction and any type of attention may be reinforcing. There also may be some form of anxiety involved so she recommends relaxation exercises – she adapts Dr Karen Overall’s program (I have used this and it provides excellent training). Irith also mentioned the following thesis from Debra McKnight – thesis. Strategies for demand barking include: keeping the dog happily occupied (food toys, puzzle toys, etc); impulse training (e.g. “leave”); look for and reinforce quiet behaviour; ignore (more effective if the behaviour is new); negative punishment (e.g.. leaving the room) – however, this could then result in anxious barking.

Anxious barking – often the toughest type of barking to deal with. It may appear random or be part of an observable stimulus pattern – trying to identify the antecedent and the reinforcement are difficult. However, if known strategies include avoiding the stimulus. Again, the relaxation training is of benefit. As well as the Karen Overall protocol, she also mentioned “relax on a mat” from Chill Out, Fido!, mat relaxation using marker from Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out (she likes this one), bodywork or TTouch on mat from Control Unleashed. Off-switch games are of benefit, such as from Control Unleashed, tug (Jean Donaldson), fetch, etc.

The objective with anxious barking is to reduce the overall stress of the dog – so identify and eliminate as many stressors as possible. Further strategies include mental exercise and enrichment.

Aggressive/Fearful barking – occurs in response to certain stimuli. Strategies include: avoid triggers, block sight lines, white noise, strategic walk locations and/or timing; counterconditioning and desensitisation; watch; look at that; hand targeting; BAT/CAT/Treat-Retreat. And perhaps some desensitisation and counterconditioning for the handler reaction as well.

As earlier mentioned, it was a pretty good session and well balanced with some good video.

And now there is only Day 5 to go – these conferences are so value for money (even more so if you include a holiday with it) so if ever you are thinking of going to USA for holiday, look at planning around the conference. The next one is in Connecticut (NY way), then Dallas (Texas is great and you can fly direct to Dallas), then if you really want a holiday – Las Vegas. So start saving now.

I am in LA now with three days to go after a long but highly enjoyable five weeks away. Will get the Day 5 summaries posted soon.



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APDT Conference: Day 4.1

Day four of the APDT conference and another day of selections. I took a bit of everything this day – scientific, behavioural, and something different.

First up I did two sessions with Simon Gadbois who could be considered an expert in canid behaviour. Simon’s first session was: “Canine Neuroscience”, which was followed by “Aggression and Aggressiveness in Context”.

To save me having to take copious notes, which I would have, here are the two powerpoints –  apdt-2013-gadbois-aggressio apdt-2013-gadbois-canine

What I have done is jotted down some of the notes I took and included is the slide that they were relevant to or when mentioned. I’ll start with the neuroscience talk, which I found captivating and it was interesting to hear some of the thoughts from someone who actually researches and bases his theories on science.

Here the points to add to the notes:

  • There is a direct link between the brain and behaviour [10]
  • The brain learns well to punishment [13]
  • Is there a Fixed Action Pattern? Maybe there are action patterns but they can be loose or rigid (i.e. not fixed) as there are so many variables [13]
  • Social stress is stress coming from the environment [25]
  • Play is a real buffer for stress [32]
  • The animal needs to know there is more than +R. It must have a contrast for learning to occur. Those who say they only use +R will be using from elsewhere in the matrix – they may not know it but they will be [39]
  • Feedback must be given [40]
  • Play can be one of the best forms of motivation but how it is used is important – switched on or switched off [45]
  • The cue / anticipation becomes more important than the reward [45]
  • Lack of feedback creates frustration – give them information.

And that was a great session followed by the one on aggression. Again, here are the points to add to the powerpoint:

  • Aggression is not a still picture it is a movie – what happened before and after [7]
  • Personality is made up of: temperament (always there); and character (can change) [7]
  • In wolf packs it is not the higher status wolf that eats first, usually the others will eat, the higher status will see that the food is edible and then move in and the subordinates move out
  • The tone you use when communicating makes so much difference
  • Smelling v Sniffing [20]
  • There are two types of aggression:
    • Reactive – difficult because you don’t really know why; more classical conditioning
    • Proactive – you know why and this is generally very self-rewarding; more instrumental
  • Dominance hierarchies do exist [34]
  • The point of a dominance hierarchy is to avoid conflict – if there is no DH then there would be chaos [35]
  • Panksepp [41]

Hopefully you can take something away from this. It was great to listen to someone with such an academic background.


APDT Conference: Day 3.2

Still got a day and a bit to cover in the APDT Conference, so here is the next instalment, a further session with Malena DeMartini-Price, this session titled “Separation Anxiety. Don’t Run, it can be Done!”

Another excellent session that followed up on her previous and unfortunately, not enough time to cover everything. Malena had excellent video, which in my view outclassed the Robert Holmes’ NDTF sessions on separation anxiety (or canine separation anxiety disorder).

She started with how she classifies the level of anxiety into Mild, Moderate or Severe. Moderate is the most common form she sees.

Mild = panting, whining, intermittent barking, mild chewing (eg. bedding), excessive greeting (calming down quickly), mild depression, some shadowing (following), no key owner attachment

Moderate = anorexia, constant barking, howling, moderate destruction, elimination, excessive greeting (10-45 mins), panting, sweaty paws, moderate depression, wild door dashing (or blocking), frequent shadowing, pre-departure anxiety

Severe = self-mutilation, escapism, salivation/drooling, severe destruction, excessive water consumption, excessive shadowing, severe depression, aggression, diarrhoea / vomiting

Following from the previous session she summarised the plan she uses. The question everyone asks is how long does it take? There is no one-size fits all answer; however, it is dependent on the dog’s learning curve, the owner’s ability to suspend absences (she states the plan cannot work well if the owner is not prepared to work on the program, i.e. suspend being away so you can work on the plan), there can be no guarantees, and that mild does not mean quick (as an example, Malena provides the following as a guide: mild = 6-12wks, moderate/severe = 4-6 months and up).

Why can’t the owner continue with their usual routine of going out everyday to work? Well, for the following reasons: the plan is difficult to execute and makes it muddy for the dog, the dog suffers daily, constant anxiety inhibits learning, departure cues very salient/in constant use, owners take advantage of ability to leave dog alone, owners practice safe absences less over time, plan takes more time to complete, and as we have seen so many times in dog training – the owner gives up.

However, what does work (suspending absences): reduced stress for the dog, departure cues no longer salient, owners highly motivated to practice, plan completed more quickly, better case resolution.

When the owner says they can’t suspend their absences, then as a trainer, work together to find some solutions. Malena listed some of these such as doggy-daycare or dog minders but the list is really endless.

Another question that gets asked a lot is whether to crate the dog or not. Malena rarely uses crating unless there is an affinity to the crate. She prefers confining the dog with baby gates or similar. The point in the program is not to confine the dog but to desensitise it in a gradual manner to lower the dog’s threshold. The program is based on using the baby-gate area as an area for desensitising but the end goal is the dog will be free to go anywhere. The confinement permits the intermittent absences otherwise the dog will continue to shadow, etc.

She effectively has a two phase program:

Phase one = non-follow routine (stay and mat); establish the non-confinement area; introduce interactive feedings toys; regarding departure cues, the only one that is needed in phase one is the keys, the rest can come later. With the food interactive toys it is also important that the dog runs out of food, which teaches the dog to relax when left alone not just eat.

Phase two = there is no set number to how many repetitions (this is where the intermittent departure commences – see later for a summary); pause between repetitions so the repetition does not become a pattern as this is not ‘usual’ behaviour to the dog.

In Malina’s first session she provided a case study of Lucy the border collie x. Without going into intimate detail she always commences on a four week plan then reassesses. During this time there is feedback and communication between owner and trainer and expectations on the owner. Initially there should be 2 x 30 minute training sessions a day, building on duration increases.

Exercises include an increase on the use of ‘stay’ and ‘bed’ as this has three benefits: breaking shadowing, mini-absences, the dog gains confidence and sees it as a game. There is also a need for enrichment exercises with interactive feeding and games. And the desensitisation process using the baby-gate.

The area behind the the baby-gate needs to be seen by the dog to be a Disneyland – this obviously requires desensitisation, which is day 1.

Day 2 hang-out in the gated area, then step out and return (remember the earlier advice on the keys). Do this every few minutes (remember trying not to establish a pattern) and keep below the threshold.

Day 3 exit the gated area for 30 seconds but in view of the gate

Day 4 exit the gated area for 2 minutes but in view of the gate

Day 5 exit the gated area for 5 minutes stepping briefly into a partially obstructed view.

And you can see how it progresses. Week two built up to out of sight, then touch the door, then open the front door.

Week 3 progressed to open the door then exit for 2, 5, 10 seconds and progressing. And as the weeks progressed the desensitisation built up to eventually driving away in the car. After the four week program Lucy had stopped her shadowing, was happy to sleep in areas other than the owner’s bedroom, lost interest in the food but happily slept during absences. The owners indicated that when they both left, this was more difficult on the dog so those exercises were doubled.

As you can see through this it takes a lot of time and patience on the owners behalf but if they want to succeed they can reach the goal, although there are no guarantees. I can’t remember if I mentioned it previously but Lucy could remain by herself for the day after about five months and to make it easier a dog-walker came in also.

I probably found this (and Malena’s case studies) to be two of the best sessions with practical advice based on real-life scenarios and not the my-dog stories. Other highlights were the scientific studies, which I will touch on later so there is more to come.

Here are a few slides rom Malena’s lecture …

Home » APDT Conference: Day 3.2 » Separation Anxiety


APDT Conference: Day 3

Friday and another full-on day where from now you select who you want to see as there are concurrent sessions running – in fact, there is so much to choose from. For instance, in the past I have done the chicken training but decided to give that a miss so I could see and hear something different. So, this morning I started off with another session from Ken McCort titled “Aggression vs Predation in Canids”.

Ken started off by defining aggression and preferred this definition from Edward O. Wilson – aggression is a physical act by one individual that reduces the freedom or genetic fitness of another. Before he got to this he did open with the controversial subject about whether the terms dominance and submission exist in the world of dogs with a view that they are relevant behaviour terms that have a legitimate use but what they are not is, they are not personality traits, which is maybe where we hear it being used.

He then went on and spoke about how many different types of aggression have been defined in the literature and whether all those different types exist or whether we just like creating terms to suit situations. However, the term is handy but McCort suggests there are only two forms of aggression (regardless of whatever title it is known as):

  1. Offensive aggression, which is where the animal uses agonistic behaviour to obtain a resource – the “Attacker”
  2. Defensive aggression, which is where the animal uses agonistic behaviour to keep a resource – the “Defender” or “victim”

When compromised or threatened the dog has three choices: fight, flight or freeze. What is important to the dog is space:

  • Territory = turf (can be anything the dog can sense and is sometimes more breed specific)
  • Flight distance = distance dog will go when frightened – when frightened the distance the animal will go before stopping & looking back; critical to survival
  • Critical Distance = necessary to stay free – distance dog must maintain to stay loose / free; distance varies on experience and physical ability; often tested and retested
  • Social Distance / Personal Space = very close, physical contact – in most cases, it is a violation of etiquette to enter an animal’s personal space without permission. McCort suggests that this is where most people are going to get bitten.

The dog goes through what is known as the aggression continuum, something which most of us are aware of. The continuum goes something like this: Cut off signals / Conflict & Displacement behaviours; Alarm bark / growl; Snap / lunge; Contact bite; Puncture / laceration; Multiple bites / slashing; Tissue loss / amputation of digits; All out attack / Death.

The body language of a dog changes dependent on how close you get to it. Further, pain can change fight into flight (and sometimes quickly). Think of giving a dog a leash correction; however, McCort also stated that he could see no reason why using an aversive was wrong when it was going to save the animal’s life – the example he gave was stock-chasing. (Like many of those at this seminar, they recognise that four quadrants exist and that each has a purpose and we should not be ignorant of this.)

When working with aggression it is important that you work with the first step in the continuum and not wait. Observation is so important in not allowing the behaviour to escalate. Also on this point, a dog will never miss the first step – the cut-off signal, but may miss one or more of the other steps.

McCort also spoke about the types of aggression, which are pretty much the classifications familiar to most of us, but the key is that the type is based on what is the motivation. Again, when dealing with aggression – why is the dog doing this?

And then he spoke about predatory behaviours, which is based on the motivation for food. The dog is not hungry or upset, it just wants to catch its prey – or to reach one of the other behaviours in the foraging motor pattern – also known as prey drive (which McCort argues is an incorrect term) or fixed action pattern or instinctive behaviour. Those who have done the NDTF over the recent years this is all covered in those specific lectures.

I enjoyed this lecture and hopefully you will be able to access the notes here – ken_mccort_aggression_vs_predation_notes

So that was the start to the day, more to follow.

APDT Conference: Day 2.1

Ken Ramirez followed by another Ken – Ken McCort. Ken McCort is an experienced dog trainer, lecturer and advisor and has also been involved with training and working with the wolves at Wolf Park in Indiana. For my dog training buddies back home, Ken’s dog training business is “Four Paws” – he must be good.

Anyways, Ken’s session was part of a series from four speakers on Behaviour Problems and the Companion Dog with Ken’s talk on “Prey drive”.

This was quite interesting and as with the other speakers, it was based on a real-case scenario. Ken’s was on a wolf-hybrid (he is an expert on wolf-hybrids) and he said that this was one of the actual wolf-hybrids he had come across. The scenario was based on predatory behaviour targeted at the children in the household with an end result that the dog was re-homed. He walked us through a plan (primarily based on incompatible behaviours) and how it was working but the predatory behaviour is always going to be there and on the day the wolf started stalking the children in the backyard enough was enough. I enjoyed this session and followed it on Day 3 with another session from Ken on aggression (another blog coming on that – great session).

This was followed by Malena DeMartini-Price a behaviourist who specialises in separation anxiety. This was captivating and I wrote pages and pages of what she did in the scenario of a 3 year old adopted female border collie called Lucy. When left-alone, Lucy had severe destructive behaviours, anorexia, howling, panting, drooling, pacing and shadowing. The owners recently moved house and the behaviours intensified. Lucy went to obedience classes and was 80% reliable on key behaviours of “Stay” and “Bed”. The owners had never sought help for the SA and Lucy had regular exercise and was on a high-quality diet. When crated, the behaviours were the same as when not crated.

There were two goals to the plan: short term of 1-2 hours absence so the handlers could go to the shops or out for dinner, etc; long-term they wanted 8 hour absences with a dog walker coming in during the day.

And then Malina stepped us through the plan – a four week initial period where everything was re-assessed followed up to week 12. At a little over 5 months the long-term goal was achieved. Malina stressed that any SA plan will take time and there is nothing that can be done about that, you can try medication to make it easier but it won’t reduce the time. There were a lot of key points but I will put them in another blog as I also saw Malina again (and that was an even better session than this one).

This was followed by Colleen Pelar (remember from Day 1) whose session was on “Human-directed Aggression”. Colleen didn’t have any specific case-study of her own but she did have some key points based on others’ experience.

Again, a lot of problems come from the owner – so often it matters who has the end of the leash. Too often people get the wrong dog. And no matter what, you can never promise that a dog is not going to bite (again) – but you can try and manage the circumstances when it may occur.

She had a venn diagram of where aggression comes from with the intersecting circles being: genes, environment and individual character. And for the success of the training plan, well it depends on compliance and non-compliance. And no denial of the seriousness.

This was followed by the three speakers and Ken Ramirez in a panel discussion. These are the points I wrote down:

On problem behaviours: What is the context of where the dog is going to be raised determines whether something may be a problem or not – e.g. killing squeaky toys vs. killing cats.

On handling dogs: It is not about strength, it’s not about power – it’s about being smart.

On diet: We are trainers, not nutritionists; however, a good dog = a healthy dog = a better dog to train (although it was acknowledged some studies have indicated a correlation between poor diet and aggression).

And that was it for the day, as the trade-show opened ($5 Kongs – woo-hoo)

And the doors are open ...

And the doors are open …



APDT Conference: Day 2

Thursday and we were straight into another day of enlightenment with a kick-off from Ken Ramirez and “The challenge of being a consultant: the things they don’t teach you in animal training class!” Another great session from Ken where he spoke about dog training being more than just training dogs, i.e. so much of it is dealing with the dog’s owner.

Ken had a nine point plan to success and these are some of the key points raised:

  1. People skills are so important – the animals can take care of themselves
  2. It is important to identify what is the actual problem – does everyone see the same problem? before going down any training plan everyone must agree on a common goal. And as Ken said, this requires the dog trainer to be a good negotiator
  3. Discuss priorities – before implementing any plan, determine where achieving the plan fits into the priority list and is that priority list the same for everyone? Remember that a problem that is low on the priority list may not be easily solved and the dog owner must ask themselves: are you willing to sacrifice something to fix the problem?
  4. Speak the client’s language – for instance, forget about the scientific jargon
  5. Unlearn long-held beliefs, half-truths, myths and excuses – they just get in the way of finding solutions, such as it’s the breed or he just hates children. The dog trainer has to shift their thinking and get them to accept responsibility: instead of what’s wrong with the dog, ask why can’t I train it?
  6. Find acceptable behaviours – everyone focuses on the unwanted behaviour: “My dog jumps on me when I come home?” “What would you like it do?” “Stop jumping on me” … well, “Instead of jumping on you what would you like it do?” “Sit nicely.” Bingo!
  7. A flow-chart or something similar for problem solving is a valuable tool
  8. Consistency – make sure everyone agrees on the plane and everyone approaches the training the same way. It’s about the animal, not the ego
  9. Positive reinforcement for the owner – understand what motivates them and help them get something out of it. Stroke their ego, gain their trust and never betray it.

To sum up the session, a behavioural consultant needs to know and understand animal behaviour and training but they will never be successful unless they also have people, observational and organisational skills.

Ken Ramirez session

Ken Ramirez session

APDT Conference: Day 1.2

To round out day one we had a series of short 20 minute sessions on a variety of topics.

First up was Lauren Fox with “The best marketing you never paid for.” This session was about how to market your business by getting engaged with rescue shelters. Maybe some got something out of this but not relevant to me.

Next was Colleen Pelar with “Your role in reducing dog bites“. Colleen specialises in dogs and kids and has written several books on the topic. There was some interesting food for thought from this session, I particularly liked the comment that society is keen on legislation for safety but is it the answer, does it stop the problem? She said that some of the problem (or maybe most of the problem) is us and the relationship we have with our dogs. For instance too many people do not recognise the problem – my dog gets grumpy sometimes, or he doesn’t like children … but he will never bite.

Unfortunately, we tend to categorise dogs into either aggressive or non-aggressive but Colleen prefers a traffic light categorisation of: green, yellow, red. The green is enjoyment; the red is for enough already; and the yellow is the middle ground – tolerance – was it good for you. It is this behaviour continuum we need to look at and not the two category approach.

Colleen was followed by an excellent session from Virginia Dare who is a nationally recognised clicker trainer and the co-producer of the Bow-Wow series of DVD (recommended by Jim). Virginia’s session was titled “Stimulus control“.

Stimulus control is achieved when the expected behaviour is performed reliably when cued, only offered when given the cue, and not offered on a different cue.

We need to be precise and consistent but we also need to define exactly what is the behaviour and also: what is our starting position; are we reinforcing tag-alongs (extras); be clear about what is the exact sound/look of the cue. We need to use the cue consistently to avoid guessing from the dog or confusion. When achieving consistency we also need to make the extras irrelevant. Another important point was that when trying to be consistent everyone has to use the same cue.

We have to train the dog to understand the cue and then wait for the cue. We start off with single trials. Avoid repeating the cue as this provides an opportunity for guessing. If the dog gets it wrong, Virginia prefers to pause and then give a different cue. And don’t laugh or make a fuss at the wrong behaviour as this can sometimes be reinforcing for the dog. And if using props, eliminate them – this was demonstrated using a dowel for commands of touch, take it, paw and down. Virginia also rewarded when the prop was presented and the dog offered no behaviour as this demonstrated to her that the dog was responding to the cue and not the prop.

She then recommends adding distractions, then to take it on the road and begin cueing in novel contexts and when the dog is not expecting a training session. Then mix up the new cue with established cues but pair them carefully giving the dog a high chance of success. Ping-pong between opposites and pause between cues. Don’t let the dog drive the speed and don’t establish a pattern as that then becomes what the dog learns as opposed to learning the cue.

Overall, I enjoyed this session, which was followed be Teoti Anderson who gave an insightful session on how proper communication – written and verbal – is important to your professionalism, credibility and acceptance: “When grammar attacks.”

And to run out the day we had Veronica Boutelle talking about business – I didn’t take notes so I have no prompts.

So day one ended, with a walk around the river – Spokane is an old, quiet city with a beautiful river and waterfall. I’ll post some pictures elsewhere as I think of what to write for Day 2, which ended today (Thursday my time). But here is a picture of the 20th Anniversary cake. (… and it was good too)APDT 20th Anniversary cake

APDT 20th Anniversary cake


APDT Conference: Day 1.1

Ken Ramirez was only one third of the first day, his session was followed by Denise Fenzi who is a 30 year veteran of training, competing and titling in schutzhund, obedience, tracking, agility, mondioring, conformation and herding – www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com Denise’s talk was “Developing alternatives to food and toys: personal play!”

I kind of liked this session in that so many times we focus on everything else except us as a reward, yet what is the one thing we always have! Through video and talk, Diane demonstrated how to get a dog motivated and how to moderate dependent on the hardness or softness of the dog.

This was interesting as I think sometimes we expect that a dog will enjoy play but body language and what is acceptable makes so much difference. For instance, when you say play with your dog how many handlers turn and automatically confront the dog face-on and wonder why sometimes the dog is not interested. And what do you do with the dog that gets over stimulated and becomes mouthy.

I spend most of my time at off-leash dog parks watching interaction and learning about play so there maybe wasn’t anything overly knew for me but I did like the key message: why bother with play? – because people have dogs to enjoy them!

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.