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

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.