APDT Conference: Day 1

No quotes just straight into the conference.

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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 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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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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