Great Minds met again this year in Denton – the 2nd Annual Art and Science of Animal Training:
Innovations and Refinement – sponsored by ORCA and the University of North Texas. This very formal title doesn’t properly convey the excitement of having seven of the top animal trainers together, sharing ideas and exploring the science and progress of animal training, clicker/marker training, operant conditioning, and the future of animal training.
While the language of science and theory gets a little overwhelming, the concepts themselves are simple, and there were lots of “aha” moments during the day. Take a look at the sound bites below – I’ve included links to the trainer’s websites for you to click on if you are interested in details.
Steve Martin discussed several concepts – building a Trust Bank Account for your dog by depositing lots of positive experiences into your relationship and avoiding the withdrawals of punishment and adversives, giving your dog power over his environment by teaching them to shape your behavior, and making training work for the dog. His methods are well thought out and proven over years of working with prey birds and other animals in zoos and animal shows - he has to use training methods that make the animal want to work for him – if he doesn’t build that trust in the relationship, a falcon or parrot could just fly away.
He also said “Your dogs’ behavior is a direct reflection of your training.” When we blame the dog and come up with excuses related to the animal’s biology or past, we end up avoiding the problem, instead of finding and addressing whatever actually caused the problem.
Ken Ramirez talked about how to be a better animal training consultant, but the bullet points that he gave us for better ways to work with people will also work wonderfully in our effort to train our four-footed companions.
His plan included identifying the problem, setting priorities, speaking their language, unlearn long-held “truths, find acceptable behavior, consistency, and positive reinforcement.