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ClickerExpo Orlando a Smashing Success

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Well, the first ClickerExpo of this season was a smash hit!

The feedback from attendees, which has always been very positive, has reached new heights. Turns out that you can please all of the people, and most of the time!

Of the ClickerExpo Orlando attendees who filled out a survey, 100% said the program met their expectations, exceeded their expectations, or was a "WOW!" experience. Nearly half of those attendees said ClickerExpo delivered a "WOW!" experience, and nearly 30% said it exceeded their expectations. NOBODY said the program fell short!

The goal and theme of this season's ClickerExpo is to "Take your training to the next level," no matter your current level of experience. As one of the ClickerExpo faculty members said to us, "For some people that goal is nothing more than just a slogan...but you really did it!"

Topics were very specific

We think that the continuing high level of satisfaction at ClickerExpo reflects our improvements in the program. We extended several important topics to two sessions and added 33% more teaching sessions. These changes gave us the freedom to explore training topics in depth—at a more detailed level—and to include lots of practical steps. For example, we added:

  • A session JUST on training for distance, duration, and distraction (Virginia Broitman and Sherri Lippman)
  • A session on basic shaping (Karen Pryor)
  • Another on polishing shaped behaviors into final form (Kay Laurence)
  • A session entirely on back-chaining; the second of two cueing sessions (Karen Pryor and Thad Lacinak)
  • A hands-on session on just how much you can communicate with a lead rope or leash (Alexandra Kurland)
  • A two-session program on the basics of the science underlying clicker training (Kathy Sdao)
  • A two-session program on scent discrimination (Steve White)
  • A two-session program on aggressive and reactive dogs (Emma Parsons)

Experience ratings

We also made the decision to "rate" every session in terms of the level of experience attendees should have in order to get the most out of that session. Apparently, we were successful in communicating the different experience levels to prospective attendees—and the faculty was successful in delivering material aimed at that experience level.

"Did he say ‘Left' or ‘Right?'" Ken Ramirez on modifier cues

At ClickerExpo, people are always impressed to see how often speakers sit in on each other's sessions. Well, we learn new things from each other! So it's quite a thrill! One of the many examples was Ken Ramirez' section on how to train cues that are really adjectives: left/right, big/small, near/far, numbers, colors, and "sentences": cues that can be used individually or strung together in series. Every teacher who wasn't actually speaking elsewhere at the time was in that room, and so were members of the staff and most of the advanced trainer attendees—from the Tennessee FEMA Team to Australia 's four-time national Field Trial Champion to Terry and Bill Ryan.

Researcher Irene Pepperberg's parrot, Alex, has become famous, Ken pointed out, for being able to identify descriptive details, such as the shape, color, and materials, of various objects. Ken showed us some Nova footage of that historic set of experiments. Meanwhile, Ken and his staff at the Shedd Aquarium are using similar descriptive or modifier cues, not just directional cues, with marine mammals. Ken also has taught the uses of modifier cues to many search-and-rescue dog handlers, allowing them to steer dogs at a distance in places where a person can't go.

Then, step by step, Ken took us through the training process. He told us what you need in prior training: an animal that's clicker-wise, has a solid retrieve, understands many cues, and can play the "creative" game. He gave us some advice about syntax, i.e., in what order to give multiple cues (back-chain them). He also showed us how to teach both matching-to-sample and paired cues—in next to no time.

In fact, in the three days just before coming to ClickerExpo, using a friend's ten-month-old spaniel pup and hand signals for cues, Ken trained and video-taped (and showed us) the following behavior: "Look at this toy (a stuffed mouse). Now, taking the left path around the furniture, go get the matching toy (from a pile of toys in the next room) and bring it back." Dog spins around, zooms off to the left around the ottoman in its way, disappears, and comes back at about a million miles an hour with an identical toy in its mouth. Next, Ken held up a fancy toy ball and cued the dog to take the right-hand path and bring the toy that matched that ball. Done deal.

It took eight five-minute training sessions. We saw key moments of each one. Ken used only petting and praise as reinforcement, no clicks, no treats. Mind you, the dog really LIKED his petting, and Ken's impeccable timing allowed him to use face and voice as marker signals with perfect clarity. Most of us mortals might be better off to stick with the click. However, we all got the picture. And we all had the same reaction. "Gotta try that!"

As I write this, I've only been back from ClickerExpo for three days, and I haven't heard from EVERYONE yet. But I've heard from some. Sherri and Virginia are already stacking modifier cues with their dogs. Alexandra is training matching-to-sample with a horse. And our company president Aaron Clayton took his year-old Labrador, Tucker, for a swim in the Charles River outside our offices this morning, and successfully began teaching him signals for "swim upstream/swim downstream." Upstream is harder, but Tucker didn't mind; he said it was a lot of fun.

Have wonderful and warm Thanksgiving holiday.

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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.