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Clicking Below the Surface

International friends come together in a beautiful place

Last month I went out to Seattle to get to know Karen Pryor Academy's first class made up of international students exclusively: one from Hong Kong, two from Taiwan, two from Israel, one from Finland. Terry Ryan's Legacy school was a wonderful location for this class. Her building is beautiful and well designed, and it's located on the spectacular Olympic Peninsula, just about a two-hour drive from Seattle. The school has the sea on one side, lush farms and gardens in the middle, sun all day, every day, and snow-capped mountains all around. By the time I had arrived, the students had completed their online lessons and at-home exercises, and were ready for an intensive hands-on program under teacher Terry Ryan.

dragon boat

Do you know how to paddle a dragon boat?

Even before the hands-on class in Seattle had started, one student, also named Ryan, had put his new TAGteach knowledge to work. Ryan is a Taiwan firefighter, head trainer for their canine search and rescue team, and, of course, a clicker trainer. He's also part of a competitive crew in the major sport of dragon boat racing. The biggest races are held every year in Hong Kong, but races are held in many other cities around the world, including Boston.

Dragon boats are 30 meters long and carry two lines of paddlers. Paddlers do not pull their paddles through the water in an arc, as we do when canoeing. (If you use your arms that way, you get tired fast!)

By the time I had arrived, the students had completed their online lessons and at-home exercises, and were ready for an intensive hands-on program.

Instead, paddlers must use a more powerful stroke—thrusting the paddle straight down and moving it straight back horizontally, synchronized with the other paddlers, of course. You have to make the move with your back—with your whole body, really—twisting from the hips each time. It's hard for people to learn, and it takes forever to train the whole crew to do it right.

Clicker trainer overboard—and then success!

Ryan started with a new crew. He introduced the clicker, and tagged the crew for each aspect of the paddling move. Bingo—everyone began to get the idea.

Their coach took the crew to a swimming pool, and had the paddlers line up on the side of the pool and paddle. Next, the coach put on a mask, went in the water, and ducked underwater to look at the paddle moves from that perspective—to make sure the paddlers were paddling straight. Of course, the coach had to come up to the surface to give his report and to announce if the effort and results were satisfactory—a delay. The coach learned something, but the paddlers? Not so much.

Even before the hands-on class in Seattle had started, Ryan had put his new TAGteach knowledge to work.

So Ryan gave the coach a clicker and some instructions: Go under water, look at the paddling, and stick your arm over your head and into the air to click when the paddles are moving correctly. Again, bingo! Soon everyone was paddling just right.

Then came the race. The other teams were not only more experienced, but bigger and stronger and fitter. "Our guys are skinny," Ryan said.

Guest what? Ryan's crew won! Champions, the first time out. Click!

About the author
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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.