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An Inspirational Expo!

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Still a thrill

If you think that after 12 years of attending and speaking at ClickerExpo it would be a predictable and ho-hum event—you obviously have not been to a ClickerExpo conference! The excitement in Portland, where the first Expo of the year just wrapped up, was electric. We had the largest attendance in ClickerExpo history, with more than 550 people and more than 100 dogs soaking up the learning! I have been involved in ClickerExpo in one form or another since the very first Expo; now, as part of the organizing team, I find it just as exciting and inspirational as ever. It will be hard to pick out just one or two highlights.

ClickerExpo Audience

The star of the show

Now that Karen Pryor has changed roles within the company that bears her name, she is focusing on more writing and research. Karen was the keynote speaker at ClickerExpo on Saturday evening. She kept the full house riveted as she described how positive reinforcement trainers, like all of us in the room, are having a growing impact on the training world. She spoke for more than an hour with great passion and humor, and entertained us without pictures, PowerPoint, or video aides—just with her delightfully sharp wit and personality. Only a few hours earlier, Karen entertained and informed during an onstage interview, aptly titled, “On My Mind.” I had the good fortune to be the host for the Session. I collected questions from faculty and attendees prior to the interview, and asked Karen a variety of these questions. She was very candid as I asked her about her past, her mentors, her favorite training memories, the creation of ClickerExpo and Karen Pryor Academy, and about the things that are next on her “to-do” list.

I have known Karen for many years, and thought I knew most of her stories, but I learned many new things during the interview, including the strong influence her father had on her growing up, and the fascinating story about how “Don’t Shoot the Dog” almost didn’t get published! I think the response that caught most people, including myself, off-guard came when I asked Karen how she responded to naysayers and non-believers who argue that positive reinforcement is not nearly as effective as a more traditional approach. Her response, “I say, ‘Bye’!”

Karen and Ken

One of the many great moments
during Karen's interview with Ken

After everyone got over that pithy response, Karen went on to explain herself. If people are that adamantly against the use of positive reinforcement, it isn’t worth the time and effort to try to convince them otherwise, they have already made up their minds. She also pointed out that if those individuals show up at an Expo, then they ARE interested in learning. We don’t have to work hard to convince them; they will see the evidence for themselves.

There were many great moments in our interview that were like that. I am already excited to do a new interview with Karen at the next ClickerExpo—in Dearborn (Detroit) in March!

Special moments

It would be impossible for me to pick out the best Sessions from ClickerExpo, because there were so many outstanding lectures and Labs. Between my own Sessions and my new responsibilities, I did not get to attend as many Sessions as I would have liked, but I still had three significant “ah-ha” moments:

Dr. Susan Friedman:

I am used to Susan sharing ideas and thoughts that help me look at topics from new perspectives. It happened again in her great talk titled Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Critical Client Conversation Skills. I know that many people felt as I did; we all walked away with great new tools for keeping a difficult client or co-worker engaged and working toward a solution to a problem or disagreement.

Emelie Johnson Vegh and Michele Pouliot:

Michele Pouliot and Emelie Johnson Vegh

Michele Pouliot and Emelie Johnson Vegh

These two great trainers and presenters combined to share their training tips in Curtain Up! Unlock the Secrets to Top Ring Performance. (Eva Bertilsson was part of the team that put this Session together, but she was unable to attend the conference in Portland. She plans to be with us again in Dearborn/Detroit.) This Session focused on many of the performance sports. But instead of sharing tips for what to do in the ring, Emelie and Michele focused on what to do before and after the performance to help improve a dog’s comfort and reliability. Very smart and thoughtful information.

Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz:

His presentations are always thought-provoking, and this year he shared tips for using Resurgence to Your Advantage. It was a great explanation about how previously reinforced behaviors will return when another behavior is put under extinction conditions. Jesús shared his research that looked at how to better predict which behaviors will most likely resurge. This talk was a real light-bulb moment for me.

In addition to these moments, I had many really significant and poignant discussions with attendees who told me how certain instructors had “changed their life” or “opened their eyes” with some new ideas or techniques. I was most moved by comments made about these instructors:

Kathy Sdao:

Kathy taking time to greet a four-legged attendee

Kathy taking time to greet a four-legged attendee

Kathy is always a crowd favorite at Expo. Her new Session, Old Dogs New Clicks: Teaching, Loving & Living with Your Older Dog, stirred many attendees. One young lady said to me, “Kathy moved me, made me cry, and I still walked away with some great lessons. How does she do that? It was incredible!”

Hannah Branigan:

Hannah is one of our newer faculty members; this is only her second year at ClickerExpo. Hannah’s Session, Click Your Heels! Heeling for Performance, was augmented by a Lab that took place at the same time as the Karen Pryor interview. I had lots of people share their praise about Hannah and that topic, but the one comment that stuck with me was, “That Session was so freakin’ good, I skipped Karen’s interview to go to the Lab. I LOVE Karen, but that’s how good it was!”

Sarah Owings:

Sarah is another newer speaker for us at Expo. But right after her Session on Wallflowers: Reaching the Shy Dog, an attendee said to me, “That was life-changing! It was so profound. I learned so much that will help my dog at home.”

ClickerExpo faculty receiving a standing ovation

ClickerExpo faculty receiving a standing ovation

Up next…

ClickerExpo is such a gratifying event. I can’t even put into words how proud I am to be a part of the experience. Not only are the staff and faculty outstanding, but the attendees really make each Expo so very special. If you missed ClickerExpo in Portland, I certainly hope you can join us in Dearborn (Detroit) in March. It promises to be just as exciting and I look forward to catching some of the presentations that I missed in March!

Happy Training,

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