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Interview with ClickerExpo Faculty Member Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D

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ClickerExpo features some of the foremost pioneers in the field of positive animal training and behavior, prominent among them Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D. Susan helped pioneer the cross-species application of behavior analysis to animals, using the same humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology that have been so effective with human learners. In addition to serving as a member of the ClickerExpo faculty, she offers seminars on animal learning at conferences and zoos around the world. Her acclaimed online course, Living and Learning with Animals for Behavior Professionals, has provided even wider dissemination of effective, humane, behavior-change practices to students in more than 35 countries. In recognition of her contributions to the field, Susan was recently included on the Vet Tech College’s list of 15 Animal Professors to Know. As we approach the 15-year anniversary of ClickerExpo, Susan reflects on the most significant changes in the behavior analysis community, as well as on how her own teaching and training has evolved during this time. Susan also reveals what she is most looking forward to at ClickerExpo 2018!

Q: As you look at the behavior analysis community, what do you think are the biggest or most significant changes over the last 15 years?

A: The behavior analysis community has increased its reach significantly, and that is very exciting. There are important contributions being made in fields such as aging, organizational behavior, brain and spinal cord injury, environmental issues, and, of course, our favorite field, animal training. Another change that has extended the community’s reach is the biobehavioral approach to behavior analysis and learning. Understanding that learning is part of our biological endowment puts to rest the nature vs. nurture debate—learning is our nature—and furthers the understanding that the environment affects all biosystems, including genes, brains, and behavior. What a planet!

Q: How can we help the scientific community and the training community work together more effectively?

A: Honestly, I think the scientific and training communities get along like Bogie and Bacall, and ClickerExpo has been one of the great matchmakers. In behavior analysis, both the researchers and the appliers are scientific in their approach to behavior change, so perhaps my career sets me up for seeing more convergence than divergence. Adding the science perspective to the art of training improves the learning process and outcomes, which ultimately protects our learners. We can do better than training off the cuff, what I call “throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks,” by setting clear training goals, adhering to the least intrusive procedural standard, and letting data be our guide to dynamic training decisions.

Q: How has your training and/or teaching changed over the last 15 years?

My understanding of behavior change keeps growing every day because of the incredible trainers that share this journey!
A: What hasn’t changed is as fun for me to consider as what has changed: I’m still teaching people how to influence their learners’ behavior in the most effective, least intrusive ways. But what has changed by going from the classroom to zoo and dog training facilities has made my life non-stop lightbulb moments. For example, I understand better now the ways in which an animal’s species informs training decisions (a rat is not a whale is not a dog), that shaping can proceed without frustration when the trainer becomes a better observer of natural behavioral variability (wow!); and that control over outcomes is what behavior has evolved to do (I need sunglasses for that one!). The list of changes in my understanding of behavior change keeps growing every day because of the incredible trainers that share this journey! I am fortunate and thankful.

Q: Which of your presentations at ClickerExpo do you think is most reflective of the changes that have taken place in the last few decades?

A: I think my presentations that most reflect a contemporary perspective on training focus on empowering animals to use their behavior effectively, to control their outcomes (reinforcers) skillfully in enriched environments that are saturated with choices. Effectiveness Is Not Enough was one presentation on this topic, and this year I’m going to leverage that information for a new talk Please Sir, Can I Have Some Food, Water and… Control? This presentation will put behavioral health on par with physical health. How do we maximize the learner’s control without animal anarchy and pet pandemonium? Come along and find out!

Q: In what ways do you feel ClickerExpo has impacted or influenced the training community?

A community now exists for us to welcome newcomers, extend our influence, and raise the bar again and again.
A: ClickerExpo has provided a hub for people to come together, people who are committed to the three “Es” of animal training and behavior consulting: Education, experience, and ethics. As a result, a community now exists for us to welcome newcomers, extend our influence, and raise the bar again and again. It’s a privilege to be included in this hub. 

Q: When you look at the schedule for ClickerExpo 2018, can you name one of the Sessions or Labs that you are most looking forward to attending and why?

A: I’m definitely a fan girl when it comes to the ClickerExpo faculty. The best perk of all, as far as I’m concerned, is having two opportunities to learn from my colleagues: in Southern California and St. Louis. Ask me to name one Session or Lab in every time slot, and then we can talk!

Susan, thank you for sharing your insights about ClickerExpo as well as your valuable experience training and effecting change. Hear more from Susan at ClickerExpo 2018 in SoCal and St. Louis or follow her on Facebook!