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New (or “Newish”) to Clicker Training? The “Must-See” Guide to ClickerExpo!

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If you are new to clicker training or crossing over from more traditional training methods, you’ll be in good company at this season’s ClickerExpo. At last year’s conference, nearly 20% of the audience self-identified as beginners. Here’s my quick rundown of 6 essential courses (and their teachers) that will get you grounded, quickly.

A Moment of Science, Please!

One of the signature benefits of ClickerExpo is that “star” faculty members teach courses at every level of experience. As a case in point, Kathy Sdao delivers this five-star course at the start of ClickerExpo. This is a course specifically designed so that new trainers, and experienced trainers who are just starting to absorb clicker training, will develop a rock-solid understanding of the science that drives the principles and practices of modern training. Kathy’s dynamic, engaging style will have you wondering why you didn’t major in this stuff in college, and will give you the foundation you need to get the most out of the rest of ClickerExpo.

When: Friday morning
Locations: Warwickshire; Reno; Cincinnati

You're in Great Shape: Understanding & Applying Shaping

Shaping is a powerful process through which new behavior is taught using a marker and reinforcement. If you’re going to be clicker training, you’re going to be shaping. For the person or animal learning, shaping is the most fun game ever invented. For the trainer, it’s a lifetime skill and a thrill to use. Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson-Vegh introduce you to shaping as a concept, principle and skill in this entertaining Learning Session. Later, you can practice shaping hands-on in the Learning Lab, or you can observe others in the Lab. You’ll soon be looking ship-shape!

When: Friday afternoon
Locations: Warwickshire; Reno; Cincinnati

What a Cue Can Do: Developing Cueing Skills

How do you communicate to animals what you want them to do, like come to center, run around the weave pole, or retrieve an object? Traditional training uses the word “commands.” Clicker trainers use the word “cues.” But the difference is far more than semantics. In fact, understanding the difference between those words is central to understanding the clicker training approach. In this course, the always-dynamic Kathy Sdao walks you through the essence of cueing, how and why cueing works, and how and when to develop cues. Follow up the Session with the Learning Lab where you’ll have the chance to practice or observe others.

When: Saturday morning (Session) and afternoon (Learning Lab)
Locations: Warwickshire; Reno; Cincinnati

Love It! Effective Non-Food Reinforcement

“Do I always need to use food?” If that question is not among the top five FAQs for clicker trainers, I’ll eat a clicker! Ken Ramirez, one of the most widely respected trainers in the world, a “rock star” trainer, and the co- program designer for ClickerExpo, answers this question. Food and non-food reinforcers used in combination is both practical and highly effective, BUT only when done right. For a toy to have powerful reinforcement value, perhaps much as a hotdog, takes thoughtful, systemic planning and execution. This information about reinforcers is so vital to solid training practice that we think every trainer, at every experience level, should have an understanding of non-food reinforcement strategies. Ken is a uniquely gifted, clear, and engaging teacher. If you come to this Learning Lab with or without a dog, well... you’ll love it!

When: Saturday afternoon
Locations: Warwickshire; Reno; Cincinnati

Effectiveness Is Not Enough: The Ethical Intervention

Ethics. Yuck. Who wants to wade into those waters? I do. Thinking through sticky situations with a smart, thoughtful person usually provides fruitful answers. Susan Friedman, another “rock star” at ClickerExpo, has a remarkable knack for providing clarity in confusion. I find talking with Susan like popping in contact lenses with an updated prescription. Suddenly, everything looks clearer. This Session is on my list because it isn’t easy out there for people who decide to use modern training principles each and every day. In a “results-oriented culture,” how do you make the choices that are both principled and effective? How do you explain those choices to others without sounding high-handed? How can you help others see their choices in a similar way?

When: Sunday afternoon
Locations: Reno; Cincinnati

Stranger Danger! Dogs that Are Reactive to People

This course is on my list because if you are traditional trainer and want to see how clicker training principles apply in tough situations, this course is a great learning opportunity. Although not every dog will be comfortable meeting strangers, using Emma Parsons’ particular methodology can greatly increase the quality of a dog’s life (as well as the life of the handler or family). Having tactics for a reactive situation can mean the difference between life and death for a dog and can avert disaster for the people around the dog. Emma Parsons is a favorite of ClickerExpo attendees for her ability to communicate information about animal aggression in plain language—and in a Boston accent that’s straight out of that new movie Black Mass. (Black Mass stars Johnny Depp as Boston-born gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.) To my knowledge, Mr. Depp will not be at Emma’s Session, but it will still be wicked awesome.

When: Sunday morning
Locations: Reno

Wait, There’s More!

While this list of courses will give you a solid training foundation at ClickerExpo, we also have a more detailed guide, creatively named the Foundation Curriculum. This is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour guide with side “trips” to consider for special interests and circumstances. Check out the guide for each ClickerExpo location: Warwickshire, Reno, and Cincinnati. If you are a horse trainer or horse owner exploring clicker training, see the dedicated horse “track” (pun intended) in the Cincinnati program!

So there you have it—but not quite. Be sure to check out the full schedule of course offerings for both “newbies” and experienced trainers at each ClickerExpo. I hope I’ll see you at Expo!

About the author
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Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and TAGteach International, and a member of the ClickerExpo Faculty.