We just wrapped up another exciting ClickerExpo in Europe. More than 300 attendees gathered in Billund, Denmark, and soaked up great information from the faculty members and guest speakers. One of our new seminars this year was Kathy Sdao’s What a Pithy: Making Classes Memorable. Kathy explained how teachers can make their classes more effective by using good quotations and clever stories. It was clear to me that many of our instructors and speakers have a similar philosophy, because there were so many pithy and meaningful remarks that stood out for me at this Expo.
While the examples I share below may not have been the most unique or important information shared at Expo, they stood out to me as significant for various reasons. I hope you find these examples as interesting as I did.
“Thank you, Pavlov, for making ClickerExpo possible!” – Dr. Clive Wynne
During Clive Wynne’s invited presentation Pavlov Lives, he began by saying, “Thank you, Pavlov, for making ClickerExpo possible.” This statement seemed to catch many attendees off-guard. So much of what we focus on and talk about at Expo revolves around operant conditioning. While many of the faculty members do teach attendees about the interrelated roles of both operant and classical conditioning, the connection between the two isn’t always obvious to everyone.
Dr. Wynne began by reminding everyone of the power of the clicker, and that the marker’s strength comes from the classical pairing that takes place between the click and the treat. The very tool we use to shape behavior has its roots in the work defined by Pavlov. Dr. Wynne then went on to discuss the role of classical counter-conditioning in his recent research. I was particularly interested in his work with scent-detection dogs, in which he pre-exposed the dogs to a target odor by making a classical association between the odor and a high-value treat before beginning normal detection and alert training. This method is in stark contrast to the commonly used technique of simply giving the dogs access to the target odor with no pairing or intentional training. Dr. Wynne’s research demonstrated that the classical pre-exposure step increased reliability significantly.
“Husbandry is my agility!” – Chirag Patel
A first-time speaker at ClickerExpo was Chirag Patel, a talented trainer from the UK. During his Session titled Give Training Back to the Animals, he said, “Husbandry is my agility!” Chirag was referring to the fact that he focuses on husbandry behaviors and teaching animals to assist in their own care with the same enthusiasm and passion that some people dedicate to agility. Wow! How cool is that statement? I heard attendees buzzing about that concept all weekend.
Later, several of us on the faculty wondered how we might be able to turn husbandry concepts into a sport. It has been done successfully with nose work—a professional working-dog skill that transitioned into a variety of competitive sports. The discussion was in the “wouldn’t it be cool” stage, but any time a simple statement gets so much attention, it’s indicative of just how powerful the idea behind that statement truly is.
“Nobody complains about Newton!” – Dr. Susan Friedman
During Susan Friedman’s talk, Functional Analysis: The Sexy Side of ABC, she illustrated pointedly the foolishness of people’s resistance to accepting the laws of learning and the groundbreaking work done by B.F. Skinner. Susan assumed a playfully cocky attitude and said, “Nobody complains about Newton! You never hear people get up in the morning and say, ‘Newton, you’re not controlling my life, gravity is not pulling my feet to the floor this morning, I want to walk on the ceiling!’”
People accept the science and laws of gravity without hesitation, but constantly question and doubt the laws of learning. Susan’s quote was a valuable and humorous reminder to everyone that behavior is a science, and we should always remember that.
“I want to learn to teach… more effectively.” – Michele Pouliot
During the Expo panel discussion A Room with a View, one of the attendees asked the members of the panel what we each thought we would be doing differently in ten years. I was particularly struck by Michele Pouliot’s emotional response to this thought-provoking question. She said that she aspires to learn how to teach people to move from traditional training to positive reinforcement training more effectively and quickly.
Michele was responsible for the great transition that Guides Dogs for the Blind has made to positive reinforcement. She is already a great teacher, and is successful at helping organizations make difficult transitions. We have even asked Michele to teach a course on the subject at ClickerExpo 2017, Inspiring Others to Choose Positive Reinforcement Training. Therefore, I found it particularly moving to see how passionate and committed she is to continuing to improve her skills. It’s a great example to all of us, that even someone who I consider to be one of the best, is striving constantly to learn more and improve—which may be why she is one of the best!
“Naughty Laundry!” – Kay Laurence
My last quotation comes from a discussion that took place among several faculty members in the wee hours of the morning, after most of the attendees had gone to bed. Kay told a story about of one of her clients who had a challenge hanging her laundry out to dry because her dog always pulled it off the line and made a mess of it. Kay suggested that her client should “scold the laundry.” Following Kay’s advice, her client beat the laundry with a stick and told it very sincerely how bad it was, yelling as she hit the sheets hanging off the line, “Naughty laundry, you are very naughty, naughty laundry.” The client’s dog watched this entire event unfold and, although the client never scolded her dog or yelled at her dog, the dog never messed up the laundry again.
This humorous story led to several faculty members sharing similar experiences. They included “naughty grass,” “evil countertops,” and “bad baskets.” Susan talked about her puppy that used to destroy decorative baskets. One day, after Susan found her pup messing with a basket, she decided to scold the basket, and hit the basket, saying “Bad basket, how dare you get in the puppy’s way.” The dog never destroyed baskets again. Susan explained that she imagined the basket-beating was serving as a negative conditioned stimulus, making an aversive association with the object that had previously attracted the animal.
None of us were prepared to suggest this officially as a viable method of changing unwanted behavior, but it did make us want to explore it further and to better understand it. Sometimes these late-night discussions raise questions that stimulate our thinking. It’s one of those things that makes working with talented colleagues so worthwhile.
So many more gems
There were many other memorable and stimulating discussions from ClickerExpo Denmark, which is true of every Expo. One of the reasons ClickerExpo is such a great experience for me is that I learn new things at every presentation. I am prompted to look at topics from new perspectives, and, being the training geek that I am, I always have so much fun. I’m already looking forward to ClickerExpo 2017.