I always find ClickerExpo fun, enlightening, and motivating, and the Portland event was no exception. Despite a busy schedule, I was able to attend a few Sessions, and I feel compelled to talk about them here. You can experience each of these presentations at the two upcoming ClickerExpo conferences this year (Stamford, CT, March 31-April 2, 2017, and Billund, Denmark, November 3-5, 2017).
Consuming Research without Indigestion – Susan Friedman
Dr. Susan Friedman is always a crowd favorite. One of her new Sessions this year exposed attendees to a topic we’ve never presented at ClickerExpo before: how to evaluate research. Susan conducted a seminar that explained how to review research critically and why we should be careful not to take research at face value.
Perhaps most helpful was the accompanying Learning Lab. But this Lab was not for dogs! The dogs had a chance to rest while the Lab attendees were given examples of real and published, but flawed, research. Susan had the participants break into small groups and use the information she had shared in her lecture to look critically at various research synopses. She helped participants focus on rival hypotheses and look for sources of internal validity. Attendees were taught to evaluate research based on eight criteria: history, maturation, testing, instrumentation, regression, selection, mortality, and interaction with selection. Each of these criteria was explained in detail in Susan’s lecture Session prior to the Lab. Who knew that poking holes in research could be so much fun? Most of the attendees agreed that they would never look at research the same way again!
The Anatomy of an Aggressive Dog-Training Plan – Emma Parsons
I appreciate being able to walk away from a Session with practical tools that I can use immediately. Emma Parsons is skilled at dealing with aggressive dogs, and in this Session she broke down how she handles those cases. Emma did not focus on theory or specific treatments. Instead, step-by-step, she took attendees through what she does and how she handles aggression cases—starting with the first contact and the specific questions that she asks, how she asks the questions, and examples of the exact wording that she might use in certain cases. Emma walked us through all of the steps, used cases studies as examples, shared basic training that she gives clients, and showed us examples of e-mail follow-ups that she writes. When a successful trainer shares details of this type, participants can’t help but come away with lots of ideas that they can apply to their own businesses. One of the things I admired the most about Emma is that she gives clients her contact information and makes herself available for the life of that dog, often at little or no additional cost. Aggression cases are always difficult, but having a talented professional open her playbook for all of us to borrow from was such a valuable treat. (Note: this Session will be offered in Stamford only.)
I have to admit my bias in choosing this Session as one of my favorites; it is a topic near and dear to my heart. Michele is an engaging speaker, and she drew from her experiences working at Guide Dogs for the Blind as a traditional trainer who helped that organization transition to the use of positive reinforcement. Michele has travelled all over the world to introduce these concepts to other guide-dog organizations. In this Session Michele shared personal stories about strategies that worked and ones that did not in convincing trainers and organizations to make the transition. She had wonderful archival footage of guide-dog training that spanned more than 75 years! Michele described the challenges and strategies that could be used in any training discipline. I found it a very valuable and timely seminar that I wish more people would attend.
I thought I would mention one of my own new Sessions because of the volume of e-mail I have received about the topic since January’s ClickerExpo. My goal for the presentation titled Dr. No… was to generate discussion and get feedback about an unusual procedure I put in place to help resolve a specific problem behavior. I certainly achieved my goal as the comments, suggestions, and questions continue to pour in.
The protocol teaches an animal that any time she chooses she can touch a buoy target and receive reinforcement. It was an effort to give the animal a choice; if she did not want to perform a cued behavior, she had a way to say “no.” It was a protocol reserved for difficult cases where it appeared the animal no longer enjoyed the training process, and the goal was to provide alternative ways to earn reinforcement. Because I have only used this protocol in four cases, there is still not enough data to recommend the protocol. There has been lots of discussion about whether touching the buoy really meant “no”—a question I raised myself in the January Expo presentation. The most intriguing questions focused on why the protocol resolved the problem in all four cases where it was implemented. I look forward to presenting the topic again and getting more great feedback.
The learning never ends