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Clicker Trainers Garner Honor and Awards at ABMA (Animal Behavior Management Alliance)

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At the recent American Behavior Management Alliance conference, Karen Pryor delivered the keynote address on the history of clicker training, from its roots in B.F. Skinner's lab, to its practical applications, first in the hands of dolphin trainers up to the present day, and the remarkable advances achieved by dog and horse trainers, in the zoos and aquariums, and soon, on the fields of youth sports.

The association gave out its four annual awards in: Training Achievement, Behavioral Husbandry, Animal Welfare Advancements, and Sharing the Knowledge. Emma Parsons, training director for KPCT received this year's award for the Animal Welfare Advancement category, based on the science of learning and its application. Congratulations, Emma!

Here are news and reviews about the ABMA conference from attendees:

From E.J. Fernandez
Well, I've officially made it home from this year's ABMA conference, and what a great one it was! There were a few other ARF members there, including Charlotte Peltz, Emma Parsons, Karen Pryor, Bob Bailey, and Sarah Kalnajs, to name a few. Here are just a few highlights, as I saw it:

Emma Parsons gave a WONDERFUL talk on her dog aggressive dog, Ben, and the amazing work she's done to make an almost complete 180-degree turn from where he was at before. Absolutely amazing! Plus, I must admit, Ben really was very, very cute...

Karen Pryor gave the keynote address, and as always, it was fantastic. It was truly great on so many levels: historical, theoretical, practical, and comedic (always my favorite!). She started off with a history of her experiences coming up as a dolphin trainer, and how a number of her books came to be. She gave some wonderful insights about what the clicker is, and what it is that makes it work (the "magic" often has more to do with getting people to attend to what THEY are doing, and less with that 5 cent box). Great stuff.

Nicole Dorey presented some of the work she did while completing her thesis under Jesus Rosales-Ruiz. Most of her talk revolved around conducting a Functional Analysis (FA) on an olive baboon that was in DIRE need of one (I used to conduct research next to Rafiki [the baboon] back at UNT. Believe me, she had some serious attention issues). Based on Nicole's FA, they were able to pinpoint the function of her self-injurious behaviors (they had escalated to the point of her pulling out her own hair or causing severe tissue damage while biting on her leg). Even better, they were able to develop a successful intervention based on the FA: teaching Rafiki to lip smack for attention instead of the undesired behaviors. Really neat!

Overall, the conference was one of the absolute best conferences I've ever been to. There were both a considerable number of dog trainers and dog-based presentations, helping move the conference away from a predominantly zoo-based one to a truly all-encompassing animal behavior management conference. Between Nicole, myself, and a few other talks, we even managed to sneak in some data without too many grumbles.

Next year's conference will be in Houston, and will potentially break 400 members (we had close to 370 members this year). Rickey Kinley, one of the ABMA board members, and an accomplished dog trainer, penguin keeper, penguin trainer (we presented our penguin training data at the conference), and close friend will be setting up the whole thing. That being said, those of you who witnessed any of Rickey and my behavior at the conference can likely assume one certainty: plenty of open bar hours. Seriously, though, I think it'd be great to see even more ARF members there, and especially more dog presentations given. It's a great chance to highlight your training and management accomplishments, and this field is still so relatively new, it's good to have a place to do so on such a broad audience level.

Note to Emma Parsons, from Megan Draheim:
I spoke with you after your presentation—I'm the one with the pit bull mix who has a dog aggression problem (except with our other dog), and who is using my dogs to identify coyote scat for my thesis project.

I just wanted to let you know that I've been working with Todd in the way you described in your presentation, and we're already seeing a huge difference in his behavior! I think he's starting to think a bit more when he sees another dog instead of automatically freaking out, and we're getting fewer and fewer of those episodes. Plus, when they do happen, they're much shorter and easier to get past. And it's basically been only a week since we started!!

Plus, my attitude has changed completely. Before, I dreaded coming across any dogs on our walks, and know that that always made me feel quite tense, so I couldn't just settle in and enjoy the walk the way I used to before we got Todd. Now, I'm seeing every dog sighting as an opportunity to get closer to our goals! And I know that this change in my attitude is equally as important as the changes in Todd's behavior.

He's taking food some of the time, but not consistently, but in some ways, I don't think that matters too much. Like you said, he'll get there, and for now he is much reassured that other dogs out there are not necessarily out to kill him, so he can start to look at them, and then just calmly go back to whatever he was doing before the sighting!

In any case, I just wanted to thank you again, and say how excited I am for your upcoming book. I really think that it will fill a crucial vacuum out there and will help a lot of people and dogs.

From Billie Grieb:
I met Karen at the ABMA conference in Baltimore. Since then, I have been clicking away with my dog, a 4-year-old cairn terrier. It's a miracle. He now sits beautifully, and we're working on having him get on a mat on command. Thanks—clicking has changed our lives!

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