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Why Isn't Clicker Training on Oprah?

Oprah and the Dog Whisperer

We received a lot of e-mail and calls after the Dog Whisperer appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. To the uninitiated, the Dog Whisperer is a trainer whose approach is to show the dog that the owner is dominant and the dog is subservient. In other words, the "show'em who's boss" method of training.

The calls and e-mails shared a theme:

Oprah?"
"Why doesn't clicker training get this kind of national coverage?"

Excellent questions. There's more than one answer. Ask a sociologist, you'll get the answer: Culture. Ask the public relations specialist, you'll get a different answer: Connections. Ask an economist and get yet another answer: Market demand.

As a business owner with vested interest in clicker training, these questions aren't academic to me. That single broadcast just made it a little harder for every clicker trainer in the US to win new customers. Oprah showcasing the Dog Whisperer got under my skin because millions of people were just "told" by cultural icon Oprah that dominance is the way to go in developing a relationship with your dog! Talk about irony. Isn't Oprah all about healthy relationships? Like so many of you, I want to see clicker trainers, rather than traditional dominance trainers, make it to Oprah. Apart from the humanitarian motivation, exposure on Oprah would help clicker training grow and help get closer to a more ambitious objective: clicker training as the people's first choice for training their pets.

Where to begin

"If we want to help clicker training become the people's choice, we need to help them set goals that only clicker training can meet."

So whose perspective is the one that can most help clicker training grow?

Let's begin with the sociologist. Surprised? Here's why. For clicker training to become the peoples' choice, to reach the mainstream of America , clicker trainers need to recognize that we are up against a deep-seated cultural bias, one that severely limits pet owners' expectations from dog training. Our task is to help people replace that narrow vision with a broader vision and higher expectations, with "something more." We can do it if we can show people that clicker training uniquely delivers that "something more." With me? Keep reading.

What we're up against: a culture of obedience

Most people would accept as reasonable the assumption that the average pet owner simply wants their dog to do what they tell them, when they tell them to do it. Pet owners just want an "obedient" dog. When pet owners go to choose a training class, what do they look for? Someone who will teach their dog to obey their commands. The training class marketplace clearly reflects this demand; the most commonly used name for an introductory dog training class is, of course, "obedience class." Even some trainers who use positive methods or clicker training, those who use no aversives, call their courses obedience courses! Why? Because pet owners gravitate toward classes that promise obedient dogs.

I believe this is because we live in a pervasive "culture of obedience." A lot of value is placed on obedience in our society. Obedience provides order, prevents chaos, and ensures safety. Until very recently, obedience overwhelmingly defined capable parenting: good children are obedient children. It has been a key ingredient of successful businesses for a long time. A senior executive of a Fortune 500 company once told me (quite seriously) that he "did not pay employees to think, just to do." It is the essence of military function. A good soldier obeys (moral) orders without thinking. And a good dog sits when commanded to sit and stays when commanded to stay.

Yet as the foundation for any relationship between intelligent living things, this culture of obedience imposes a low, unimaginative threshold. As a result, the goals of most pet owners for training their dogs are low and unimaginative and defined by obedience. So why is that a problem? Don't we want our clicker trained dogs to be obedient? Clicker trained dogs are obedient; clicker trainers call it reliable behavior on cue. But , many training methods that compete with clicker training also produce obedient dogs. Why, therefore, should pet owners select a class that uses clicker training over any other? For one thing, clicker training offers a more humane way to produce obedient dogs than these other methods. That's a big difference isn't it?

Creating demand for "something more"

Now, I turn to the economist for help. The economist might look at the market for training services and ask whether "nice" is enough of an advantage to persuade the majority of pet owners to make clicker training the "peoples' choice." I think the answer is, no. Not enough pet owners will turn to clicker training because it's nicer than other methods. Nicer must compete with other things that pet owners care about, too, like closer, cheaper, faster, and simpler.

If we want clicker training to become the people's choice, we need to offer something more, something that:

  1. People really want from their investment of time and money in training their dog; and
  2. Only clicker training can provide.

Something more

Clayton Family
Aaron Clayton with Tucker and family

My household consists of a 79-pound, two-year-old black Lab named Tucker, two elementary school-age kids, their friends, lots of older and younger nieces and nephews, two working parents, and a guinea pig.

When I started training Tucker, I thought first about the goals for my life with my dog:

  • I wanted Tucker to be happy and safe in the environment of our home and family and my work.
  • I wanted to enjoy living with Tucker and for him to enjoy living with us.
  • I wanted Tucker to be a rock-solid family dog, a dog whose food bowl you could take away while he's eating and whose tail could be pulled without complaint, a dog who is thrilled but calm when he sees every member of my family, my friends and their dogs, gerbils, or guinea pigs. (I'd made an exception for the neighbor's cat.)
  • I wanted Tucker to wrestle with me!
  • I wanted to be able to take Tucker to lots of new places, to be able to adapt to new environments like friends' houses, new walks, or my children's schools.
  • I wanted him to demonstrate, each day, that he possessed that fine balance between enthusiasm and self-control.

That's what I wanted, and that's what I got. Like every other pet owner, I wanted Tucker to do what I asked of him, but obedience was not the explicit and overarching goal. It was just assumed and, actually, subsumed by this richer vision.

The "something more" training goal: life skills

In order to achieve these goals with Tucker, I needed an entirely different set of training objectives from those traditionally taught in dog training classes. I needed to teach Tucker self-control, to desensitize him to all kinds of touch, to leave things that aren't his. I needed to teach him to look for direction from me in uncertain situations. I needed to have a sustainable system for teaching him to be an enthusiastic learner his whole lifetime. In short, I needed to teach my dog life skills.

The "something more" training method: clicker training

What type of teaching and training would best help me achieve these goals? Only clicker training can get me there. Like it or not, one can teach many common behaviors using dominance-based training, which is intrinsically aversive—but can anyone compellingly argue that the general public can teach their animals to be enthusiastic learners that way? Can the pet owner develop robust learning and life skills in her dog with those approaches? No. Those goals can be achieved only by clicker training.

Do your customers want "something more"?

If you're a teacher of pet classes, do you know what your students want out of the time and money they spend with you? Can they articulate their vision? Can you help them cross the threshold from wanting simple obedience to desiring "something more"? Can you show them how the clicker trainers' way uniquely helps them achieve their vision?

I believe that expanding their vision is the first, most important step a pet owner can take, and the first training topic that every teacher should cover with a pet owner. In your first class, ask your students and clients to write down their training goals. Give them a sudden glimpse of what a CLICKER dog can do and be. Guide them in seeking a richer relationship with their dogs, more than simple obedience. Guide them to "something more."

People will train using the methods that best meet their goals. If we want to help clicker training become the people's choice, we need to help them set goals that only clicker training can meet.

And what about Oprah? Now that we have "something more" to bring to the public, it's time to pull in that PR perspective. So, does anyone's personal organizer out there have an entry under O. Winfrey?

Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clickertraining and will be teaching a session on growing training businesses at ClickerExpo. Also visit the Business Success Center for Professional Clicker Trainers at Clickertraining.com for programs, tools, and ideas to grow your business.

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.

dog whisperer... I would rather have the ghost whisperer

Before I became a trainer, I was taking obedience classes with a great teacher and other obedience addicts when Oprah had that "whisperer" on.  We couldn't believe it!  We all said... we should start that here... we could retire.  Many of us were appalled because he showed the dog how to behave, not the owner how to establish a bond with her dog and get the dog to work for her.   Plus, the nylon rope around the neck was cruel to the dog and hard on the hands.

 

Establishing a strong bond between the owner and dog, and strengthening that bond by giving the dogs skills and reinforcing the milestones with a click is the start of a great relationship that will stand you in good stead no matter what you do.

 

His way, do what I say, then go back to your owner and be the same dog, with maybe more problems.

abracadabra

For clicker training to have mass appeal it would need to be marketed completely differently. Cesar makes great slickly edited TV. He offers an easily understandable methodology that people not only relate to but it makes them feel special. His real success is marketing.

I once saw a show where Cesar tackled problem barking. In reality there was nothing that entertaining about his methodology. He put a choke chain on the dog, an assistant rattled the gate the dog barked Cesar corrected the dog. A clicker trainer would do the opposite, rather than correct the dog for barking a reward for not barking would be given. But, as any magician would tell you, what makes a trick magical is the miss direction. Before the actual training took place Cesar explained about dominance and 'the dog thinks blar blar' you can imagine, a magician would call this story telling 'patter.' A montage of Cesar following a rather bemused dog around the garden "claiming her territory." This is all miss direction.

 

In reality clicker trainers would agree that the underlying methodology works. It’s just classical conditioning. Cesar various maxims ‘carm assertive energy’, ‘take your dog for a walk’, ‘rules boundaries limitations’ we would agree just not for the same mumbo jumbo reasoning.

 

If you were a clicker trainer wanting to go on TV, don’t tell everyone you’re a clicker trainer. Dress it up with some thing else, people don’t watch Opra for a science lesson. Hide the clicker, a good magician never revels his/her gimmick (Cesar down plays the choke chain he uses). But here is the problem, as clicker trainers we are saying, dog training can be simple and anyone can get excellent results what’s more it’s win win because you do this by being nice to your dog. It would be like being shown a trick then having it explained. I love knowing how things are done to most people this is just another depressing reminder that real magic doesn’t exist.

 

Cesars Way

Cesar rarely "trains" the dogs -- he trains people how to handle their dogs problems, which were basically created by the people to begin with, by treating them like they were people, instead of dogs. I am eager to learn clicker training, but in my opinion, Cesar has done a great service to the dogs out there.  I have seen him use everything from accupuncture and aromatherapy, to massage, and yes, more firm methods for the red-zone dangerous dogs, saving them from euthanasia.   I have seen him take herding dogs, who were housebound, out to areas where they could herd sheep and could experience something they were bred to do!  I have seen him rehabilitate a shell-shocked bomb dog that was afraid of his own shadow, back to a calm, relaxed, happy dog.  You will never convince me that his methods are wrong.  If every dog could start out with clicker training, perhaps some of the more harsher methods would never be needed, but we all know that many many dogs start out with people who don't have a clue on the right way to raise a pup. 

hmm

You all see dominance in a different way. A mother dog is dominant over her puppies but none are traumatized. I don't agree with cesar 100% but you have to see that some things he does is right. He walks 50+ dogs without leashes.

I've seen stray dogs form packs and do things what Cesar say. Certainly those dogs are not abusing each other.

Interesting!

I once had a similar question I posted on Yahoo answers about clicker training. I said do you like this method or not?

 

The responses I got was "I don't need no box that makes a sound to teach my dog".

"Clicker training brings no discipline like choke chains and, my dog won't resepect me".

"Clicker training is for those who don't know how to train and fall into those foolish techniques."

"It is pointless"

"I want my voice to be a marker not a clicker"

 

I asked the people who wrote this if they every really did try it. Most of them claim they did, but they described what they did and it was all wrong, and with no positive reinforcement, but harsh corrections.

 

Maybe people will eventually see the results when more dogs are aired on talk shows and they tell them they are clicker trained.

lazy humans

I just started clicker training with my dog about a week ago. No major breakthroughs yet with my dog, but somewhat for me. Clicker training is harder from the perspective of the trainer. You have to *think* about what you are reinforcing and how you are going to shape a given behavior. For me, that is the most challenging part because I have a tendency to want to see the perfect behavior right from the start. So its a challenge to be patient and break the behavior down into very small increments. So, not that I think it is right, but I think that perhaps one of the reasons that clicker training may not have caught on yet, so to speak, is that it doesn't exactly fit with our instant-gratification, make-it-as-easy-as-possible culture.

Ask an Economist

As an economist (in training, I admit), I would like to respond to the claim that an economist would answer "Market Demand" to the question of why clicker training is less popular that "dominance" training. Economics has lots of theories about what is available on the market and what's not. There is a field of economics which focuses on questions like "why does microsoft have such a huge majority in the market when by many measures apple has clearly superior software?" This is the same question as is being asked about clicker training. Recent research has shown that this question can be answered by looking at the relative costs and benefits of the two options.

The established paradigm of dominating a dog is easy to understand and easy to apply. You simply figure out a few cues that indicate to the animal that you are a dominant member of the pack. This is pretty easy to do for anyone with at least a little motivation to train. You then dominate the dog into the behavior you are interested in acquiring -- this is also pretty easy since it coincides with the way humans try interact with each other (admittedly some humans refuse to be dominated :) ).

Clicking, on the other hand, is much more costly to perform in the sense that it requires patience with an animal that may already be driving you insane. I have personal experience with this and many times I find myself scolding my poor (wonderful) ferret for mistakes because clicking is going so slowly. But I've found that he doesn't learn well from scolding, so I always go back to clicking.

The benefits of clicking are clearly superior to simple dominance for many of the reasons explained in articles on this site, such as teaching a dog to sit instead of jumping on visitors (clicking) versus scolding a dog for jumping and instead getting an animal who is frightened of visitors (extreme case of correction mis-training). However since clicking requires discipline on the part of the human as well as on the part of the dog, the prevalence of dominance training in the media could simply be a result of human preferences -- because people want stuff without having to work too hard, more dominance coverage simply indicates that preference for high quality is overruled in the market by a preference for easy results.

Are you brave enough to change your mind?

I find clicker training fascinating, but almost as fascinating is the reaction it elicits. I feel that sometimes people feel threatened by an idea that might cause them to develop their own ideas – this is normal, but it creates a trap.

All training is about communication. Punishing / dominant training can be very effective in developing loyalty and love for the punisher, especially when used with variable rewards – this is why women who are beaten by their husbands tend to stick around for so long and often go back to them. However, use of positive reinforcement can also do that and can be much more effective at creating a versatile “trainee” who is continually striving to do better for you. The clear imperative, though, is about being strict with yourself as trainer and making sure that your lines in the sand are not crossed.

I admit, I am new to clicker training, however I found an epiphany on every page of “Don’t Shoot the Dog” because I saw clearly how I was already using the techniques, how I could use them better, and why certain behaviour was resulting when I was using more aversive methods. (My animals live in a high reward environment where the dogs get to sleep in my bed on occasion and the horse gets sporadic treats just for the fact that I want to go and say hi to her!)

I believe that drawing a line in the sand is relatively easy, it is just a question of choosing for yourself what behaviour you are after and that which you are not. However, the very act of doing so is a demonstration of dominance. Hence a horse that decides to rear underneath you is clearly a danger to both you and the horse. Belting the horse / kicking it on is one method of stopping the behaviour immediately, however, a thrashing will likely create a conflict between rider and horse. This can therefore be part of a battle ground where you show the horse who is boss, and which is part of a longer fight that you aim to win, but where the horse becomes more of an automaton, not willing to strive lest it fails and get punished for that.

On the other hand, it can part of the partnership building process where, when the horse has gone forwards, you pat and speak nicely to the horse – there is a reason why the horse reared, you are giving it a good reason not to, but hopefully in a sympathetic fashion so that it realises you are a partnership. (To change the motivation for rearing it would be worth finding out why he was rearing – are you too heavy, has he got a bad back, is he just being petulant because you are heading away from the other horses?)

If the horse trusts you, the horse will look after you better, try harder and will go with your judgement more easily. He will trust you enough to attempt difficult jumps because he knows there is reward for going for it and he will not be beaten if you fall off (why do people do that?!! the other day I sprained my fingers after falling off a strange horse because it pulled the reins out of my grip after my fall as it tried to get away from me, clearly expecting to be beating)

There are many ways of developing behaviour, and I do believe that punishment has its place, but rather as spurs can be an effective tool for communicating with the horse but are more often used by inexperience riders who use them in an indiscriminate attack on the poor horse’s ribs, punishment must only be used as a final method to show that the line in the sand is final, so the weapon of last resort – and as such most people would be better off training themselves how to be more effective at the other methods rather than lazily relying on the stick (after all, anyone can turn a TV off by throwing a brick at it!).

Everything is relative, however for those that still struggle with the concept of a training system that challenges your beliefs, remember that changing your mind about anything requires bravery. Unltimately though, changing your mind says one thing: I am wiser today than I was yesterday.

balanced training

When training a dog, you need to keep yourself in the leader position while also being kind and rewarding positive behavoir. If you let the dog be your "pack leader" then you have little control over the dogs behavoir because they think you should listen to them. A lot of behavoir issues in dogs are caused by a dog being the dominant one in the owner/dog relationship. Ceasar Milians methods are effective while not being cruel or anything. When I train dogs, I use Ceasars methods to get a calm submisive attitude established, then I use clicker training to teach actions (sit, lay down, ect.). That way, you are the leader of your dog while being able to teach commands and tricks effectively with a clicker. That is, in my mind, a balnced training system between dominance and positive reinforcement. So why choose to use only a clicker system or only the dog whisperers way if you can use both in harmony?

know balance, Know trainer

It is fairly clear to see that you have not completely crossed over to clicker training.
The person who choses to share their life with any other animal, but in this case, a dog, is by default the leader. The person protects, nutures and provides everything that the dog will ever need in life. Just as a parent is the leader in a human family.
Do you understand the the "dominance therory?" There is no reason for using any of the television reality show star's twisted techniques. You become a leader by building a relationship through respect based on that of trust, not dominance and certainly not fear. All relationships that are successful are built on trust.
I do not find that choking a dog until it falls on it's side, or running a dog on treadmill until it collapses and nearly dies to be anything but cruel and certainly not effective. Why would anyone force a small dog to keep still while scissors were being forced in his face, when it was already known that the dog did not respond well to scissors? This was just one of the times I saw this Television personality get bitten.
You see, when and if you finally do ever completely cross over, you will see how the dog could have been taught to accept scissors calmly in order to have the hair around his face trimmed, instead of flooding the poor dog with total fear.
There is nothing good that comes from fear. Usually, when using methods that you speak of, the dog will shut down and show no warning signs of being angry, or frustrated or afraid, because the dog is not allowed to express itself by growling or snapping, so in the end, you will create a dog that will suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere bite someone. Then guess which one pays the price, the owner, or the dog?
I have no need for a submissive dog. I am one who lets my dog decide which behavior will serve him/her the best. I do not believe that calmness is in any way related to submissiveness. A dog frozen in fear is not calm just because he is not out of control.
So why choose only the clicker system? Well, I, at times use a vocal bridge in place of the clicker I may have left sitting on my desk. There are ways to use positive reinforcement without a clicker. Again, it is clear you have not quite learned very much where this subject is concerned
but make no mistake about why I use only positive reinforcement and would not lower myself to use the abusive, cruel, forceful and dangerous methods that your TV star takes pleasure in using. For one thing there is no balance between the two. The are not even related. The dogs trained in this way learn nothing except to not venture to do something new for fear of punishment. Clicker trained dogs, or positive reinforced dogs are given the chance to think and choose without any fear of being harmed because of it. There is no harmony in any method of training that causes fear, intimidation and aggression. I really do not need any of the emotional states that are caused by "traditional training", such as your reality tv show personality presents, in my life or in any dog that comes into my life to be trained. I prefer confident, curious, friendly, and outgoing dogs, and with that also comes great manners, and an over all sound dog.
You are trying to mix your cigarette style of training, with a candle style of training. They both my have a fire at the end of them, but one of them does not stink as badly as the other and it last much longer as well.
I hope that you will continue on your journey to learning more about clicker training and how so much more than just sit, stay, down, can be accomplished through practicing it. Clicker training in my opinion is a lifestyle. It goes on and on and dogs continue to learn and be stimulated mentally and physically their entire lives.

smart dog university's picture

One Stop Shopping (er...Training)

What I love about clicker training is that it ISN'T a method. It's a science. Anyone can do it, you don't need karma or juju or any type of "energy." You simply follow the laws of behavior and you're on your way to a well-behaved dog who trusts his leader.

No need to "become the alpha," or worry about dominance. A good benevolent leader will always make it very easy for the dog to get things right, and very difficult for the dog to get things wrong. And a benevolent leader also, by default, controls access to the resources and uses clicker training to dole out those resources.

Examples of that in my house happen every day:
Want to go outside and play in the yard? Sit first.
Want your dinner? Watch me first.
Want a tummy rub? Speak first.
Wanna play tug? Go get your tug toy from the basket first.
Wanna romp and roll? Down, then roll over first.
Want up on the couch with me? Watch, speak, and sit first.

It's really the simplest, fairest, and most fun way to live with and enjoy your dogs. And you don't have to worry about dominance!! (That's the best part!)

Laurie Luck, CPDT
Certified Pet Dog Trainer
Smart Dog University
http://smartdoguniversity.com

Clicker Use/ Disuse and food

This may be a dumb question ......Wondering if using the clicker will set me up in a situation that when the (Horse) behavior is desirable and gets the reward what happens when they do the correct behavior and do not get the reward? Meaning they have been trained to do what I ask, will I always have to reward with the food forever?

PR problems

This weekend at ClickerExpo Los Angeles I learned
a very valuable lesson about how to teach both
dogs...and people. Both learn very quickly when
we use paired opposites.

Come forward. Back up.
Turn left. Turn right.
This is good. That is bad.
Our way is good. Your way is bad.

Ouch.

Unfortunately, the power of opposites is seductive.
They help us a great deal. But they can also be
dangerous.

Because: they can set up resistence when introducing
a new idea. People then naturally ask, "if
this is new, what does it replace?" "Is this
an attack on how I am currently doing things?"

There is a reason why one principle
of operant conditioning is to ignore the behavior you
don't like, and focus on reinforcing that which you do.

I spoke with Aaron at the Friday movie night
about the PR problems that clicker-training
has. "That's an old fad." "I tried it and it
didn't work with my dogs." "It's bad to use
food as a reward."

Assume the sell. Assume that people will
love clicking. Assume that they haven't heard
of the science of clicker training yet, and when
they discover it, they will be delighted.
Hire a good PR firm for gosh sakes! Promote the
science, and you will go far. Science is on your
side. Leverage that as much as possible.

It's a loosing battle to suggest that Clicker training
is a replacement for dominance, or obediance, or
emotional interpretation of the dog's pychology.

Yes, I read the excerpt of Cesar's book, and it would
make Skinner want to turn over in his grave. Dog
psychology? It's all about ENERGY! Oh my god. Where
is the barf bag? But people still love to read this
stuff. They love Oprah. They love Horoscopes. They
love psychics and mood rings and "energy" readings.
It isn't science, but don't fight it. Just add tools
from science to make people more effective.

So pick your battles carefully. The two most compelling
things for any (non-scientist) human are dominance and
emotion, in that order. Don't fight them. Leverage them.

Emma Parson's book on healing aggression has the owner
do all the same pack-leader establishing stuff that
any good animal trainer would do, still in the context
of clicker training. Use these examples of how to combine
the precision timing of the clicker to enhance the dominance/
status work in any household.

Ignore the stuff that rubs you the wrong way (especially
when it has national TV coverage and Oprah behind it),
and position clicker skills as an incredibly valuable
ADDITION to anyone's toolkit.

Especially the head of the family/pack who would
like to have happy and well-behaved
dogs while using as little force and as much praise
as possible. As usual, it's simply IGNORANCE of what
is possible that keeps people from using the best tools
available. ASSUME that people are doing the best they
can with what they have, and help them to learn. WRITE
a CLICKER TRAINING VIDEO GAME for gosh sakes. Virally
market mini-versions of it. If you know your clicker
training, you know how to create addictions with variable
reinforcement. What if, in the video game, people had
the option to punish, and the game showed the results of
that--fear, slow learning, forgetting cues, having to
review the learning more often, barfing in the car on
the way to the vet, more aggression, and so forth.
What if on the creativity tasks (maybe level two?),
the video game clearly taught people the results
of the science: the only way to get discretionary
effort, maximum creativity, and indeed to deal with
cats at all, is to use precision timing and positive
reinforcment.

I might actually believe an argument that said that
the leader/alpha/dominant role can be gentle 99% of the time
because they are willing to use force to ensure safety 1%
of the time, and because they use positive reinforcement
to keep happiness going that 99% of the time.

High status feels good. As most excellent teachers and leaders
have learned, positive reinforcement is the most effective
way to lead. Position science based clicker-training as
the tool of choice for leaders. Because we hate having to
resort to force as a last resort, when we much prefer to
lead by much more intelligent negotiation. Operant conditioning
makes that negotiation possible.

"WRITE a CLICKER TRAINING

"WRITE a CLICKER TRAINING VIDEO GAME for gosh sakes."

All video games are just clicker training for humans. ;)

They are the most beautifully pure example of operant conditioning around. And now I think I'll go play WoW...

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