Happy fall—a time for change and new ventures
It’s autumn of 2014. Here in Boston, leaves are turning, people are going back to school, and the shop windows are full of enticing new fall clothes. We have finished enjoying a long, calm, beautiful summer—not too hot, not too rainy, just one gorgeous day after another. Now, for practically everyone it seems, new plans and new projects start popping up. Certainly that is true for me this year.
In 1993, while I was living in the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest, I started a little company to publish books and videos on clicker training. Charlene and Larry Woodward’s mail-order business was my first customer, and the new Internet soon brought more. The company grew. A few years later, I moved to Boston, partly to come home to New England where I’d lived as a child, and mostly to be nearer to my children and grandchildren, particularly my Boston-dwelling writer daughter Gale and her architect husband Kolya, who were expecting their third baby and could use a grandmother around.
I brought the business with me, rented some office space, hired one person and then two more, and now I was in business for real. Today that company has grown tenfold, thanks to the leadership and business acumen of company president and now CEO Aaron Clayton, and all the great people working with us. ClickerExpo is teaching nearly 1000 people a year in the US, and will be held for the first time in the UK this October. Karen Pryor Academy, with its own superb faculty, is a success. The retail and wholesale aspects of the company are growing too. And this month we are welcoming aboard a new partner, Ken Ramirez, ClickerExpo star, distinguished marine mammal trainer, and creative teacher and consultant, known and revered by trainers worldwide.
At last I can step back, stop worrying about the company from day to day, and happily turn over the reins to Aaron and Ken. I will not be writing these monthly Letters from Karen any longer. That doesn’t mean I will just disappear over the horizon. I will attend ClickerExpo Europe in England in October. I will be at ClickerExpo in 2015, giving the dinner speech in Portland, Oregon, in January, and in Dearborn, Michigan, in March. My youngest grandchild, 14–year-old Maile Pryor, will be with me in Portland. She’s a pretty good clicker trainer already, with both horses and dogs. I’m still a shareholder in the company, and I am retaining a title, Director of Research, with a budget for research travel.
Research is one of the main reasons I need more free time. It’s important for all of us to be adding modern training and all the things we have learned about it into the scientific literature. We can discover and use something new every year, every month, every day, but if it’s not published in peer-reviewed journals nobody else can make use of it and it doesn’t survive.
I’ve been conscious of this challenge for some time. In May of this year, three papers I’d been working on for the past 18 months were published. Ken Ramirez co-authored with me a chapter in a textbook on operant and classical conditioning, summarizing modern marker-based training, and, I hope, putting some misconceptions to rest (Pryor and Ramirez 2014). I wrote an essay for the 40th anniversary of a scientific journal called Aquatic Mammals about dolphin-related aspects of my working career (Pryor, 2014). With my colleague Sheila Chase at Hunter College in New York, I wrote a joint paper on training for creativity, which also came out in May (Pryor and Chase 2014). I’m presently working on another biographical essay, this one on my life in Behavior Analysis (funny thing; two biographic essays in one year and almost no overlap between them!). There is also a book chapter on creativity in animals in progress. I’m coaching some grad students at Hunter who are documenting and demonstrating quieting the chorus barking in kennels. And, of course, I’m engaged in research projects myself—some dealing with shelter animals, but most dealing with using reinforcement and the marker in the training of human beings.
One thing I won’t be doing is training dogs and dog trainers. I’ve agreed to let KPCT handle that end of things from now on! So I’m not going to be giving seminars or speaking at dog events or writing articles about dog training. If you are looking for a speaker or a seminar presenter, we have a fantastic faculty of highly capable people at ClickerExpo and Karen Pryor Academy to choose from.
Hello and goodbye
So I have a new schedule: stay home more. I have a new, very affectionate, and amusing cat named Leo. I have a new car—a sporty, silver-and-black Mini Cooper with racing stripes. (I pity the guy with the big, sluggish SUV next to me at the stoplight. While he’s waiting for his car to shift into gear, I’m a block ahead already.) I’m singing new music with a new conductor in a big chorus at Harvard. And, of course, I have a new book coming out in October. The book, titled On My Mind: Reflections on Animal Behavior and Learning, is a collection of some of the best Letters from Karen that I’ve written over the years.
My dear, adored, black-and-white miniature poodle Misha came to the end of his fifteen years of life this fall. Oh, how I miss him! If only our dogs could live as long as we do! But, in fact, it is now easier for me to travel. Next month I’m off to England for ClickerExpo UK and then to Lisbon to visit a big neuroscience lab where they clicker train their rats. They use my old dolphin book, Lads before the Wind, as their training text! Then I’m participating in a TAGteach seminar for advanced trainers of people. And after that… well, wait and see. Maybe I’ll just have to write an occasional Letter from Karen after all.