Sometimes, a planned event takes on new meaning when those unplanned happen around it. This last weekend I had the privilege to attend an amazing three-day animal training conference.  Clicker Expo is often the highlight of my year.  This year, in the weeks leading up to the conference, the universe conspired to add a little extra meaning to the weekend.

The week before I left a client emailed me and said he was dropping out of class because he refused to use treats to train his dog. I, of course, was deeply saddened by the loss of him and his pup in class. I had watched him struggle to embrace a new approach to training as he had used only corrective methods in the past, and so wasn’t entirely surprised.  The friend who had referred him was very upset by his decision to leave. However, the week before I had a conversation with another member of that class about how she could apply the scientific principles of learning that we were using on the dogs to her grandchildren. Additionally, the week before that I was talking to another member of the class about how positive reinforcement could be used in her grade school classroom. (see TAG Teach)

Last weekend, I sat among the 600 other animal trainers who came from eight countries and train all manner of animals from cats and dogs to elephants and whales to, yes, kids.  While there, I couldn’t help but think that although I am sad the student who left my class couldn’t see the value in what I was teaching him, I am buoyed by the knowledge that there are children being raised and taught by people who understand positive reinforcement and how to apply it.  I was wishing those two women could be in the seminars with me so that they could feel the inspiration that comes from being in a room full of people committed to teaching and living a life that embraces the power of positive reinforcement training across the species.  I also wished that the man who left class had seen the value of the silly cookies as more than cookies but as a new way to approach life with his dog and the people around him.

The other level of added meaning for me was of a professional nature. How great it is to know that my unregulated profession has so many people willing to keep reaching for more knowledge not because they have to but because they want to.  To be better trainers for themselves, their clients and most of all for the animals we are working with. You do not have to be a professional trainer to attend this conference; in fact many of the first-time attendees are pet owners who are taking their hobby interest to the next level.  Prior to leaving for conference, I had been talking to someone who considers themselves to be a professional trainer.  This person had no certification and no educational background in anything related to behavior.  I raised the issue to them and their response was that they had no intention of getting any education now or in the future because you don’t have to.  Citing such TV personalities and self-styled trainers as Veronica Stillwell, Cesar Millan and Jackson Galaxy as reasons not to need education or certification.  I was floored.  What!  Well, no, you don’t have to, but that’s not why we go, is it?  It’s certainly not why I go. I have been professionally training animals for over a decade but I still learned a lot over those three days. I was also, at times, wishing that this person could have been there to see what they are missing out on when they elect not to keep learning about their own profession.

I for one will continue to learn as much as I can about my chosen profession.  Additionally, I hope that my peers will continue to rise up themselves, not because they have to, but because it is the right thing to do.  I also will continue to use positive reinforcement even if I lose some clients who aren’t ready to hear my information. This is because I know it’s not just the people and dogs in my classroom I am doing it for.  I am doing it to spread the word about a new approach to life and hopefully if you spend time in my classroom you will learn not only how to train your dog but how to communicate better with all the kids, dogs, cats and people you have around you.

Here are some tools for you to keep learning:

B. F. Skinner Foundation

Clicker Expo

TAG Teach (for how to use with humans)

Some of my favorite speakers:

Kathy Sdao (She is only a couple hours away)
Ken Ramirez
Dr. Susan Friedman

Dog – ibox for online learning
Fenzi Academy for online classes you can take with your dog

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