08 May

Looking back: Our 12th annual conference

On February 22 – 23, 2020, we held the 12th annual
Art and Science of Animal Training Conference.
Here are our favorite highlights from the event.

A World-class event

Our 210 conference attendees came from 31 US states and six foreign countries, including Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Mexico. These attendees included dog trainers, horse trainers, bird trainers, veterinarians, zoo and aquarium professionals, behavior analysts, and passionate pet owners.  

2020 Anderson Award Recipient

Alexandra Kurland, Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz and Mary Hunter pose for a photo after Alexandra receives the 2020 Anderson Award

We were thrilled to honor horse trainer Alexandra Kurland as the fifth recipient of the Edward L. Anderson Jr. Award. Alexandra’s books, DVDs and innovative training methods have been instrumental in bringing clicker training and positive reinforcement to the horse world. read more

29 Apr

Alexandra Kurland receives the 2020 Anderson Award

The Edward L. Anderson Jr. Award honors individuals who have helped translate scientific knowledge into practical training procedures, develop innovative new training methods and techniques, and educate others about the science of behavior and its application to animal training.

In February 2020 at our 12th annual Art and Science of Animal Training Conference, we honored Alexandra Kurland as the fifth recipient of the Anderson Award.

Alexandra has been a pioneer in the world of animal training. Her books, DVDs, clinics, and other resources have introduced hundreds of horse owners to clicker training and positive reinforcement training methods.  read more

21 Mar

Looking back: Our 11th annual conference

On February 23 – 24, 2019, we held the 11th annual
Art and Science of Animal Training Conference.
Here are our favorite highlights from the event.

A World-Class Event

Our 200 conference attendees came from 31 US states and six foreign countries, including Canada, Denmark, England, France, Italy, and Mexico. Attendees included dog trainers, horse trainers, bird trainers, veterinarians, zoo and aquarium professionals, and passionate pet owners.

2019 Anderson Award Recipient

We honored English dog trainer Kay Laurence as the fourth recipient of the Edward L. Anderson Jr. Award. Kay’s creativity has given the training community many new ideas, from microshaping to GENABACAB. We also recognized Kay for her training philosophy, which is always focused on the dog’s welfare and on creating considerate human-animal interactions.

In her award acceptance speech, Kay said that we should continue to ask, “Is this the only way? Or, could I do better?”

You can read more about why we honored Kay and what she shared with us in her speech in this blog post.

Two Days of Thought-Provoking Lectures

This year’s conference had two themes, behavior chains and cues. Our presenters explored the science behind both of these topics and ideas for practical application.

Our keynote speaker, Dr. Alliston Reid, shared with us his research on how animals learn chains and behavior skills. We left at the end of the weekend with many new things to think about!

Discovering More About Behavior

During our Friday evening reception, our ORCA students from the University of North Texas shared poster presentations of their current projects. In addition, three of the ORCA students gave presentations during our private day of talks on the Monday after the conference. The conference is an excellent opportunity for the students to develop professional skills and to gain feedback on their projects.

This year’s conference left the students with many questions related to chains. How is a chain different from other sequences of behavior? What implications do these differences have for teaching and maintaining behaviors? What are the best ways to build (and break) chains?

Our students already have many ideas for new projects. It will be very interesting to see what they discover during the next year!

A BIG Thanks to Our Conference Sponsors

We are so thankful for the organizations that helped make this year’s conference possible: The Anderson Foundation, Karen Pryor Academy, and My Training Store.

Because of the generous support of these organizations, sixteen ORCA students were able to attend the conference for free. The conference is a great opportunity for the students as it allows them three intensive days of learning and conversation with behavior analysts and professional animal trainers.

The Conversation Never Ends…

Our conference attendees certainly enjoyed our new conference venue. The second floor of the hotel proved to be the perfect spot for late night discussions and debates. Every night, our speakers and attendees chatted away about the day’s talks until past midnight.

Further reading: read more

14 Mar

Kay Laurence receives the 2019 Anderson Award

The Edward L. Anderson Jr. Award honors individuals who have helped translate scientific knowledge into practical training procedures, develop innovative new training methods and techniques, and educate others about the science of behavior and its application to animal training.

In February 2019 at our 11th annual Art and Science of Animal Training Conference, we honored Kay Laurence as the fourth recipient of the Anderson Award.

Kay has been an innovator in the world of animal training. She is always pushing ahead and giving us new ideas about training. At the beginning of our award ceremony, Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz described how he met Kay some fifteen years before and explained in detail why we chose Kay as this year’s award recipient.

The reasons why we honored Kay Laurence are many. Here are just a few of them:

Her philosophy is for the dogs. Anyone who has worked with Kay Laurence knows that her primary focus is on the dog’s quality of the life and on building humane, considerate human-animal interactions. Her training decisions are based upon whether something is for the benefit of the dog or whether it will be costly for the dog. As Kay has told us many times, “Just because you CAN train a behavior doesn’t mean that you SHOULD train it.”

Her creativity has given us new ways to train. Kay Laurence has developed many new methods and techniques for training with positive reinforcement. Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz touched on a few of the innovations that Kay has given us, from training strategies such as microshaping to training tools such as target sticks with measuring cups on the end for easy treat delivery! Kay was also the first to develop a tabletop shaping game (GENABACAB), which has inspired many other tabletop games, including PORTL.

Her ideals have helped build community. You may not know it, but our very first Art and Science of Animal Training Conference was Kay Laurence’s idea. Kay met our core speakers, Alexandra Kurland, Steve and Jen White, Ken Ramirez, and Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, through the early ClickerExpo conferences. They all quickly realized that their reinforcers were getting to spend time together, sharing ideas and talking about training. We created the annual Art and Science of Animal Training Conference as a way to provide more opportunities for animal trainers and behavior analysts to collaborate and support each other.

After Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz’s introduction, Kay gave a short speech. She discussed some of the things that have influenced her and helped to make her the trainer who she is today. Here are just a few of the thoughts that she shared with us.

Listen to your dogs. In the 1970s when Kay Laurence first became interested in dog training, she didn’t have a mentor to teach her about positive reinforcement. Instead, she learned from her dogs. At first, she worked in the aviation industry and breeding, training, and showing dogs were her hobbies. She learned to watch her dogs and to listen to what they were telling her. Kay said that they shaped her behavior and taught her how to effectively use positive reinforcement. When she finally read Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog in the early 1990s, it was a huge relief for her to realize that she wasn’t completely on her own.

Be clear about your ethics. Kay Laurence said that each one of us needs to set our own personal standards and ethical framework. These have to be yours, not someone else’s. Part of Kay’s ethical framework is that everything she trains should be for the benefit of the dog. For example, there are some tricks and freestyle behaviors that Kay won’t train to her dogs. These behaviors may be entertaining, but they may not be good for the dog’s physical or emotional wellbeing.

Never fear asking a question. Kay Laurence said that her father inspired her to have a love of learning. When she would ask a question as a child, he would always take her seriously and help her find the answer. She told a story of spending one weekend with her father in the tool shed with prisms, lights, and wooden models as he answered her question, “Why is the sunset pink?” Woven throughout Kay’s talk was the idea that we should not be afraid of asking questions and of wanting to learn more.

Near the end of her talk, Kay Laurence suggested that we should each take the things we do and question is this really the only way, or could we do even better? Kay has been an innovator in the field of animal training, in part because of her attitude of continual improvement. We are thankful for Kay for all that she has done to help us make our training better and better.

21 Dec

Training Orangutans for Conservation

One of our Art and Science of Animal Training Conference speakers, Barbara Heidenreich, recently returned from a trip to Indonesia. Barbara has been partnering with Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and the Oregon Zoo to work on training and conservation projects with young orangutans.

We were thrilled when Barbara sent us a short report and some photos from her recent trip. You can hear even more about this fascinating project during Barbara’s lecture at our 2019 Art and Science of Animal Training Conference. We still have some tickets available for the conference.

By Barbara Heidenreich
Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training

I have yet to meet a zoo professional who isn’t passionate about conservation. We seek ways to weave supporting conservation into our work, whether it is through education, messaging, working directly with ambassadors of wild counterparts, promoting in situ projects and so on. When the opportunity to utilize our expertise to directly impact conservation of wild species presents itself, it’s met with an enthusiastic “yes!”

Training has been embraced by the zoological community as an important element in providing optimal health and welfare. It can reduce or eliminate stress for medical care. It can make day to day care easier. It can address behavior problems and much more.

Training addresses those same needs in conservation projects. There are often animals that will require life long care and are managed much like other species in human care. It’s easy to see how training can be applied to improve the welfare of these residents who cannot be returned to the wild.

The fascinating opportunities that are being explored more now are the many ways in which training can be applied to benefit those animals being prepared for release or who are already in the wild. This is an area that presents numerous diverse scenarios in which experts in the animal training field can benefit wildlife and conservation.

I have had several opportunities to work with conservation projects and each presented unique behavior challenges and goals. A recent project involved working with orangutans at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. A main focus was working with young animals being schooled by humans as surrogate mothers to survive in the forest. This involves years of work. If problems arise that cannot be corrected it is possible that an individual may miss its window for release.

During the day, these young orphaned orangutans go to “forest school” to learn how to survive in the forest. With the help of human caregivers, they practice skills such as building nests and finding food. This photo shows them returning from forest school.

One problem we encountered was that some young animals were learning rough play at a young age and they would carry that throughout their development. As they become older and stronger this becomes dangerous for humans. These animals often become individuals who lose the chance at release. One of our tasks was to teach the surrogate mothers how to use training technology to teach these youngsters that other behaviors besides rough play resulted in desired consequences.

We also had some young orangutans with tragic backgrounds who had a difficult time being independent of their human caregivers. Teaching them independence through small approximations was another task.

The young orangutans must learn to stay in the forest by themselves. In this photo, Noni is learning that allowing her caregiver to move away from her results in desired consequences.

Often our training environment was the gorgeous forest of Borneo. However, some of our young orangutans preferred returning early to the buildings at home base instead of staying in the forest to practice their orangutan survival skills. So, another task was to teach duration for staying in the forest.

These behaviors, when broken down into their basic steps, are ones many trainers will find familiar. What makes them different is the environment, species and context. Yet the principles are the same. There are some adjustments we needed to make to the application to address our species and environment. It is very important to understand the natural history of the species you are training. Not only can an orangutan move horizontally, but it can move vertically, is stronger than you, has longer arms than you, can grab with hands and feet, and has a different social structure than other great apes.

Fortunately, our team of three consisted of experienced great ape and training experts and our job as consultants is to partner our knowledge with the knowledge of the experts at the conservation organization to reach the behavioral goals together.

As the young orangutans grow more independent they can graduate to a pre-release island. In this photo, Barbara releases a young female.

Our two trips to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (website) are an example of the way zoos are utilizing their skills, expertise and finances to support conservation of species in the wild. Oregon Zoo sponsored these trips by sending two staff members and me. They also sent numerous medical and training supplies. The long-term goal is to provide ongoing support with regular visits to help establish a solid training program.

To see gorgeous footage of training baby orangutans in the Indonesian rainforest and to learn more about the many other behaviors addressed, come see the live presentation at the Art and Science of Animal Training Conference!

26 Apr

Looking back: Our 9th annual conference

On February 25 – 26, 2017, we held the 9th annual Art and Science of Animal Training Conference in Irving, Texas (near Dallas). Here are some of our favorite highlights and pictures from the event.

2017 ASAT ORCA conference group photo

Attendees came from far and wide

This year’s conference sold out in six weeks, the fastest ever in our nine-year history. We also had a more diverse audience than ever before.

Our 180 conference attendees came from 28 US states and eight foreign countries, including Canada, Mexico, England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Japan. Slightly more than half of the attendees were first-time attendees.

Attendees included pet owners and professional trainers who work with a wide variety of species of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, small mammals, birds, marine mammals, exotic animals, and more. It’s always so much fun having such a diverse group of trainers gather together for the conference.

Two days of thought-provoking lectures and discussions

This year, our conference focused on two main themes. (Check out the full conference program here.)

line drawing of Dr. David Premack, from 2017 conference logoSaturday’s lectures were all about the Premack principle and how reinforcement works, starting with a wonderful keynote address from Dr. Peter Killeen.

On Sunday, our speakers shared with us about how to effectively maintain behaviors, including building long chains, dealing with distractions, using natural reinforcers, and more.

An overriding theme throughout the weekend was the idea of “choice” and how this concept can help improve human-animal interactions.

Katie Bartlett, of Equine Clicker Training, was gracious enough to type up many of her notes from the talks and share them on her blog. Here are the links to her blog posts about our 2017 conference.

Conference notes from the Equine Clicker Training Blog:
– Dr. Peter Killeen’s keynote address about the Premack Principle
– More notes about the Premack Principle
– Notes from a series of talks about building duration
– Barbara Heidenreich’s talk about reinforcers and maintenance
– Dr. Paul Andronis’ lecture about adjunctive behavior
– Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz’ talk about conditioned reinforcers
– Notes about choice, an underlying theme during the conference

Our favorite conference photos

We were so thankful for ORCA student Alex Tredway, who worked all weekend taking photos of the conference speakers and attendees. She captured some great shots! Here is a slide show that we put together with some of our favorite photos from the weekend.

2017 Anderson Award recipient

We were thrilled to honor Karen Pryor as the second recipient of the Edward L. Anderson Jr. Award.

Recipient of the 2017 Anderson Award - Karen PryorWe created this award in 2016 to honor individuals who have helped transform the field of animal training.

In particular, the award honors individuals who have helped translate scientific knowledge into practical training methods and procedures, develop innovative new training methods and techniques, and/or educate others about the science of behavior and its application to animal training.

Karen Pryor has certainly been a pioneer in the field of animal training and has been instrumental in educating both animal trainers and the general public about positive reinforcement training methods.

Karen Pryor and Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz hug, after Karen receives the Anderson Award

We were so happy that Karen was able to join us for the weekend. Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz presented the award to Karen at our Saturday night dinner and discussed the significance of Karen’s contributions.

Most interestingly, he shared several short video clips from a speech Karen had given in 1992 at the annual convention for the Association of Behavior Analysis International. This was still the very early days of the positive reinforcement training movement, and there were not as many connections between animal trainers and behavior analysts. (Watch Karen Pryor’s entire 1992 speech online here.)

It was fascinating to hear what Karen had to say during that speech 25 years ago. One theme from her lecture was communication and how positive reinforcement really helps us have significant two-way communication with our animals. I think this is still so important for us to understand today!

Karen Pryor also shared some remarks during the conference closing on Sunday afternoon about current and future research related to positive reinforcement training techniques. It will be so interesting to see what happens in the field of animal training in the years to come.

Learning and sharing about research

One of the attendees’ favorite parts of the conference is the Friday night reception and poster session, which was a new feature that we added in 2016.

Research poster presentations at the 2017 ASAT conference At the reception, ORCA graduate and undergraduate students from the University of North Texas share poster presentations of their current research projects. This year we had eleven students present a total of nine research posters.

The posters included a diverse array of projects and research with both animals and humans, including voluntary vaccination training with a pair of ring-tailed lemurs, new ideas for data collection during training, teaching a horse to request “yes” or “no,” and much more.

Attendees loved seeing the new projects and getting to discuss them with the students. The students received valuable feedback about their projects and got to practice their presentation skills. The students now have lots of ideas for how to continue their projects, as well as plenty of ideas for new research projects.

And in the evenings… read more