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.

In her award acceptance speech, Alexandra focused on the future. She shared how animal trainers have the skills and the resources to make a difference in the climate-change crisis. 

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

Two Days of Learning and Discussion 

Our talks on Saturday centered around the topic of negative reinforcement. We discussed the good and bad of negative reinforcement and examined what place it should have in a modern trainer’s toolbox.

On Sunday, our speakers shared with us about teaching component skills and working with multiple animals. We certainly had plenty to talk about at the breaks and in the evenings!

You can see the full conference program on this page of our website.

Sharing Discoveries 

At our Friday evening reception, the ORCA students from the University of North Texas presented ten research posters. In addition, two students gave talks about their research on Monday, during our day of private talks.

Our attendees loved learning about these recent projects, and the students benefited immensely as they received feedback and practiced their presentation skills. 

The presentations at our conference often inspire new research and discoveries in the months after the conference. This was the case when Dr. Alliston Reid, the keynote speaker at our 2019 conference, presented about chaining. His research led to many long discussions!

As a result of these conversations, one of the ORCA students conducted a research project this past year to replicate and extend one of Dr. Reid’s studies. He shared the results of his project at this year’s conference.

The Learning Never Stops….

The second floor of the hotel continued again this year to be the perfect spot for late night discussions and debates. We even had some late night PORTL training games. Each night, the questions and conversation continued until far past midnight. 

A Big Thanks to Our Conference Sponsors

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

Because of the generous support of these organizations, sixteen ORCA students attended the conference for free. The conference weekend is the highlight of their year!

The students value the learning and conversations that take place during the conference, as well as the networking opportunities. 

Save the Date!

Add this date to your calendar. Our 13th annual Art and Science of Animal Training Conference will be held February 20 – 21, 2021. You can learn more on the main conference page.

Conference Notes and Podcasts

After our conference, the conversation continued. The following resources include notes and further discussion about our 2020 conference.

  • Once again this year, horse trainer Katie Bartlett posted extensive notes from the conference on her blog. You can find them here.
  • On Saturday morning at the conference, Ken Ramirez, Hannah Branigan, and Mary Hunter discussed adduction, shaping, and teaching component skills. Hannah and Mary continued the conversation on Hannah’s podcast, Drinking from the Toilet. You can listen to the episode here.
  • We honored Alexandra Kurland as the 5th recipient of the Anderson Award. Immediately after the award ceremony, Alexandra and Dominique Day recorded an episode of the Equioisty podcast. Mary Hunter, Caeli Collins, Suzanne Kernek, Katie Bartlett, Natalie Zielinski, Michaela Hempen and Cindy Martin also joined in the conversation. You can listen to Episode 96: Celebration! on the Equioisty website or on most podcast providers.
  • Dr. Joe Layng gave a fascinating talk about “Coercion without Aversive Stimuli.” You can read the abstract for his talk here and Katie Bartlett’s notes from his talk here. This was one of those mind-spinning, thought-provoking talks that generates as many questions as answers! Two of our conference speakers, Barbara Heidenreich and Alexandra Kurland had Dr. Layng as a guest on their podcasts to continue the conversation. You can listen to Barbara’s podcast episode with Dr. Layng here, and you can listen to Alexandra’s podcast episode with Dr. Layng here.
  • Bob Bailey was in attendance at our conference again this year. He informed us that the CIA has recently declassified a manual that describes a training system that was developed by Animal Behavior Enterprises. The system involved using ravens to deliver and retrieve small packages. You can access a PDF of the full manual on the CIA’s website: Operator’s manual: Avian Delivery System. To learn more about Animal Behavior Enterprises, check out the video and resources on this page of our website.
  • A photo album from the conference is available on Facebook.
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