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…

Our audience is certainly passionate about training!

ASAT conference - people talking on Saturday night

Every night, you could find speakers and attendees chatting in the Crosswinds room until well past midnight. In the photo above, keynote speaker Dr. Peter Killeen and speaker Alexandra Kurland are deep in conversation with a group of attendees at this year’s event.

A big thanks to our conference sponsors

group photo from ASAT conference with sponsor signWe are so thankful for our sponsors and supporters who helped make this year’s conference possible: The Anderson Foundation, Karen Pryor Academy, MyTrainingStore.Com, Darlingon Press, Jilly’s Gallery, and ORCA.

As always, the ORCA student volunteers from the University of North Texas helped make sure that everything ran smoothly all weekend.

Jilly Barnes, of Jilly’s Gallery, once again made a wonderful figurine for the Anderson Award. It was a life-like ceramic statue of Karen Pryor, with one of Karen’s dogs sitting in her lap and a clicker in Karen’s hand.

Karen Pryor award, with dog and clicker

Because of the generous support of these organizations, we were able to have the conference again this year. We would not have been able to do it without their financial support!

In addition, seventeen undergraduate and graduate behavior analysis student volunteers 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.

Save the date for our 10th annual conference: March 24 – 25, 2018

Our next conference should be a lot of fun, as it is our 10th annual conference! We hope that you will put it on your calendar and consider joining us in Dallas in March.

More information about the program and registration will be available on this page of our website at the beginning of the summer.

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