At the 2016 Art and Science of Animal Training Conference, we were thrilled to honor the first recipients of a new award, the Edward L. Anderson Jr. Award. The ceremony took place at our Saturday night banquet dinner.
If you’ve been part of the animal training community for any amount of time (or even if you’re not an animal trainer), you are probably aware that animal training has evolved A LOT over the past century. We have a much greater knowledge of basic behavior principles and also a much better understanding of the behavior of both domesticated and wild animals. Modern trainers regard animals as intelligent, emotional creatures that are able to learn all sorts of complex behaviors and concepts!
New knowledge and new ways of thinking have helped transform the field of animal training. Over the past decades, training methods and procedures have been developed that incorporate scientific knowledge about behavior and learning. These new methods focus on positive reinforcement, rather than aversive and coercive training methods, and consider carefully the welfare and well-being of the animal as an individual.
We created the Edward L. Anderson Jr. Award to honor individuals who have helped lead this transformation.
In particular, we wanted to recognize individuals who have been instrumental in:
1) Translating scientific knowledge into practical training methods and procedures
2) Developing innovating new training methods and techniques
3) Educating others about the science of behavior and its application to animal training
The award is named after Edward L. Anderson Jr.
Ed Anderson was both an animal lover and an advocate for applied behavior analysis. His generosity during his lifetime helped advance the application of behavior analysis in many areas. This generosity lives on through the Edward L. Anderson Jr. Foundation, which supports organizations and projects related to education, arts, and the environment. We were honored to receive a grant from the Anderson Foundation in 2015. This grant helped us establish The Art and Science of Animal Training as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
At our February 2016 conference, we were proud to honor Bob Bailey and posthumously honor Marian Breland Bailey as the first recipients of this award.
We presented Bob with a statue of him and Marian, each with a chicken! This most wonderful award piece was created by artist Jilly Barnes, of Jilly’s Gallery in Pentwater, Michigan.
For those not familiar with Bob and Marian, they are well known in the dog training world because of their world famous “chicken camps,” or, by their proper name, operant conditioning workshops. In the workshops, trainers learn the principles of behavior and basic and advanced training skill by training chickens.
However, Bob and Marian have been involved in animal training for decades, training thousands of animals and hundreds of different species. After accepting the award, Bob gave a short speech describing his decades of animal training experience. This helped us understand how the operant conditioning workshops with chickens came about. During his speech, Bob also discussed some of the significant individuals who influenced and shaped his behavior.
Bob’s story began in the 1940s, with Marian Breland and Keller Breland, both graduate students of B.F. Skinner. While working in the lab with Skinner, Marian and Keller learned about basic behavior principles. They realized that there was a huge potential to apply this knowledge to train pets and other animals. After World War II, Marian and Keller bought a farm and founded Animal Behavior Enterprises (ABE).
Bob Bailey joined ABE in the 1960s, after leaving his position as Director of Training for the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program. And after Keller’s death in 1965, Bob and Marian ran ABE together. Throughout the years, ABE trained thousands of animals of over a hundred species for animal shows, government projects, TV commercials, and more.
ABE was an anomaly, however. The company and its staff used operant conditioning and positive reinforcement training methods at a time when most training practices were still very aversive, relying on force and punishment to motivate the animal.
One story that Bob told during his speech was about the MasterMind Dog Training Kit, which Keller Breland produced and marketed in the mid-1950s. It included a clicker and instructions for teaching your dog using positive reinforcement. Alas, however, the kit was a miserable flop. The dog training community just wasn’t ready for positive training methods.
When Keller’s dogs would win blue ribbons at shows, the other competitors were much more interested in knowing who had bred the dog, rather than what training methods Keller had used. It would be several decades more before clicker training and positive reinforcement methods would begin to catch on in the dog training community.
During his speech, Bob described many other individuals and experiences that influenced him during his training career, as well as some of the training projects he has been involved with. Bob and Marian were able to produce such impressive training results because they were always committed to understanding the science behind what they were doing.
Those who have met Bob or Marian, might have heard them say the word “Believe” when talking about the science of training.
We should all “Believe.” By this Bob and Marian mean to:
Believe in science.
Believe in the technology backed by that science.
Believe in your ability to use the technology.
Believe in your ability to teach that technology.
Believe in your ability to change as technology changes.
Bob and Marian’s message was that we will all be better trainers if we can believe in and understand the science of behavior and if we can learn how to apply these ideas to our training practices. And importantly, as new scientific ideas are discovered and better training practices are invented, we as trainers will have to change and grow and improve.
Bob’s speech helped us all reflect on how much animal training has evolved over the past century. We are grateful for Bob and Marian and the many other pioneers who have helped make animal training what it is today. This is an exciting time for animal training and it will be fascinating to see how the field continues to develop in the decades to come.