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

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

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

18 Jan

Something wicked this way comes: A brief history of the “Wicked Minds” Conference

The ORCA conference…

The Art and Science of Animal Training Conference…

The Wicked Minds Conference…

Over the years, our conference has been known by a few different names. In this post, we’ll share a bit more about the history of our conference and why it truly is a “wicked” event.

The six wicked minds of the Wicked Minds Conference

The ORCA Conference

The first Art and Science of Animal Training Conference was organized in 2009 by ORCA, the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals. The conference has two main purposes. Its first goal is to increase our understanding of animal training and of the science of animal behavior. Its other main objective is to create a conference that will be useful and inspiring for both experts and beginners.

For those of you not familiar with ORCA, it is a student organization at the University of North Texas. It is also a research laboratory group within the University’s Department of Behavior Analysis. The group, which is mostly comprised of graduate students, studies animal training, animal behavior, and human-animal interactions. ORCA also works with the local community to educate individuals about animal behavior and training. The group is advised by Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz.

Because the conference was originally organized by ORCA and was held at UNT, it quickly became known as the “ORCA conference.”

However, the inspiration for the conference started several years prior to the first conference.

The Wicked Minds Conference

In 2003, Karen Pryor began holding the now well-known ClickerExpo conferences. In the evenings, the speakers would meet together to talk about training. These were always productive conversations, full of stimulating discussions that led to new ideas.

One lively group of friends who liked to get together for discussions (and sometimes heated debates!) was Kay Laurence, Ken Ramirez, Alexandra Kurland, Steve White, Jen White, and Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz. Every year, their conversations inspired each of them to go home and explore new training procedures and concepts. Kay nicknamed the group the “Wicked Minds,” because of the insights and ideas that came out of their discussions.

Are you familiar with Kay Laurence? She is a very talented dog trainer from England.

wicked definition british meaningWhen Kay suggested that the group of friends call themselves the “Wicked” Minds, she did so using the modern British meaning of the word. “Wicked” in this sense, of course, means brilliant or outstanding.

However, the time available to talk at the Expo was always limited, and as ClickerExpo grew, there became less and less time. The friends proposed a separate conference with a more relaxed format that would be geared specifically toward exchanging ideas about animal training and sharing what was new in the field of training. This would be a way to have even more discussions, debates, and inspiration.

It was suggested that Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz and ORCA should organize the conference. This would benefit the students, as they would be able to participate in the conference. It would also benefit the conference, as the students would be able to organize and run the event. The conference also fit well with ORCA’s mission, which is to disseminate the science of animal training.

The ORCA students were excited about how much they would be able to learn by interacting with leaders in the field of animal training. Two years after the idea came about, ORCA held the first Art and Science of Animal Training Conference, largely thanks to the leadership of then ORCA president, April Becker.

The Art and Science of Animal Training Conference

Participants listen to a lecture at the ORCA conference at UNT in 2015Although the conference started as a local one-day event for animal training professionals and pet owners living throughout north Texas, it quickly gained quite the reputation. Attendees come each year from more than 20 states, as well as a handful of foreign countries.

One reason why the conference has gained popularity is that it brings together pet owners, trainers and research scientists from a variety of fields. The animal training community is often completely segregated by species or discipline and very few opportunities exist for dog trainers, horse trainers, bird trainers, zoo and aquarium trainers, pet owners, and behavior analysts to come together to share knowledge and ideas.

As the conference grew in size and popularity, participants repeatedly asked that it be expanded to a larger, two-day event. However, ORCA was hesitant, as expanding the conference would stretch their resources and require a significantly larger investment of time and effort.

States represented at our one-day Art and Science of Animal Training Conference in 2013

States represented at our one-day conference in 2013

So, in 2015, the decision was made to form a separate non-profit organization to oversee and organize the conference. The ORCA students could still be involved, but this would give the conference the opportunity to expand to a larger, two-day event. The new organization would also be able to provide additional educational programs and services for pet owners and professional trainers.

A truly “wicked” event

There are many reasons why The Art and Science of Animal Training Conference is a one-of-a-kind event.

Every year, ORCA invites a behavior scientist as the keynote speaker. The keynote speaker’s purpose is to discuss a concept or theory that is important to animal training. ORCA invites a speaker who they think will be able to stretch the audience’s mind and give the audience new insights about animal and human behavior.

Past keynote speakers have included Bob Bailey, Dr. Robert Epstein, Dr. Joe Layng, Dr. Paul Andronis, Dr. Susan Schneider, Dr. Jaak Panksepp, and Dr. Stanley Weiss. The keynote speaker at this year’s conference will be Dr. Iver Iversen. He’ll be giving us a deeper look into the process of shaping.

Steve White lecturing at the ORCA conference at UNTFollowing the keynote speaker, presentations are given by each of the wicked minds and by several invited guest speakers. Presentation topics have included everything from the history of animal training, to the use of errorless learning to improve shaping, to training dogs to find sea turtle eggs after hurricane Katrina. There are many opportunities throughout the event for participants to ask questions and engage in discussion with the speakers and with each other.

The ORCA students are also given the opportunity to share research posters that feature their most recent research projects and work. Conference participants enjoy getting to see what new studies are in progress, and the ORCA students receive valuable questions and feedback about their work.

Finally, the conference includes a day of private meetings that is limited to the speakers and the ORCA graduate students. This meeting facilitates even more in-depth conversations and the exchange of ideas. ORCA students share their current research projects with the speakers for feedback and suggestions. The speakers also present their latest projects and ideas. This leads to much talking, lots of debate, and plenty of new ideas and questions.

The speakers, ORCA students, and conference participants all leave the weekend with new ideas that they can take home to play with and incorporate into their training. Many times, the ideas that come out of the conference are developed and refined by the speakers into brand new training strategies and procedures, which often become presentation topics at our conference in future years.

We hope this post helps you understand more about The Art and Science of Animal Training Conference and about our non-profit organization, The Art and Science of Animal Training.

We look forward to seeing you at our future conferences and other events!

The 2016 Art and Science of Animal Training Conference in Dallas, Texas