I just returned from Nashville, TN, where I attended ClickerExpo. A lot of people think of ClickerExpo as a dog training conference. It’s a whole lot more than dog training. It’s all about behavior. Not just dog behavior. Some of the speakers are dog trainers, yes, but there are also horse trainers, marine mammal trainers, even teachers of humans! So how can it be that all those different species can be taught in exactly the same way? Well, for a couple reasons.
The common thread running through all those species and how they learn is the clicker. The clicker is a language that every member of the different species can understand. It’s the common language between all those living things! As people, we’re used to English being the official language. But it isn’t really. No matter where you come from or what’s your native tongue, if a clicker is involved in the learning process, we can all speak different languages and still be able to teach each other new skills and behaviors. Fascinating, isn’t it? It’s one of the many things I love about clicker training and about ClickerExpo.
I used this Expo experience to get out of my comfort zone a little bit. I’m interested in dogs. I understand dogs. I know a lot about the behavior of dogs, the body language and body signaling of dogs. But I don’t know very much about horses, despite my deep love (since I could walk) of them. I attended two lectures given by Alexandra Kurland, a popular horse trainer and found that the one thing I do know is how to get behavior, how to modify behavior. Regardless of the type of animal you’re working with, the clicker works the same: it marks the good behavior and tells the animal he’s earned a goodie for doing that behavior.
Ken Ramirez, the executive vice-president of animal care and animal training at The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, works with many other species besides dogs. He works mainly with marine mammals. I had the good fortune of spending a week at Shedd with Ken, learning from his week-long animal trainer program. It was an experience I’ll not soon forget. Ken’s masterful training works on the beluga whales, the snails, and the other 32,600 animals from the world’s fresh and salt waters.
Wow! If Ken can use the same training on that number of animals — some of which live in the water, some out, and some can live in either place — that’s pretty powerful training!
Clicker training is becoming common place in zoos, aquariums, shelters, and in horse barns all across the world. If it works on porpoises, horses, and snails, it can work for you and your dog, too! Catch the wave, sign up for a clicker class near you!