I spent part of last week in sunny Orlando, Florida, at the 2012 North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC). The NAVC Conference set a new attendance record for its 2012 conference. More than 6,000 veterinarians and more than 1,400 veterinarian technicians attended the conference in Orlando, Florida. Nearly 900 students from veterinary schools across the world were also in attendance.
I was there to talk with the veterinarians, technicians, and students about force-free training. I met hundreds of people and, with the exception of one, they were all enthusiastic about either learning more about clicker training or in implementing it in their practice.
A retired veterinarian, who looked to be in his early 80's, stopped to chat. He looked at our material and with a sly smile said "I've found that a rolled up newspaper works really well." I laughed and answered "Yes, sometimes we do recommend that the owner use the newspaper to whack himself smartly on his head!" He laughed and leaned in to tell us a story about his son's dog.
His son's dog peed everytime the son came into the house. The son would yell and holler, chase the dog around, then put him outside when he finally caught the dog. Upon hearing about the trouble from his son, this veterinarian's solution was textbook perfect, delighting me. (The solution: carry food [delicious food] and ignore the dog upon entering. After a few minutes, toss a piece of food to the dog, still ignoring. The dog quickly changed course and quit peeing when he saw the man.)
Clearly, this man knew intuitively how to work with animals. He hadn't learned it in school (in many veterinary schools, behavior is still an elective!), he simply learned by experience.
Contrast this veterinarian with another who stopped by the booth. "You can't tell me that you train dogs without any punishment," he began. I smiled, hoping he was a kidder like the previous gentleman, and said "Yessir, that's exactly what we do!" Things turned south there, and it was clear that he came here for an argument. I love to teach people about positive reinforcement, but unfortunately, this man didn't really want to learn, he only wanted to argue. He told me tales about how he taught his son's dog to "respect him," and laughed at how the son "babied" the dog by using food in training. Here's the irony: if that veterinarian had attended any of the sessions at that conference on behavior ( there were many), he would have learned very quickly that his outlook was outdated and not recommended by veterinary behaviorists.
Neither veterinarian had any experience with clicker training. But the second one clearly had a bias against the clicker — against positive reinforcement training in general. Perhaps because he didn't want to learn. Perhaps because he was afraid of what he'd learn by using it. I'm not sure of the reason, but I'm glad he was the lone exception.