Hold on to your hats, folks, because I just got back from my very first ClickerExpo in Portland, Oregon, and it was amazing.
In brief, here was my schedule for the four days:
Chicken Camp with Terry Ryan [one day]
ClickerExpo 2017 [3 days]
- Dr No: How Teaching an Animal to Say “No” Can be the Right Prescription – Ken Ramirez
- Retrieve Reboot – Hannah Branigan
- If You Build It, They Will Come: Training a Reliable Recall – Kathy Sdao
- The Fab Five: Concepts That Will Make Your Training Rock! – Emilie Johnson Vegh & Eva Bertilsson
- The Rat is Never Wrong: Training With an Errorless Learning Mindset – Susan G. Friedman, PhD
- Control is an Illusion: Stimulus Control without Frustration – Sarah Owings
- We Just Have to Dish: Training, Science, and Nerdy Stuff – Kathy Sdao & Susan G. Friedman, PhD
- Wanted Training Consultant (Those Good with Animals Need Not Apply) – Ken Ramirez
- Thinking Fast & Flow – Emilie Johnson Vegh & Eva Bertilsson
- Turn Me On…(or Not): Inspiring Other to Choose Positive Reinforcement Training – Michele Pouliot
- Keep Your Candle Burning: Avoiding Professional Burnout – Kathy Sdao
I have been wanting to do a chicken camp for a long time, in general, but specifically with Terry Ryan. Clicker training a chicken is known to be a good way for dog trainers to hone some timing and training skills, as chickens are very fast and far less forgiving than dogs.
Training a chicken is a stretch and a boost to your mechanical skills. The average chicken is faster than the average dog, giving you a chance to improve your coordination and timing. Chickens will freeze or fly away if they don’t like the way you are training them. Unlike dogs, you will know immediately if you are taking advantage of a chicken or pushing too hard, too fast. Chickens don’t give their trainers a second chances as often as our dogs do. – Legacy Canine
Despite the (very high) pedestal I had the idea of chicken camp on in my mind, it did not disappoint. The chickens were so sweet and fast as anything. We did some targeting work – teaching the chicken to peck a yellow target – and a little bit of discrimination work – I started teaching my chicken to peck the yellow target instead of a green one when they were both presented. We also did some movement and shaping work; specifically we trained our chickens to walk through a tunnel, which I did using shaping and no luring (ie. I didn’t bribe my chicken through the tunnel with food). My favourite part was using the yellow target to teach my chicken to play tambourine. Such a smart girl!
Honestly though, the highlight of the day was just working with Terry. She is such an excellent instructor; educational but funny, and never boring. I swear, I could listen to her talk about paint dry and be fascinated.
I’m not going to ramble on and on about ClickerExpo, but I do have a few thoughts to share.
First and foremost, there is something inspiring about being in a hotel surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of positive reinforcement based, force free, clicker trainers. The dog training world can be a controversial clash of ideologies, and, frankly, it gets exhausting. At ClickerExpo, there is none of that. Everyone starts from the point of science based clicker training, and goes from there.
Throughout my seminars and labs, I learned so much, and am definitely a better trainer and teacher because of it. Some shoutouts:
Ken Ramirez is brilliant, but more importantly, he is just a fantastic speaker. I aspire to speak that well to an audience one day.
Kathy Sdao is just hilarious and, just like Terry Ryan, can make any topic seem interesting. Her last seminar on avoiding professional burnout was just so relatable and just made me want to go give her a hug.
Susan G. Friedman, PhD has got to be the smartest person I’ve ever seen speak. I specifically appreciated her ability to take her brilliance and scientific understanding, and explain it in a way that made sense to those of us without a PhD.
Emilie Johnson Vegh & Eva Bertilsson are goddamn ninja clicker trainers. Watching them work has changed how I will structure my own training with Athena immediately. I finally understand the awe that surrounds Scandinavian clicker training.
I can’t wait for my next ClickerExpo…!