Saturday, March 26, 2016

Clicker Expo 2016 (Cincinnati)

my own neckpiece for the weekend included several species!
Clicker Expo can be many things to many people. Billed as the world's most innovative training conference, this year included training topics from many species. The main focus of the event is dog training, and dogs are the sole specie one is allowed to actually bring to the event. This year, for the first time, there was also a track devoted strictly to horse training. For horse people among us, this was long awaited and well attended. 
The opening talk by Ken Ramirez was about training butterflies, of all things. Watch the BBC for upcoming video of this amazing project.

Several of the talks which drew me in this year were actually directed at working with people: everything from Sustaining a Competitive Advantage in business (given by Aaron Clayton, president of Karen Pryor Clicker Training) to Critical Client Conversation Skills (given by the always entertaining and enlightening Dr. Susan Friedman of Behavior Works). I also attended one of several TAGteach presentations by Theresa McKeon on how to teach our human learners using the same basic principals we use teaching our animal learners.  Yet another human based talk I attended was "The Future is Now: Creating Powerful Trainer/Vet Client Teams" by Debbie Martin. All these just go to show that we can't help our animal learners without including the people associated with them.

Clicker Expo also advertises "training skills with cutting edge science" and if you want science, talks by Dr. Jesús Rosales Ruiz are the ones to attend! In the past, his talks have made my head hurt. He has a knack for putting behavior into algebraic equations and I struggled to keep up. This year I felt I was able to keep up with the entire talk, even when attending two of his back to back. "The Quadrant Quandary: Clarity and Perspective on an Icon" was the name of the first. In this talk he shared history of how the terms punishment and reinforcement, both positive and negative, came about. He spoke to whether these terms were defined in relation to process, procedure or stimuli. Looking up process vs procedure took me right down a rabbit hole but I think the point he was trying to make is that we need to be careful when we talk about the trainer "adding" or "removing" something compared to the behavior of the animal causing something to be added or removed. Additionally the notion that something is labeled as "aversive" or "appetitive" is completely dependent on multiple variables such as the learner, the environment, and the history. A longe whip might have an aversive effect on one individual and appetitive on another (such as my horse who loves the opportunity to take it out of my hands and play with it). For these reasons (among others), one needs to be very careful when labeling a trainer based on a photo or a video or a paragraph or an experience. Going back to Susan Friedman, it's best just to drop the labels altogether unless you have a very clear definition understood by all involved.

And that was just the first five slides of his presentation.

The second talk of Dr. Rosales-Ruiz which I attended was titled ""Fast Learner" The interplay between reinforcement rate and criteria". Again, he took some standard catch phrases and helped to me see them a little more carefully. "Raise the rate of reinforcement" is a common solution I give when people are having trouble training. It's a simple mantra, and often pertinent to people I am coaching who are new to training. But it is possible to bore a learner, to build in superstitious behaviors and to just get stuck by going too slowly. The takeaway here for me is to carefully assess criteria I am after and observe what is offered.   

More tomorrow. 


Mary said...

Thanks Jane,

Great to get good information from ClickerExpo for those of us that couldn't attend. 👍


MaryKay Hasseman said...

So glad to hear that Dr. Rosales Ruiz is addressing details and perspective about quadrants!