Archive for March, 2009

Six Great Minds

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

The Art and Science of Animal Training: Where Are We Now? Where Are We Going?

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending a one day seminar at the University of North Texas in Denton, featuring a panel of dynamic forces in the world of behavior and training.

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Bob Bailey (who is an absolute ICON in the world of animal training and behavior) was to give the keynote address, but was recovering from quadruple bypass surgery only a week earlier, so he was unable to attend. I was SO looking forward to seeing him again, but am grateful that he is doing well. He is truly a remarkable man, and sent a very nice message to all of us at the conference.

So the lineup of speakers and topics were:


Alexandra Kurland - Going Micro:
The Evolution of Equine Clicker Training

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She has been teaching and training horses since the 80’s and using clicker training with them since the early 90’s. She is a pioneer in the development of humane training methods. For more information on her, visit The Clicker Center .


Kay Laurence - Reinforcement Patterns, Reinforcement Styles
and How They Affect the Outcomes

images Kay has been a professional trainer for nearly 30 years, and is one of the world’s top clicker trainers. She has authored several books, and videos, and is frequently a speaker at Karen Pryor’s Clicker Expo. I hadn’t ever heard her speak, and she was as entertaining as she was informative. She’s the kind of gal you’d like to take out for drinks and just listen to her stories for hours. You can check out her website at Wag More Bark Less


Ken Ramirez – Evolution of a Zoo Trainer: A Personal Perspective
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Ken never disappoints as a lecturer. He’s knowledgeable and clever and always has plenty of video to amuse and enlighten us. This year he brought a really cool film of two dolphins and “handlers” in an underwater ballet. It was breathtaking.

He has worked with many species during his 30 years as a professional trainer, and is currently VP of Animal Collections and Training at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.


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Steve Martin (not THAT Steve Martin) – The Art of Training
Steve has been a Master Falconer for over 40 years, and has lived with parrots since he was a child. Although he has worked with many different species, birds seem to be his specialty. He set up the first free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. He spends over two-thirds of his year on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behavior issues or teaching people the art and science of animal behavior. You can read more about Steve at Natural Encounters

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Steve White – Skinner and World Collide! Film at 11:00
Steve is a 30-year veteran of the Seattle Police Force – Canine Unit and is accredited as a Master Trainer by the Washington State Canine Association. He brings a unique perspective to dog training, specializing in behavior modification, tracking and scent work through the use of positive reinforcement based operant conditioning. He also has his own training business and you can get more info about him at i2i K9


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The day was sponsored by ORCA - Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals, a group within UNT and was moderated by Jesus Rosales-Ruiz. Jesus is an Associate professor in the Dept. of Behavior Analysis and works very closely with many of the grad students there.

At the end of the day they took questions from the audience, and had a round table discussion with the whole panel of speakers. My one regret was that I forgot my camera at home, so the only pictures I could take were with my iphone. It’s a GREAT phone, but a really CRAPPY camera!!!

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It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a seminar and it was really rewarding (no pun intended) to have my philosophy of dog training reinforced by some of the best behavior minds in the country. I always feel recharged and exhilarated when I come away from these events. It was a fabulous day topped off with Mexican and margaritas with friends. I can’t wait to see who they will have on the panel next time!

Another One Bites the Dust

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

I guess it was inevitable. The economy is wounded and recovery is distant, at best. I’ve been pretty lucky over the years, and haven’t ever lost a job. Now due to the failing economy, that has changed, and I’ve become just another statistic.

Due to cutbacks in our clinic’s hours, our staff is being cut back as well, and the part-timers are the first to go. That’s me. Makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

As I look back over my near 14 years at the clinic, I think about how many changes we’ve endured. Some good, some not so good. But I guess that’s the nature of change. Technologically, the improvements have been IMMENSE. But the clinic has grown and grown, and now, we are apparently over-grown. And so it goes. I’m doing my best to keep it in perspective. After all, Big R still has his job (fingers crossed) and no one is dying. People have survived much worse than this.

So with one shift left, it is a little bittersweet. I will look at this change as an opportunity for something new to come into my life. You know the saying – close a door – open a window. And I believe that’s true. Our lives are like seasons, ever changing. That’s how we grow and evolve as people. So I will focus on the future, and all that hope brings.

What a World!

Monday, March 16th, 2009

What do you think of when I say: evening gowns, false eyelashes, hairpieces, nails, and makeup?

If you said five and six year olds, you would be right!

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The other night I watched my 1st and last episode of Toddlers and Tiara’s.

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Eeeewww! I can’t tell you how creepy it was. A bunch of little girls made up “hooker style”, parading around like little robotrons. These kids are drilled on how to WALK, how to SMILE for the judges, how to BLOW KISSES, and WAVE GOODBY. Oh yeah, and how to wiggle their hips occasionally – always a crowd pleaser. Sorry, it’s just WRONG!!

One little girl named Story (yeah – I said Story) was probably the “smoothest” kid there. According to her mom, they practice EVERY DAY.

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She has a permanent Katie Couric smile plastered on her face as she wow’s the judges. It was very reminiscent of clips I saw several years ago of Jon Benet Ramsey.

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Do we really want kids this young, focusing on their good looks and phony charisma? Is this the kind of shallow thinking we want to encourage? Really? What IS the contribution that beauty pageants make to the world anyway? I don’t even like beauty pageants for adults, but at least adults can make that decision for themselves. In the Miss America pageant, the winner gets a free education; something that truly IS of value! What do these kids get?

Come on you people out there. Let me know what YOU think of this stuff. As for me – it gives me the heebie-jeebies!! Blegh!

Funk Of Unknown Origin

Monday, March 9th, 2009

I’ve been in kind of a “funk” lately. Don’t really know why. Nothing I can really put my finger on. I’m not mad, I just feel kind of numb and disconnected. Don’t feel like doing anything. It’s icky! And I don’t like it. I haven’t even been able to come up with a post. Just nothing to say.

I’m sure the impending doom of the economy and the uncertainty of our future is playing a hefty part in it. I think most people are holding their breath; hoping they won’t get “the axe” because God knows, it’s not like you can just go out and get another job. Not now a days.

My own little personal world is ok. Not fabulous, but ok. Certainly better than many, many folks out there. I’m pretty sure there are about a million people that would trade places with me in a New York minute. But still, the funk persists.

I don’t know – maybe it’s just a combination of small things. Perhaps it’s the dull ache I’m feeling in a tooth that already has a crown on it.
Or the fact that I just replaced my washing machine a couple of months ago, and now my dryer is making a huge clunking noise every time it starts or stops.
Or the fact that my camcorder won’t hold a charge for more than 15 seconds, so it needs to be plugged in if I want to use it. Waaugh, waaugh, waaugh. (I know many of you are rolling your eyes right now – but it’s still irritating to me).
Perhaps it’s my failure to have followed up on most of my new years resolutions. Or the fact that nearly every product I look at is made in China.

I think the haze may be just starting to lift. I hope so. There’s just too much to do to be wasting time being in a funk!!