By Jeff Stallings
I write this en route back to San Francisco from Cincinnati, having attended the 19th annual education conference of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. It’s going to take time pouring over my notes to wrap my head around this astounding exchange of knowledge and ideas. This conference is an incomparable opportunity to meet and listen to talks from the most accomplished dog trainers and behaviorists from around the globe. Some highlights:
- Both talks by Steve White, master trainer for the Washington State Police Canine Association. Steve has been training law enforcement dogs for over three decades and early on switched from coercive training methods to a more positive-focused approach. His overview of how clicker-centric marine mammal training blazed the trail for today’s dog trainers was superb, as was his view on implementing the Hippocratic model (“Do no harm”). I was particularly grateful for his thoughts about drawing from many techniques in addressing specific issues, even when such tools fall outside of realm of pure positive reinforcement.
- Dr. Laura Sharkey’s seminar, “Stop Talking and Start Training” about how training becomes more effective the less we talk to our dogs.
- Dr. Clive Wynne’s talk entitled “The Lost History of the Dog” about his research on the origins of Canis lupus familiaris. Dr. Wynne’s work has taken him to Novosibirsk, Russia, home of the now-famous experiment started in 1948 to domesticate Silver foxes. In this experiment the least aggressive and most human-friendly pups from each generation were bred, which over the course of 60+ years has resulted in foxes with physical and behavioral traits much like modern dogs. This unique experiment provides insight into how a species can become domesticated, or as is more likely the case with dogs, domesticate themselves.
- Katenna Jones’ talk about clicker training for cats (yes, cats!) which I attended in preparation for work I will soon begin with a cat owner in San Francisco.
Next October’s conference is in Spokane, Washington. I will definitely be there, perhaps combining it with a road trip through the Pacific Northwest. I can hardly wait!