Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Part One: Education is empowerment for dog trainers


A day in the life of a behavior trainer needs to include education. Education, as in not only webinars, talking with colleagues, reading, but as in continuing education with organizations such as the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) and attendance at their annual conference.

This blog will be a three-part series focusing on my experience as an attendee and broken into three topics to include, education, understanding and APDT practicum.

Pulling out the key factors this APDT Puppy (that would be me) focused on will include my favorite speakers; my favorite topics of interest; what spoke to me in my experiences there and what ideas did this experience generate for the betterment of my business, Canine Transformations Learning Center.

On the flight home from the 2011 conference city, San Diego, I mind-mapped the pieces I wanted to talk about. In flight, I decided to use flying as the comparison to being a new conference attendee

What is the first thing you have to do when flying or attending a conference?.

Reserving and preparing. Reserving your spot is a no-brainer, but reserving add-ons (like in this case a behind-the-scenes trip to San Diego Zoo or Seaworld) means doing so quickly as they fill up fast just as you need to plan in advance for special in-flight meals or needing special equipment during flight.

Preparing for the trip means planning a comfortable wardrobe, knowing transportation available and cost and what amenities the hotel itself provides. Each city will be vastly different. On the last day of the conference, conference roomie Leslie Fisher, Look What I Can Do Dog Training and Products, and I discovered we could have taken a "trolley" located just behind the Town and Country Conference Center to anywhere in the city for $2.50 one way or $5.00 RT versus taxis (about $25 to 30 depending on where you were headed) or hotel shuttles, which were not always available or non-existent in some cases. Shuttle service was also available instead of cabs (not hotel shuttles but general shuttles) for half the price of a cab. These things are good to know if you are on a budget.

When flying the friendly skies you may start out in coach and with questions. The same is true in an educational conference, but what I liked "somewhat" was the APDT conference puppy orientation and the resulting conference puppy card, a bingo game of sorts where one collects stickers for doing certain things at the conference. Designed to get new attendees to sample a plethora of activities and to get involved, it is a great idea.  Did I do all the items? No. I lost interest when it became clear stickers were not being made readily available in key destinations. I did two activities on the card for which I was not awarded a sticker for completion and just gave up. Did I get something out of it? Yes, it got me to be aware of the offerings at the conference and was exciting for awhile. Did I get a bingo? Yes vertical and horizontal. Do I know what prize I won? No clue. Not flying first class at this point, but that is earned. My next conference will find me more conference savvy. For those reading this who are already conference savvy, perhaps you can relate to my experience in memory or hindsight.

The sheer fact that there were 48 states and 13  countries represented in the hundreds of people in attendance speaks for itself. The offerings, the people, the activities were mind boggling and I truly was impressed by all who make this conference happen! I was certainly flying through the friendly skies as an attendee, as everyone I met, talked to, questioned were amazing, helpful, cordial and smiling. For a newcomer deciding whether or not to renew APDT membership and take the CPDT exams this experience was quite positive.

Positive is what I am into. Reward-based is what I am into. Results-oriented is what I am into. All were available to me from conference speaker's topics to meet and greets and conference materials.

As I got my feet wet and started my journey, lift-off took me on some truly incredible educational jaunts.

Intermediate/Advanced and Scientific Tracs were the focus of my educational experience. What I found for myself was that the Scientific Tracs and Advanced Learning sessions were the ones I loved most, that's just me, and my favorite speaker/presenters were those that may not be as well known by the general dog training community (NOTE: Some are very well known. My reference means less known to "me".). Similar to flying, each person will order up something different when the drink and food cart comes down the aisle. Some will be hungry, others thirsty and still others will not eat at all as they will be too tired or too talkative. I ate and absorbed each educational tidbit offered in my areas of interest.

My favorite speakers. The first two days out of five all attendees went to the same discussions in the same conference room. The audio-visual was amazing.

The last three days were broken into attendee choice in four topics or pre-paid and pre-registered mega topics, meaning closed topics not for general attendance.

The speakers I loved you may never have heard of, such as Jeff Andrews, San Diego Zoo and Dr. Petra Mertens.

"Positive is good for everyone" a talk about the elephants of the San Diego Zoo. Presenter Jeff Andrews, Associate Curator of Mammals at the San Diego Zoo, asked "Why are positive relationships important?" The answer was "Train the animal to WANT to participate INSTEAD of using force." The elephants of the San Diego Zoo originally went from traditional training into a positive reward-based training environment (which was controversial at the time) at the San Diego Zoo. Compelling video backed up, without question, the complete and visible difference. The difference portrayed in the video presentation showed calm, interactive elephants living in family groups instead of elephants wearing leg chains, being prodded, forced and resulting in stressed living conditions.

Hands-off training of elephants can be found in an article by the Los Angeles Times written by Tony Perry and further describes the tone of the talk. What did I like best about Andrews presentation? He said: "The elephants don't know the meaning of "No"!" I'm always saying this about my dogs and people just don't get it at times, and I thought I was the only one using this phrase. I was happy to see someone else gets it. Where an animal is shown what to do, instead of punished for what they shouldn't BE doing, negative words are not needed in my opinion and experience as a behavior trainer. Great job Jeff Andrews!!!!

"Perfectly perched: Teaching dogs to turn on a dime" presented by Hannah Brannigan in the APDT's new series of 20-minute talks called Resources*Education*eXcellence or REX for short. I loved these short, concise and to the point talks. I loved Hannah's presentation because I've seen videos of her performance in RallyO and the precision she has with her new puppy. I had wondered how she got this precision and this clarified my curiosity. I describe it as "brilliant" and a head slapper, well of course! If you ever can catch the platform training Hannah does, you will not be disappointed. I plan to use it for Treibball training and training my new puppy, Valor to RallyO and Obedience precision.

I also loved Hannah's presentation on "Teaching mechanical skills" to clients. She thought it wasn't as sexy as some of the other talks, I thought it was fabulous and learned a lot about how to "reword phrases" used with clients to get increased productivity. As trainers, how we communicate with clients and teach creatively is key to flawless understanding in a classroom setting.

This was just the first day.

Other speakers that made me think were Dr. Petra Mertens with her talk on "Impulsivity - A Veterinary Behaviorist's Perspective", which resonated to me in my compilation of case studies on a topic I'm working on for book content dealing with emotions and stress, focusing on destressing or detoxing prior to behavior modification and/or training. I was mesmerized by her talk and found her engaging and funny!!

Equally, I absorbed data on canine nutrition by Dr. Valli Parthasarathy. What I discovered was that there is "little" known data on canine nutrition and the field is wide open for studies on the topic. Enjoying tremendously the to-the-point manner and humorous style of Suzanne Clothier left me contemplative and laughing. Suzanne's C.A.R.O.T. classes would be a must-attend for me. Suzanne Clothier has written books such as, "Bones Would Rain From The Sky" and "Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs". I laughed hysterically through Susan Sternberg's  "Teach any dog to retrieve" presentation and found myself nodding over and over again in "Generating great press: Even when they're against you" presented by Teoti Anderson and Grey Stafford.

What I discovered is what I already know, never take yourself too seriously and always have a good sense of humor when working with dogs and their owners.  With my work with difficult dogs, this is a vital and needed tool in the classroom.  Like standing too long in airport lines, or having a flight cancelled, always take your humor with you, it makes everything a better experience all around.

Like a relaxing bath or shower, or a long flight, ideas were stimulated by the sheer mass of information acquired over the week long experience. Who will benefit? Canine Transformations Learning Center (cTLC) clients.

2012 company goals will include 1) introducing APDT's C.L.A.S.S. process and becoming an evaluator whereby student dogs can earn their BA, MA and PhDs. My certifications will increase further as I 2) take the CPDT test and become an APDT member with the goal to join the Treibball committee and the newly created Therapy Program (at least those are my intentions). And 3), Treibball instructor certification is also a top goal for 2012 to bring the best and most complete knowledge to cTLC students. Discovering January 2012 also represents APDT's  "Dog Training Month", cTLC's curriculum will coincide to celebrate the occasion.

In addition, I got super ideas for additional workshops or mini-classes, such as "Desensitizing For A Trip to the Veterinarian" and "How to Clip Nails Positively" and "Impulse Control for Reactive Dogs" and shaping a tolerance of impulse control.  These issues are and can be a cause of great frustration and distress in dog owners and, indeed, could bare a singularized focus in content.

Next: Part Two: Understanding Concepts and Putting Ideas Into Action. Attending conferences comes with personal commitment to better one's business. Ideas are only ideas until they are put into action and comprise yet another day in the life of a behavior trainer.

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