Clicker Expo 2018

This installment comes to you from St. Louis. I’m at the front end of “Clicker Expo,” a 3 day conference for dog trainers and others interested in applying behavior science to enhance our relationships with animals and improve their well-being – our own pets as well as those of our clients and neighbors and friends. It is exquisitely well organized and presented. It’s fun and interesting and inspiring, and thoroughly scientific. And… it’s dedicated to teaching our animals (and one another) with total reliance on friendly and gentle training methods. A major theme of the event year after year is that there is no need for aversive techniques – it’s all about reward-based training. It’s about relationships that cultivate kindness and respect as the foundation for influencing behavior.

That would be appealing enough if it were merely philosophical, but the results are every bit as worthy and amazing. Animals of every species learn behaviors that are both helpful and jaw-dropping cool as quick-as-a-click when we humans communicate clearly and in a way that lets the student win a reward worth having. To be a really first-class trainer, you need to get good at helping animals feel confident and happy. It might be possible come away from an event like this without being better informed and more skillful as a trainer – as well as a more decent human being – but you’d have to work at it.

I suppose human history has always been replete with ignorance and arrogance, greed and gratuitous cruelty. Yet living as we now do in the context of instant world-wide 24/7 broadcast capacity for every thought and whim that might occur to us, it’s much easier to see the naked and proud ugliness people are pleased to inflict on each other and the rest of creation. And drawn as we are to tragedy-porn, it’s our demons that get the headlines. As Don Henley noticed, “We love dirty laundry.” As a proverb that guides news editorial staff goes, “If it bleeds it leads.”

But that’s not the whole story, and maybe (hopefully) not even the most of it. Here, in the Union Station Hotel, for this long weekend I’ll be surrounded by those who are drawn to the beauty and power of kindness, scientifically applied. I’m with friends and neighbors and colleagues who’ve made a big investment of time and energy and money so we can learn to wield kindness and wage peace as we make the world a better place for all concerned. I’m very grateful for the reminder that human nature is capable of as much beauty and intelligence as the profane shadows were all too accustomed to experiencing first. So here’s expressing thanks to all the staff and volunteers and colleagues who will help me be smarter AND more optimistic over these next 3 days – you are the hope of the world.


Bob Ryder, CSAT, PMCT-4, CPDT-KA

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