A few weeks ago, I was among the more than 500 dog trainers who convened on Dearborn, Michigan for three full days of non-stop learning about teaching animals in the most positive way. It was the Karen Pryor Academy ClickerExpo and it was phenomenal.
If you are unfamiliar, in its most simplified description, clicker training is a positive reinforcement based training strategy that involves ‘marking’ the very specific ‘wanted’ behavior with a click (or can be a word or other signal), that is immediately followed by a reinforcing consequence. Initially the animal learns to associate positive outcomes by associating treats, tug time, or whatever other behavior strengthener you use with the sound of the clicker (classical conditioning), and then the animal learns to intentionally repeat a behavior in order to get that positive outcome (operant conditioning). I have information on in So Much PETential blog on clicker training basics.
So, why am I writing about that here? Well, clicker training and operant teaching is not just about bringing out the best in our non-human companions. When thoughtfully used, it brings out the best in people too.
At the ClickerExpo, we were each given tickets and told to TAG someone when we saw them doing something good. When we TAGged someone, we entered his/her name and our own name in a bowl; and each day there were drawings for prizes. It was neat to see how that bowl filled during the weekend event. The more we practiced focusing on finding those reinforceable moments, the more of those moments we found.
Among the behaviors I was TAGged for were asking a woman if her dog would be okay with me walking past it (in the row of seats), helping a woman in a training exercise, and asking questions of one of the instructors.
I’ve got to say, each time that I was TAGged and each time I TAGged someone, it brought a smile to my face. Did TAGteaching make me learn more that weekend? Make me more open to meeting new people? Make everyone more positive with feedback and more welcoming as a whole?
Well, I can tell you that it was most definitely an environment where I strengthened my skills and added to my knowledge and I always knew I could walk into a room of people I did not know and feel welcome.
When it comes to animal training, I have written this reminder in my pet blog numerous times:
Remember, to teach in the most positive way, we need to empower our students
by allowing them to make their own choices – just making the choices we want them
to make the most valuable for them; we need to teach with clarity; we need to set
the learning environment up so that our student will be motivated to want to learn; and we need
to be willing to be patient, teaching those foundation skills and building difficulty only
as our student can continue to succeed.
But this does not just apply to training non-human animals. All of us perform better when we have clarity in purpose, are empowered and reinforced for good choices and good behavior.
My thought to leave you with is this: What are people around you doing that you would like to see more of? How will you let them know they did something great?