[00:00:00] Ken: I think training and enrichment is relevant to everybody because I, I’m a big believer, not only does it improve the quality of life of the animals that we have in our lives, but I also find that when you become really good at using positive reinforcement, it affects the relationships in your life, more positively.
[00:00:21] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…
[00:00:40] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…
[00:00:41] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.
Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.
The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Ken Ramirez. Ken Ramirez is the EVP and Chief Training Officer for Karen Pryor Clicker Training, where he helps to oversee the vision, development, and implementation of training education programs. Previously, Ken served as EVP of Animal Care and Training at Chicago Shedd Aquarium. A nearly 50 year veteran of animal care and training, Ramirez is a biologist and behavior specialist who has worked with many zoological organizations and dog programs throughout the world.
He helped develop and has been an instructor for AZA’s animal training applications course. He is past president of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association and has been active in various leadership positions within IMATA for over 40 years.
He hosted two successful seasons of the TV series, Talk to The Animals. Ramirez authored the book, Animal Training: Successful Animal Management Through Positive Reinforcement in 1999, and most recently The Eye of The Trainer in 2020. He taught a graduate course on animal training at Western Illinois University for 20 years. He currently teaches at Clicker Expo every year, offers hands on courses and seminars at the Karen Pryor National Training Center, The Ranch, and teaches online courses through Karen Pryor Academy.
Ken is an amazing human being. He has done so much for the animal training industry, and even though he’s one of the biggest, and most respected, and recognized trainers, he is still such a humble and kind person who is always striving to learn more and improve. He’s someone that we can learn so much from whether it’s animal training or just how to be a human.
In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Ken talk about primary and secondary reasons for training, when choice is coercive, agency to say no and honest communication, and troubleshooting when things aren’t going quite right. All right, here it is. Today’s episode, Ken Ramirez, Comprehensive Care.
[00:03:08] Emily: All right. So, we usually ask people for their name, pronouns and pets, but you’ve got a bit of a special situation. So, let’s start with your name and pronouns and then tell us all the animals you have at The Ranch.
[00:03:21] Ken: Oh, sure. So my name is Ken Ramirez, I go by he, him and his. I do have a special situation in the sense that I live and work at the Karen Pryor National Training Center. And so we have quite a variety of animals. Besides my two dogs, Marlin who’s a rescued, Labrador boxer mix. And Mr. Miyagi, who is a mix of a smaller dog with a bunch of different breeds mixed into him. Besides them, we also have a variety of animals at The Ranch that we use to help teach a lot of our classes. We have 13 miniature donkeys, we have 16 goats of six different species or six different breeds, I’m sorry. And we have alpacas, and we have one Lama all in all that is 37 animals that we have here at The Ranch.
[00:04:12] Emily: I’m a little bit jelly. I’m not gonna lie. That sounds like paradise. So tell us your story and how you got to where you are.
[00:04:19] Ken: Oh, my, uh, how did I get to where we are? Well, let me see how I can condense that for you. I am entering into my 50th year as a trainer. Uh, and so it’s a long story, but I, I, I, I will try to give you the short version. I have always had an interest in animals, but never really thought about it as a career. Yet, when I was in high school, I had an opportunity to volunteer at the Institute for the Blind, where they train guide dogs for the visually impaired. And I remember during that three years as a high school student, first as a volunteer, and then as a groom, a paid groom. I remember when I got hired as a groom, I was making a whopping 25 cents an hour, and I was thrilled. And then my final year working there, I actually got a chance to become what they called a youth handler. And as a youth handler, I got to do a lot of training, even though I didn’t really make any training decisions. The, uh, professional trainer was always standing right next to me, letting me know to hold the leash this way, pet the dog now, say this, do this. And so, really, I was just the hands and body of the trainer listening to all of those instructions, but it was amazing how much I learned and how much you gathered about why you made the decisions that you make.
In fact, later in my career, I used that technique of training through other people, uh, so that I could work with multiple animals at once, and, and get a lot accomplished that way. But while I was doing that, I found myself fascinated by the career of being a dog trainer, and I remember thinking to myself, ” Wow, what cooler job is there in the world than to be out playing with animals all day, but yet training them for this noble purpose. That’s what I should do. I should consider becoming, a guide dog trainer.”
But as is often the case when you get into college, and your studies take you in a variety of different directions, and social pressures, and other things are taking place. I sort of lost sight of that for a period of time. Until I had an opportunity in my, what would’ve been my senior year in the University, I, there was a, an opening at a marine life park, nearby where they were looking to hire education specialists and people were hired to come in and help teach young people classes about animals, and to help narrate some of their dolphin and sea lion shows. So, I took that as a summer job. It was an outdoor place; it was on a beach. It was a, a, a, I thought a great gig for my last summer before graduating from college. And I found that everything I had ever learned about training guide dogs, and about training animals, was being put to use in the training of the dolphins and the sea lions.
And I was fascinated by it, and I hung ended up hanging out around the, the dolphin training team, and they got to know me. And at the end of the summer, there was a position opening up for an entry level marine mammal trainer. And I didn’t even think about the position. I didn’t even think about applying for it, but the curator approached me and said, “Hey, Ken, you know, our trainers have been really impressed with your knowledge of training. Are you thinking about applying for this job? And because we think you’d be a good fit.” And I thought, wow, I never thought about that before. Yeah, maybe I, maybe I would be interested. And then he said, ” The only challenge we have is that we have a new policy here and that is, we want all of our trainers to have degrees in either biology or marine biology.” And that’s, that’s not what I was studying. I was studying, uh, animal behavior in psychology. And at that time, they didn’t see the connection. They didn’t believe that that was an appropriate degree for me to have. And I said, well, if I switched my major, I, I was in my, I had only one semester of school left. I had like three courses, and I would be graduating. To switch my major meant going back to school, I didn’t know how many years. And so, I, I, I let him know that I, I, I was about to graduate and, and his response was, “Hey, not a problem at all. We’ll, we’ll look for someone else to fill the position. Thanks.” And I said, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, you, you, you mean to tell me if I just switch my major, you’ll hire me?”
And he goes, “Well, yes, but you have to stay in school. We’ll arrange a work schedule where you’re off. Let’s say Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, and you can take Tuesday, Thursday classes, and then you work five days a week here. And as long as you are sincerely pursuing that degree, are you, are you interested in doing that?” And I said, I’m gonna have to think about it. I, I didn’t answer it right away because I realized I was a good student, but I wasn’t a student who loved school. I couldn’t wait to be over. And the thought of having just one semester left was exciting to me and the thought of having to be in school for two, three more years, made me shutter inside.
I just wasn’t sure I was ready for that. But after thinking about it, I slept on it overnight and I said, okay, I’ll, I’ll take the job, and started working at this facility. And the facility that I was working at was not just a marine mammal facility. Uh, I ended up being on the team that worked not only with the dolphins and the whales. I worked with primates. I worked with big cats. I worked with birds of prey. I worked with psittacines like macaws and cockatoos. I got a lot of really good big cat experience working with tigers in free contact, things of that nature that I probably would never do today. And I became really immersed in that world.
And, and it was in that time that I was first exposed to primarily positive reinforcement training. When I had worked with the guide dog school, while we used lots of positive reinforcement, there were also a lot of corrections and various aversive tools that were used. At that particular point in my career, I really just assumed domestic animals are trained this way and exotic animals are trained the other way.
I, I, I was not advanced enough in my learning and thinking to realize that it would cross over, it would be the same everywhere. And so, I began gaining that kind of experience, and I got really immersed in the zoological world and I traveled around and worked in four different countries, uh, over many, many different years gaining experience with a wide variety of species, which in retrospect, I feel has been really helpful to me. That opportunity to work with many, many different species, that opportunity to work with large, dangerous animals made me more aware of body language, made me more aware of little subtle things that can tell you that an animal’s not comfortable or not happy, because if you don’t read that body language accurately, you can end up dead.
And so, consequently, uh, you really become attuned to those kinds of things. That led me over a mini over multi-year, many, many year period to eventually, getting a job at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, where I was in charge of their training program. I had had a lot of experience by that point.
And while I was there, I started teaching a, uh, graduate course on, on training, on animal training at Western Illinois University. And one of my very first students was a captain of a guide dog team, not a guide dog team, a search and rescue team in Illinois. And he really took an interest in working with me cause he wanted to learn how to use positive reinforcement in his training and invited me into the search and rescue team community.
I got certified as a search and rescue trainer, and I started my kind of restarted my career as a dog trainer on the side while I was still working with zoological animals. And that, is really where my reconnection with dogs came about, when I was being asked to come in and teach about positive reinforcement training.
And one of the first things I said to Bill who was the guide dog trainer, I mean the search and rescue trainer. I said, ” I don’t know anything about search and rescue dogs.” And he kept saying, “It’s okay. I know everything about search and rescue dogs. What I don’t know is how to apply some of these positive reinforcement techniques. I, I’ll teach you what I can about search and rescue. You teach me about positive reinforcement.”
And we developed a great working partnership. He actually had an extra dog that he had just acquired that he gave me as, as a training partner that I worked with all the time. And I began getting a lot of experience working with search and rescue dogs. And then it was, uh, gosh, 20 years ago, Karen Pryor had, decided to do her very first Clicker Expo. And her first ClickerExpo happened to be in Chicago. And I had known Karen for many, many years. And she invited me as a guest speaker to speak at the, uh, the first Chicago ClickerExpo. I was not a regular faculty member, I was just there for that one, clicker expo because it was there in the city where I was living. And, someone had, someone asked a question about modifier cue training or something like that? I don’t remember what it was. He was, yes, it was about, uh, about modifiers, and was asking whether or not dogs could learn that.
And Karen said, “Well, absolutely. They could learn that. In fact, Ken, Ken Ramirez, are you here somewhere?” She called out to the auditorium asking if I was seated in the auditorium at the time. And I was in the back of the room, and I sheepishly raised my hand. She says, ” Ken, tell her how you would train that.” And we ended up having this long discussion and people kept asking questions and this was Karen’s session, but she kept directing everybody to me at the back of the room. And a little bit later that weekend, she approached me and said, “Ken, I just assumed you would be a good guest speaker to talk about exotic animal training. But I realized you could really speak about a couple of interesting dog related concepts. Would you like to be on our faculty?” And so, I was immediately invited onto the faculty and have been a part of ClickerExpo ever since. Meanwhile, I still consider myself kind of a novice in the dog world. I was really mainly a zoological trainer. And though I had been working with search and rescue dogs by this point for five or six years, I had done guide dog training as a high school student for three years, I still felt like I was a mere novice in the dog training world.
And ClickerExpo opened me up to all of these different concepts. I continued working in the zoological world and then, 10 years ago, Karen had her 80th birthday, and that’s when she approached me and said, “Ken, I’m thinking of slowing down, I’m thinking I might want to retire. Uh, would you be interested in taking over my role here at Karen Pryor Clicker Training?” And was really humbled by that.
And I had to think about it a little while, and I said, you know, if you could give me a year to transition out of my position at the aquarium, because I was in a position of huge responsibility at the aquarium, and I just didn’t feel like I could give a two week notice and walk away. I needed to give a significant notice to be able to make that transition smooth. And then I, I did that, took, the, took, took that position and, uh, sort of became full time taking over Karen’s role back in 2014. So, it’s been almost eight years now that I have, been in this position, overseeing the mission and vision of Karen Pryor Clicker Training. And I apologize, that was a really long answer to what could have been just a, a quick, easy answer to your question, but that’s, that’s how I got where I am today.
[00:14:49] Emily: Don’t apologize, it was a fascinating journey. And I think one of the things that I love about your story is your commitment to learning. So, you, you, at no point were like, “Okay, I’m Ken Ramirez now. So, I’ve got it all figured out.” That is such an important thing for all of us to really internalize and embody. That the learning is never over and, and we all have more to learn, and, and that’s how you get to do what you do and where, where you are, because that that intellectual humility and, and commitment to learning is so important.
[00:15:23] Ken: Uh, absolutely. In fact, I think that anytime you get to a point where you feel like I’ve learned it all, one of two things is probably true. You’ve probably have closed your mind to what’s going on in the world, and thus you’re probably ready to retire. Or you were about to be humbled very, very quickly, because inevitably there is so much new to learn. When I was in the zoo world, it might have been just being introduced to a species you hadn’t trained before in realizing the adaptations you had to make to work with that species, or in the dog world. My goodness, there are so many different applications that people use in dog training that you start looking at the different sports, and the different activities, and the different ways that people work with dogs.
And each of those disciplines is new, and is different, and requires you to sometimes rethink everything you’ve ever learned before. So, it’s an important quality to have, and that is to be open to being aware that there are new things to learn in, in all situations.
And not only that. I always remind people that I’ve worked with a lot of really experienced trainers. And they’ll say things like, ” I just don’t know where to go for more inspiration because there aren’t that many trainers with more experience than me.” And I always say, you know what, sometimes it isn’t the trainers with more experience that you can learn from, sometimes you can learn from brand new trainers because they they’ve come to it from a new perspective, they, they come at it with a different mindset. They come at it with a different generational point of view. And I said, ” You’re, you’re shutting out a lot of learning opportunities if you feel the only people who can teach you something, are people with more experience than you.” It often is the case that I’ve learned my best lessons from new trainers, and from young trainers, and from trainers who, on paper look very inexperienced, but yet they’re creative. They’re thoughtful. They’ve been in unique situations that allow you to learn so much.
[00:17:12] Emily: That is so true. I run a mentorship program, and we have about, 60 people in the program right now. And the, the, they’re coming from all walks of life, and different levels of experience in this field. And some of them are, you know, almost out of high school brand, brand new, and others are on their, you know, second or third career. And I learned so much from them. From not only like questions that they ask me that make me realize like, “Oh, I actually don’t know the answer to that question. Let’s go find out. Let’s ask somebody who would know the answer to this.” But also, because like you were saying, cross pollination across professions is where inspiration and innovation comes from.
People in the program are coming from other careers and other disciplines, and they’re bringing all of their knowledge and skills from their previous careers, or their previous experiences into this field, and that fresh perspective is so enlightening. I’m a big fan of the Feynman Technique where like you learn the best by teaching because, I agree. Like some of my best learning experiences are when I’m interacting with people that are supposedly my students, but really we’re learning from each other. This is a co-learning experience.
[00:18:19] Ken: Yeah, it absolutely is. Sometimes the, it’s the questions that students ask that make you aware of how much you don’t know. It’s like, “Oh, great question. I don’t know if I can answer that. Let me figure out how to find your answer.”
[00:18:32] Emily: Yeah. For sure. I also really admire you and feel a lot of affection for you because we share a love of working with lots of different species. And I have that, like when you, and you get to work with a new species, you’re like, who are you? What’s your deal? Like, what are you about? So that is something that, really has drawn me to your work, and what you do.
So first of all, I cannot tell you how much it meant and still means to me that you reached out to us to tell us how much you liked our book and, and that you have really been one of our greatest champions. So, thank you for that, but one of the reasons that your support has been so meaningful to us is because of the extraordinary work that you’ve already been doing related to enrichment long before we showed up on the scene. And I know you and I have talked about this before, but we have slightly different approaches to how we talk about enrichment. At the end of the day. I think those are mostly semantic or conceptual differences, and you know what our respective enrichment plans actually look like isn’t all that difference. But I do love how you talk about the four pillars in your book, The Eye of The Trainer. So, can you fill in our listeners on what the four pillars are in your perspective?
[00:19:42] Ken: Sure. You know, when I, when I teach people about training and often whether they come to a class of mine, or I’m consulting with them, I very early on talk about a couple of philosophical perspectives on training that I, that I think are important so that people know where I’m coming from when I talk about training.
And one of those is saying that for me, you are a professional trainer, if you want to have a professional level training program, you, you really have to be, a good caregiver. And, and, and being a professional caregiver means having what I call the four pillars, or foundations of good animal care. And that if you are missing any one of these foundational pillars, then your program is built on a faulty foundation, and it’s likely to come crumbling down around you if you haven’t considered all aspects.
And so, when I talk about the four things that are necessary to have the, a good foundation for a professional animal care program. I usually include one, a good healthcare program. You have to build good relationships with the veterinarians, and the veterinary technicians in your life. The health of your animals has to be a top priority and having a good relationship with healthcare professionals is a critical part of that. And so, that’s the first of the four pillars.
The second one, sort of goes right along with that, and that is you have to have a good nutritional program. It is critical that our animals maintain their health, and part of that is in the food they eat, the vitamins and nutritional supplements that they get, and are you providing them all of the things that are necessary? Especially when you work with animals, often we are feeding our animals, processed foods of a variety of types, and there there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but you have to be aware that there might be things that are missing that are not there.
And so engaging. your work with a good nutritionist, and people who can really look at the nutritional components of what you’re feeding your animals and making sure your animals are getting all of those needs is critical. and so that is a second pillar.
The third pillar that I usually talk about is the environment. Uh, it’s critical that your animals have a good environment. And when I talk about the environment, that’s a really multifaceted look at where they are living. And it includes everything from if your animal likes to dig that they have dirt. If they like to climb that they have trees. If they like to swim that they have water. But more than just the things that are in their environment, it also includes things like their social structure. Many, many species of animals are very social creatures, and having the appropriate social structure is a critical part of them having a complete life.
And then finally, the fourth pillar for me should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever taking a class or invited me to come and consult with them. That fourth pillar is a program that has a behavioral management component. That includes training and enrichment. Training and enrichment is essential to the quality of life of the animals. And it’s no less nor more important than a veterinary program, or a nutrition program, or an environmental program. Often when I go into consult, for example, I’ll go to a zoo, for example. And they’ll say, “Gosh, you know, we know that behavior management is really important, Ken, but we haven’t really had a chance to focus on that in the last, uh, in the last six months.” And I say, “I understand that, but you know, to me, that’s like you saying to me, Ken, I understand that nutrition is important, but I haven’t had a chance to feed my animals in six months.” Nobody would think that’s okay. Yet, they think it’s okay not to worry about training for a couple of weeks. It’s not, and, and I, I’m not suggesting that people should train a new behavior with their, with every animal every day.
But I am thinking that when you are providing enrichment for your animals, are you thinking about what it’s learning? What effect it’s having on their behavior? Are you aware of all the different components to what that animal is learning all the time? And when you consider training and enrichment one of the pillars, it helps put it in perspective for you, so that you’re thinking about those behavioral things, that the animal is learning all the time.
And so that’s how I usually start my introduction to training is by talking about those pillars, and then I’ll dig into the training and talk about primary and secondary reasons for training and that kind of thing. But I like to put in that overall umbrella for what’s important to be thinking about to me, training and enrichment is right up there with good vet care, good food, good environment.
[00:24:18] Emily: I love that. And I think that’s something that is really important to, to kind of shine a light on is that animals are learning all the time and, and think people think of training sessions, or training as like these discrete sessions that are happening, where you’ve got your treat bag and your clicker and whatever, but every sentient being is constantly learning.
And so, training is really about paying attention to what they’re learning and is, is what they’re learning, what you want them to learn, what is in their best interest? And is it actually facilitating physical, behavioral, and emotional health? So, really what we’re saying, when we’re saying that training is an essential component of welfare or care, what we’re saying is pay attention to their behavioral health, and is what they’re learning, going to serve them well, you know, at the end of the day. So, I love how you present that for people to help people think of it as equally valuable to things like nutrition and environment.
[00:25:15] Ken: Yeah. And you know, one of the things that you just hit on that I think is really important is thinking about the welfare of the animal. And to me first, putting training and enrichment in that in the four pillars is part of that. Even further, is thinking about the way I would like to consider dividing the reasons we train between primary and secondary reasons for training.
And for me, primary reasons have to come first. They have to be things that directly benefit the individual animal. Not humankind, not our knowledge, not our ability to win in some competition, but actually benefits the individual animal in front of you right there. And so, I like to divide the reasons we train animals into primary and secondary reasons for training, primary, being physical exercise, mental stimulation, cooperative behavior, all things that directly benefit their welfare and help us care for the animals better. But if you were to ask people, why do you think someone trains the animals? There would be, oh, they train ’em for sport. They train ’em for work. They train ’em for research. They train ’em for conservation. And all of those are perfectly good reasons for training, but they are secondary. They cannot take a backseat to the welfare component that has to be in place first.
And so for me, my tangent, or my follow up to that those four pillars is recognizing that it is critical that we divide training into primary and secondary reasons. And then, I’m all in favor of training for sport, or for work, or for conservation, or for research, but only if your primary reasons are in place first, because that assures us, that their welfare and their wellbeing is our first priority.
[00:26:51] Emily: Yeah. And I think another kind of component to that is that your secondary training that I think a lot of people care more about, or let me reframe that, that a lot of people think about primarily as training, right? I think, you know, almost everyone who works with animals, cares about their wellbeing, but they’re not thinking about it in those terms.
But I think what is really important to kind of shine a light on is that when you are focusing on that primary reason, first, it makes the secondary training easier and more successful because you’re working with a physically, behaviorally, and emotionally healthy animal instead of one whose needs might not be met and has some deficits as a result.
[00:27:35] Ken: Yeah. You hit on, hit on the secret right there. And that’s exactly it. I consult all the time with a variety of organizations, and one of the types of organizations I work a lot with is law enforcement. Law enforcement often brings me in, because they’ve heard that switching over to positive reinforcement could be a way that could improve their training.
And so, I was working with a large city’s canine unit, and I was going through my initial philosophical approaches to training, and I talked about primary versus secondary reasons for training, and when I got to secondary reasons for training, I was listing work as one of those secondary reasons for training. And the Sergeant in charge of the canine unit immediately raised his hand and says, “Ken, I think we need to take a short break.” And I said, ” I’m sorry. Okay, well, we just started, but if you wanna take a break, sure.”
And he excused all of this, his team, they all left the room, and he came up to me and he says, “You cannot tell my officers that the work is secondary. It is the primary reason for them to be doing their jobs”. And I said, “I understand that, but if we don’t put the primary needs first, we will not be successful with what you consider the more important needs, and so for me, if you’re gonna work with me, we have to put these needs first.” And he said, “I am sorry. I don’t think we can do that.” And I said, “Well, I’m happy to go home. And, uh, I, I won’t charge you, I’ll go home, and we can just pretend this, this meeting never happened.” And he goes, “No, no, no, no, no. Can we, we want you to stay.” And I said, “Well, why do you want me to stay?” And they said, “Well, Homeland Security said that once you started helping them with their training, their success rate improved dramatically.”
And I just looked at him, and I shrugged my shoulders, and went, “Exactly.” And he goes, “What do you mean?” And I said, ” Because they put the needs of their animals first.” And he said, “But I don’t understand, if you’re putting the work secondary doesn’t that mean that the work will, is less important?” And I said, “Well, it’s not necessarily less important, but it is critical that your animal needs are met, and I believe the reason it works, the reason their success rate improved, is that when you first use positive reinforcement, and second, you make sure that all of their needs are met, like you were just suggesting Emily. It means that you have a healthy, happier animal. And when you have a healthy, happy dog, dogs love to do work, especially when the work is using their nose. So, they’ll do it well. And if you’re taking care of all of those primary needs first, you will see the work excel, even though you consider that as secondary reason for training.”
And I guess I convinced him because he called his officers back in and we proceeded to, I proceeded to work with that particular, department, but often people feel that if they don’t put the research work first, or the competition that they’re focusing on first, or the work that they’re doing first, that that will somehow mean that the work is less valid, or less, done less well. And that just isn’t the case, all those other secondary reasons for training aren’t way down the list. They’re, they’re still high priorities. You just are making sure that your primary needs are met first. Then you can work on whatever other project you wanna work on, but it is what most people focus on as those secondary things, as opposed to the primary.
[00:31:01] Emily: Right. It’s like, why do I have to build a foundation before I build my house? Like, isn’t the house, the most important part, cause that’s where you live? But your house is gonna fall apart, if it’s not on a foundation. You, you have to start with a foundation.
[00:31:12] Ken: Absolutely. Correct.
[00:31:14] Emily: So, I think one of the really important aspects of enrichment that we talk about a lot is agency and making sure that animals have agency in their life. And that’s obviously important to, to both of us. So, things like cooperative care have advanced our field by leaps and bounds over the past few years. But what I love in particular about your approach is how much you really emphasize letting animals say no and opt out. It’s not just about them opting in, it’s also about opting out. And your talk on intelligent disobedience, completely reframed my perspective several years back. and I think about it often when interacting with animals. So, can you talk more about intelligent disobedience in particular, but also just teaching animals, how to say no in general.
[00:32:02] Ken: Sure. I, I’m not sure what I may have said in the past, but I certainly can tell you a little bit about intelligent disobedience. And I first learned about that when I was a high school kid, and I was working with guide dogs, and I was fascinated by the fact that dogs could learn to look at their environment and say, ” You know, in this situation, I am not gonna follow your, your cue.”
You know, you’re, you’re, you’re teaching a guide dog that 95% of the time they are to follow the instructions given to them by their handler all the time. But 5% of the time they’re supposed to disobey, they’re supposed to not do what was asked to them because they’re being told to walk forward, but going forward means that they’re gonna walk into traffic, or a better one even is going forward means that their handler might hit his or her head on a low hanging tree branch that’s four foot above the ground where the dog could easily walk under it, but their owner cannot. And so, the dog has to recognize that under these conditions. I am not gonna do what you’ve just told me to do. And I remember as a young high school kid being blown away by the fact that dogs could interpret the environment.
And what I really was blown away with was what we now, what I now understand is generalization. Where they may have been taught with a PVC pole that they can’t walk under that pole, but they then translate that to a low hanging tree branch, a close line, a sign hanging from above, a ladder hanging out the back of a pickup truck, all these different contexts that you can’t possibly teach all of those to the dog, but yet the dog recognizes that it has to learn to say, “No, I’m not going to do that.” And you want the dog to be able to be well reinforced. Later, as I became a trainer and really understood training, I realized in that situation, the dog isn’t really saying no, the dog has just learned that certain environmental cues supersede cues, that your handler gives you and these cues top these other ones.
And so, under these conditions, you do not move forward. And they’re just following the behavior, that’s been taught to them to not move forward. But it does beg a lot of questions about, what about when a dog doesn’t want to do a behavior just because they’re not comfortable. They don’t feel, comfortable in the situation. And in the old days there was this thought, well, we’re gonna train it with positive reinforcement, and so if they don’t wanna do the behavior, we just won’t reinforce them, and, and that will work fine. And it certainly was a less coercive approach to training than the old school way, where if the dog said, no, you are likely to give a leash correction or punish them in some way.
And at least in this case, you’re saying, well, then I won’t reinforce you, and we go forward. But then as time went on with our training, we began to realize that while that type of choice, is certainly less aversive than do you and using a leash correction, or popping your animal on the nose, there was a realization that it was sort of a forced choice. Very much like if you’re told you are free to make the decision to go to work or not go to work. But if you choose not to go to work, not only will you not get paid, you may also lose your job. Well, suddenly it’s not such a free choice anymore.
Yes, you are free to choose that, but the consequences of choosing the wrong thing, maybe, maybe too great. And thus, if you are faced with those consequences, you may make the choice, not completely freely. You’re making that choice because the alternative was not very appealing. And that’s when many, many people in the training community began thinking about, well, how, how, can we increase a dog’s comfort level? How can we increase their comfort level at doing something that may be uncomfortable, like a medical behavior, where you’re sticking a needle into their vein, and there’s going to be some discomfort there? How do you make that into a behavior that they choose to participate in? And a big part of that was really increasing the, the reinforcement schedule, uh, increasing, the desensitization so that they learn to be more comfortable in those environments, and teaching an animal that if they choose not to participate, that you’re not gonna pick up their treats, and walk away, and suddenly, in a sense, although it might be a mild aversive, you’re still potentially saying, “Oh, well, playtime is over, then. I’m gonna take your treats and leave.” That’s not nearly as aversive as the old school days, but it still could be perceived by an animal as being aversive, and you needed to find ways of getting past that.
And a big part of that in a lot of the working dog environments that I work at is really helping animals learn to be successful, letting them see that there’s high value reinforcers there, that, and that if they choose not to participate, that’s okay. Their opportunities for reinforcement are not going to disappear.
They’re not going to be put in the proverbial doghouse because they’ve been bad. They make that choice, and it’s okay for them to make that choice. Now, that that presents some ethical dilemmas sometimes for us as trainers, because if this particular procedure is important for the health of the animal, don’t, we need to get that behavior and it could be. But I also feel like, a really good example is my alpacas. This week is the week that we have to shear them. We have to shear them. It’s too hot in Washington state for them to live in the summer without being sheared. My alpacas are not yet trained to a comfort level where I can voluntarily have them present themselves.
And I just, shear them, I have to restrain them to make that happen. Well, because that is necessary, and because that is going to be in their best interest, we are going to shear them this week. And I will end up having to hold them, and restrain them so that, that can be done. But I’m not going to use the relationship that I’ve created with them to trick them into a position where I can hold them and shear them.
I just am gonna go to that position, go into that state, and shear them very much. Like I would a young child who has to have their blood taken at the doctor who hasn’t yet been trained to hold their arm out. The nurse, or the doctor has to restrain them to allow you to do that. You do have to make decisions that are in the best interest of the animal, but it doesn’t mean you have to trick them into it.
It doesn’t mean that you have to get them to break that trust, to make it happen. I just separate the two to make them very distinct. And I, I, I feel like maybe I’ve gone off on a tangent here, but it still is talking about giving animals choice. For me, training is this cooperative, endeavor in which, it’s not just you deciding what you want your animal to learn, but it’s the animal’s choice to participate, and to want to participate in that process that makes training so successful. And you can get to a point where animals will willingly participate in something that provides, that produces some level of discomfort, but it does mean setting up the context, setting up the environment, setting up the reinforcement history well enough that it becomes easy for them to do that.
[00:39:58] Emily: Reinforcement schedules refer to when and how often we reinforce a behavior. A continuous reinforcement schedule is when we reinforce the behavior every time it occurs. Intermittent reinforcement schedules vary in how often, and in which context, we might reinforce a behavior.
Desensitization is a procedure in which we allow a learner to get used to something aversive by starting with the lowest intensity of the stimulus, then gradually increasing the intensity over time as the learner is able to tolerate it.
Yeah, I don’t think that’s off topic at all, because that, that is, that’s sort of like the next logical step that people go to in their heads when they’re learning about this context is like, ” Well, that sounds great. And, and nice and sweet and fluffy and all, but what do you do when the animal, when you have to do something that the animal doesn’t wanna do?” And the answer is. It doesn’t have to be as terrible as we believe it does. Like, yes, there are absolutely moments where we have to do something that the animal doesn’t have skills for yet. And we can still minimize and mitigate the discomfort of that through, yeah, not tricking them into it, being, giving them some predictability, letting them know what’s going on, getting it over with in a really straightforward manner, and then giving them their power back afterwards.
[00:41:24] Ken: Yeah, and I think there’s good examples in the human world. You know, if, if, if a doctor tells you that you need this surgical procedure to save your life, we are not gonna have the person sit down, and submit to surgery without anesthesia, or something to allow us to go through it. So, we get put under anesthesia, and then they do the procedure because there is no way we will sit there and let them cut into our body without anesthesia. And so we go through that all the time, too. You cannot get us to voluntarily sit there, most of us, can’t sit there while they surgically put a knife into your skin, and cut it open, and somehow you, you, you, you just take it. No, you’re not able to do it either. So, you take some drugs that put you to sleep, and then you go through that procedure, because you need help. You can’t just do it on your own. It people often don’t realize that we do this to ourselves all the time. We just have to, we have to take some step to make that possible.
[00:42:25] Emily: Yes, I agree. I also wanna go back a little bit to something that you were talking about earlier on which is, you know, listening to our learners. And if they’re saying no, there’s probably a reason for that. I think that’s such an important thing to bring up. And, and one of the like, details I would like to add to that is that in some cases, the animals are saying no because of an undiagnosed medical reason. And so that’s another reason to learn to let our animals say no to us, because if we’re asking them to sit, when they have, you know, musculoskeletal pain, or we’re asking them to go into a place that the substrate is uncomfortable, then for them or something like that, we need to know that so that we can help them.
That saying, “The rat is never wrong” is a really important thing for all of us to remember is, if they’re saying, no, we should listen to that and figure out why they’re saying no, instead of just jumping to either a correction, or a withdrawal of good things.
[00:43:19] Ken: Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s such an important thing. When an animal doesn’t respond to your cue, is valuable information. They are telling you something. It is rare for an animal just to decide arbitrarily, “Ah, I don’t think I wanna do that today.” There’s a reason they don’t want to do it. And, and it’s good for you to figure out what that is.
[00:43:35] Emily: Absolutely along that same vein, let’s talk about troubleshooting because when stuff like that happens a lot of times we have to figure out why, why isn’t it working? Why is the animal saying no? And I love your approach to troubleshooting. I think when people are less experienced, we, as a species are more prone to an auto epistemic logical fallacy that can lead us down a path of, I can’t think of another solution to this problem, so clearly this must be an animal who needs corrections, or we need to force it or whatever.
Auto-epistemic logic is the type of logic concerned with our knowledge about our own knowledge or lack thereof. The root word auto means self, and the root word epistemic means knowledge. Auto-epistemic logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that occur because of a lack of awareness of the limitations of our own knowledge. The most common one we encounter in this profession is the argument from self knowing, which is essentially when someone takes the position that if this were true, I would know it. And since I don’t know, it, it can’t be true or vice versa. If this were false, I would know it, and since I don’t know, it, it can’t be false.
And I think it’s really easy to get stuck in that mindset and just to embrace that as a way of life. But I love the way you reframe it as it’s not failure, or defiance, or stubbornness, this is feedback. And I need to get more creative and put on my sleuthing hat, and, or collaborate with some colleagues and doing so will not only be better for the learner.
It’ll make me a better teacher too. Like we were talking about earlier. So, what are some steps that we can take to improve our ability to troubleshoot and whenever we’re training, or developing, an enrichment plan, or something like that.
[00:45:17] Ken: Yeah, there’s, there’s a couple of things that I take, and I’m not sure which one I should talk about first. But there are two main things that I look at when I am called in as a consultant to troubleshoot. Generally when most people call me, and it is because they’ve exhausted, what they think are all the options they can think of, and so it requires a little bit of a detective approach, and you’re gonna say, okay, let’s, let’s see if we can figure it out. So, the first thing I look at is I ask, what do we think the cause of this problem is? And the cause of problem behavior can be many, but they usually fall into one of, of eight categories.
And, and I’ll always ask the question, you know, is it, is it environmental? Often, it is some change in the environment that is caused it, whether that, whether that’s the weather, whether it’s the fact that you just painted your living room with brand new paint and it smells different, it’s because there’s a new plant that you’ve put in the corner of the room, it’s because of some vibration or noise that they hear in the distance. There’s a huge list of environmental things, and oftentimes if we look there and just ask our question, are we sure there’s nothing that’s changed in the environment that has triggered this response or this problem behavior? But that’s just one of eight possible solutions.
If it’s not the environment you might ask yourself, is it social? Oftentimes social pressures within a group, activity between animals, aggression, competition, the social pressure that animals feel from each other are far greater than any treat we might have in our pouch. And so, consequently, we have to be aware that animals are responding to that social pressure.
I also often ask myself, is it a health problem? We have to always look at is the animal not responding or responding, what we consider inappropriately, because of some health issue? Have we checked out their health? Have we visited the veterinarian? Have we looked at the various health parameters? And another thing that that ties into health, is if they’re an older animal, I often remind people that they may not have a specific illness, but thanks to modern medicine, our dogs and cats are living far longer lives than they ever used to. So, they are now experiencing many of the same, geriatric problems that humans are now experiencing, arthritis, loss of vision, loss of hearing. And oftentimes that changes their perception of the world, their inability to hear cues, their fact that their vision is going and they’re scared of going into a kennel that they used to go into readily in the past.
And so those are all health-related issues, but I go beyond that sometimes and think to myself, well, how about the way you use your session? Is it you, the trainer, are there things that you are doing? Are you working beyond your skill level? Are you using techniques that the animal doesn’t understand? So, I have this long list of things that I, when I’m trying to check off things, I, I ask questions, and inevitably a client, isn’t always sure about some of them. And that says, okay, then those are things we need to investigate.
And then even once you find out the cause, it’s possible that, that doesn’t present itself as an immediate solution, you might say, gosh, I do think it is an incident that occurred in the middle of the night, two weeks ago that caused this fear response. That thing’s not happening anymore, but the animal still has that fear response.
So how do we change that? And I often look at, at the world, the environment that an animal’s working in as a balance. And there are reinforcers on one side and there are punishers on the other side. And inevitably, any behavior that is happening or that is not happening is being influenced by those reinforcers or punishers. And often something has changed in their environment, in their world that has made doing the behavior either no longer reinforcing or doing the, the behavior you want is now punishing. And you kind of have to figure out what that is, because you don’t want there to be a punisher there you’re not purposely punishing the behavior, but something in the environment is causing the animal to be uncomfortable.
And so, I always look at all the different things. And then I begin saying, what are the, what’s the low hanging fruit? What are the things that we could easily implement today, immediately to start investigating whether that changes the animal’s comfort level. And often you’d be surprised, changing one or two easy things can completely change the animal’s perspective and bring the, the correct behavior back.
And if it doesn’t, you still have all of these questions that you can answer that always leads you to a solution. So, I’m giving you a much more complicated answer to troubleshooting, but for me, it’s recognizing that something must have changed in the environment. And it means that we need to change something that’s going on in the environment as well, because this is, you know, as when we try to correct a behavioral problem, and we’re not changing the environment, the chances are the problems, not just gonna go away, we have to make some adjustments.
And so, we have to kind of figure out what that is, that sets the animal up for success and allows us to get to a solution. That’s not an easy answer, but it’s a convoluted answer, and its sort of the approach that I use to troubleshooting.
[00:50:51] Emily: I would reframe that. I don’t think it’s a convoluted answer, I think it’s a complex answer, but that’s because this is a topic that merits complexity. There are so many factors that go into behavior, and so many complex systems that influence behavior, that troubleshooting does require a complex, layered approach. So, I appreciate you taking the time to go through some of those layers and, talk about like, these are all the things we need to consider.
[00:51:19] Ken: And sometimes it’s very, rather easy. I mean, what I mean by that is, you know, I I’m, I’m a big fan of using the least intrusive, minimally aversive method possible. When I come into someone’s home and they say, “Gosh, Ken, I just can’t figure out how to get my dog to quit digging in the garbage.” And you look at the garbage can. That’s just sitting right in the middle of the room and you just ask them, “Well, have you ever thought about putting the garbage behind a closed door?” And they’re like, “Ah, you’re genius!” It’s like, “no, it’s changed the environment so that it’s not hard for the dog to accomplish it.” And it’s surprising to me how often easy answers like that elude the, the average, uh, pet parent, because they just haven’t thought of it that way.
They thought, “Well, my dog should just know they shouldn’t dig in the garbage.” And, and as I point out, I said, it doesn’t require a lot of training. It just requires setting the environment up so that it’s easy for the animal to do the correct thing. But it’s rare that I get called in as a consultant to solve something that simple, but occasionally it happens.
[00:52:24] Emily: Right. I mean, I agree with the, you start with the low hanging fruit. You start with the, the least complicated, most simple, most probable solution, and then you work your way down the hierarchy, but the hierarchy is a lot of steps. There are a lot of layers to consider, the topic is complicated, and there are layers of complications that can be, part of it. And also, we start with the most obvious thing. First, I have a funny story about that. The shortest, the second shortest consult I have ever been on was, a macaw, who the client was reporting that every afternoon, around three in the afternoon, the macaw would scream nonstop for an hour, and they couldn’t figure it out.
And they’d tried, you know, clicker training and these things, and they just couldn’t figure out why this bird was doing it. They couldn’t get the bird to stop. We scheduled the appointment to be around three o’clock, so I could be there when it happened, sure enough, the macaw starts screaming.
I’m standing right next to the cage, and I noticed that there’s a mirror hanging above the sofa on the other side of the living room. And the sun was coming in through the patio door, hitting the mirror, and it was annoying me. It was like shining my eyes. And I looked at the bird, and the sun, the sun is like shining into the cage too the bird’s just screaming. I like walk over, pick up the mirror, take it off the wall and the bird stop screaming. And I was like, and scene, we’re done that that’s that fixed the bird’s problem. Right? So, like, sometimes it really is that simple, and also when it isn’t that simple, we have to know where else to go to, to keep problem solving.
[00:53:54] Ken: Yeah. Oh, how I wish it was always that simple, but you’re right. It’s sometimes it is. It, it probably what’s even more frustrating, is when it’s a simple solution like that, but you don’t discover it for days, and days, and days of trying to figure out what it is. That’s when you kinda go, why did I think of that?
[00:54:11] Emily: Right. Take the mirror off wall, or cover the mirror in the afternoon, or something. We’re nearing the end of our time, I wanted to ask you one more question before we go onto our, our end of the session questions. And that is, as, as I mentioned before, you and I share a love of working with a wide variety of species. And my preference is to learn about a species, natural history, and body language before interacting with them. But as you know, we don’t always have that luxury. So, what advice do you have for people wanting to work with a new to them species? Especially if we don’t have that luxury of like researching in advance?
[00:54:47] Ken: So yeah, I’ll, I’ll, bypass that step, because yes, the first thing, if I know I’m gonna work with a species that I’m gonna learn, its natural history, I’m gonna learned something about the individual. But yeah, there are times when I’m thrust into a situation where I haven’t had the opportunity to study the animal, or learn the specifics about the animal. And I have two different answers. One is on those rare occasions where you were just thrust into a situation, and there is nobody around you who can help answer some questions about the individual, then I have to learn, use some of my general knowledge about animals. And, you know, generally when you look at an animal, even if you’re not really familiar with most of their different body language things that they may show you, you can easily see a couple of things. You can see that the animal is leaning in and moving towards you, or that the animal is pulling away and less interested interacting with you. So, I look at that. And then I also look at, does this animal look relaxed or do they look tense? And I realize that sometimes that may be a difficult thing to discern if you’re not familiar with the species, but in general, you can usually get a pretty good sense of that.
And so, when an animal is relaxed and leaning into you, that’s usually a situation where I say, here’s an animal that’s ready to train, they’re eager and ready to participate. If I have an animal that’s relaxed, but leaning away from me, that’s an animal that’s more interested in the environment, more interested in going off to play. If an animal is tense and leaning into me, that’s an animal that could bite me in, in any minute. And an animal is tense and go looking away, this is an animal that’s likely to flee and run away in any minute. And that’s a huge generality, but it’s a way to start. When I look at this creature in front of me, am I seeing the animal looking like they want to come toward me or are they looking like they want to get away from me? Do they appear to be relaxed or not?
Secondly, I may not have had the opportunity to do some investigation into the species specifics, but generally I’m probably working with someone who knows that animal really well. And even if they’re not a training expert, they can usually give me information about what this, what I’m seeing in front of me is this, does this animal look nervous to you?
Does this animal look like, like they’re scared or they look interested? And I’ve been in those situations many times. I, I, one of my, favorite stories, well, I’ve several that I could tell you, but I was contacted about doing this butterfly project in London. And, and when I was called, they called me because they had heard that, I often say that you can train an animal, you know, that any animal, whether you’re working with an earthworm or a Harvard graduate, all animals can learn. And so, they called me because they thought maybe I would be interested in helping them with a butterfly training project. And of course I got very excited and I said, absolutely, yes. And then I remember hanging up the phone and panicking thinking, oh my goodness, I don’t know anything about butterflies. I don’t know, can they see, do they hear, uh, what do they eat? I mean, I had tons of questions, but fortunately the project had butterfly biologists who knew nothing about training, but they were experts on what this animal ate, and, and, and the way this animal behaved. And I find myself in many, many situations where I’m working with a species, that maybe I know something about, but realistically, this person right here with me, they are an expert on this species, or on this individual, or on this particular herd, or this particular group. And I rely on them. And I, I say, you know, you’ve brought me in to help you with a behavior plan, a training plan. Um, I need you to help me fill in the gaps of what I don’t know about the species. And, and oftentimes you actually create a stronger partnership that way, because then, and even when you’re working with a novice client and their dog, they probably know their dog better than you ever will.
And so, I rely on them to tell me things about their dog, and even if their anthropomorphic interpretations are not scientifically sound, they give me information about the animal that will help me work with them in partnership. And I look to them and say, you are the expert on your dog. I am only here to help you with some behavioral options that you might not have considered, let’s work together to find a solution.
And as soon as you create that partnership with whoever you’re working with, they’re more than willing to share all the things that they know, and you’re able to fill in those gaps that are necessary to make better decisions. And so, for me, it really is about recognizing that you being called in as a consultant, doesn’t mean you have to represent yourself as the expert on all things. They are the expert on their home. They’re the expert on this environment. They’re the expert on their particular dog. And, and even if they’re not really an expert, they certainly know the things about their home, their environment, and their dog that you won’t know right away.
And so, gaining their participation and partnership in finding the solution is gonna go much farther than you saying, “No, you there, you just stay over there in your corner. Let me, the professional work this out for you.” That’s gonna be a losing battle. That’s not the way you should approach, problem solving. And so for me, it really is about using my general knowledge to the best of my ability, but not forgetting that you have people that know more about this particular animal than you do, and capitalize on that.
[01:00:27] Emily: Okay. So, the reason I’ve been like grinning, like a giddy school girl is because it was super validating to hear you say that, because I tell that to my clients all the time. Like, I might be the expert on behavior, but you’re the expert on your pet and we’re not gonna be as effective if we don’t, or we’re not gonna be as effective as we can be if we don’t combine our expertise.
And you know, like you said, I’m not really an expert on behavior. They, they may be not an expert either, but like that if you frame it that way, it helps people realize that they have value, and they’re bringing that value to the table, and that collaboration is so much more successful. So it was so validating to hear you say that, because that’s what I say too.
[01:01:08] Ken: I think it’s a great way to approach it.
[01:01:10] Emily: Thank you. Thanks for that, Ken. So, we are now at the most popular question that was submitted to us by our Pro Campus and Mentorship Program members. And that question is what are your thoughts on having a state issued license and or national licenses to certify dog trainers and behavior consultants to ensure that we’re all abiding by LIMA principles and ensuring the welfare of both the animals we’re working with as well as their human caregivers.
[01:01:36] Ken: My short answer is I’m all for it. However, I really have a lot of caveats that are in there. I have some concerns about a government run certification program. Not because it can’t be unbiased, but because it’s very, very difficult to get the expertise, and the necessary knowledge in, to be able to run a program like that. I do think, and all you have to do is look at my history to realize that there are five major certification programs in this, in the training world right now, that I have had an active part in, I helped create the training certification for the International Marine Animal Trainers Association.
I am on the accreditation committee for training for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the original CCPDT test that’ll everybody take, I was a part of the team that put that test together. I am on the board of Fear Free Certification, and I run Karen Pryor Academy, who also does certifications. That should tell you right off the bat, that I’m very pro certification. I know that people shy away from certification, particularly, really experienced trainers who worry that they might get shut out, or somehow not be able to be certified. But I look at certification the way I look at a college degree. Nobody says you have to have a college degree, but if you want to teach in a classroom situation with students, you have to be a certified teacher.
If you are going to do surgery, or be a doctor and prescribed medicine, you have to be certified as a doctor or a physician. Even to drive a vehicle in this country, you have to go someplace to get certified, to be a driver. I don’t necessarily think that a government agency necessarily is the one just to administer the certifications, but certainly a government agency can oversee things.
And I look at it often the way I look at dive certification, there are many organizations, independent organizations that can certify you as a diver. You can get, PADI certification, you get NAUI certification, you can get Y M C certification, you can get a variety of certifications. And as long as you have one of those certifications, then dive companies know that you have gone through the requirements to know how to use a scuba regulator and things like that. The point that I’m making is there are many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many professions, and many, many, many, many, many activities in our world that require some level of certification. There’s no reason that training shouldn’t be governed in a similar way. I always worry when government agencies, when things get into a governmental bureaucracy, it can be very difficult to streamline it and make it work. I think the right way to do it is to, you know, allow the variety of certifications that exist around the country, that’s fine. And then some agencies should oversee it and say, yes, that’s a good one, and that’s a good one, and this is a good one, and as long as you get one of these certifications, you get your state license, or your govern, your national license to be a trainer. I do think there is a benefit to that. I think the logistics of how it would work, the logistics of how it would be administrated are complicated, but as I have been involved in lots of these processes for trainers already. It’s one of the reasons I actually was involved in KPA certification before I ever worked for Karen Pryor, she contacted me early on when she wanted to create a positive reinforcement certification and said, “Ken, I know you’re involved in all of these other certifications, you know the landmines, and pitfalls of doing it, help us navigate that so that we come up with something that is, that is useful and beneficial.”
And, and I, I think that’s, what’s important. And so, even as an advocate for the Karen Pryor Academy certification, I will not say anything bad about any good positive reinforcement certification, even if they are quote unquote competitors to our certification, because if they are helping to bring some regulation to the training world, if they are helping to guide people toward better use of the LIMA principle, better use of positive reinforcement, more humane training, I won’t even require that they follow LIMA as long as they have some method of humane thought processes for determining how to move forward and how to use positive reinforcement. I would likely be one who would go, yep. I support that certification process. Uh, so I’m all for certification. I’m a little hesitant to have government intervention in that, but I recognize why it might be beneficial. And so I think a partnership between a government regulatory commission that sanctions a variety of independent organizations probably is the way to go, but maybe I’m biased because I run an independent organization. So, I have to admit my bias in that regard, so I’m not opposed to it. I think it just requires a lot of thought in being so that it could be done right.
[01:06:48] Emily: Yeah, I like that, I like your suggestion of let the profession dictate the profession, but have a government organization that says you can’t charge people money to put your hands on their animal until you prove a basic level of competency. And the way that we you prove that is through one of these certifications on this like approved list. I think that’s a really smart approach because you’re absolutely right. There are concerns both ways and that’s, that feels like a really nice balance. So, I love that. Thank you very much.
All right. So, at the end of our interviews, we ask a few questions to everybody. And this is the first one. what is one thing you wish people knew about either the topics we’ve discussed today, your profession, or enrichment.
[01:07:38] Ken: I’m gonna answer the question from the standpoint of point of what I wish everybody understood about training. And my answer to that is I wish everybody recognized the training is natural. All animals are learning all the time. All the training does is it allows us to sort of, uh, help our animals learn the appropriate behaviors, to help our animals learn things that will make them successful to live in our homes, or in our backyards, or in our environment. Too often, people view training as some weird thing that somehow is unnatural, and I would remind people that all the training is is teaching. All that it really is, is an animal is learning and animals learn 24 hours a day, whether we are involved in that process or not.
So, if we can facilitate that process, if we can help them learn things that are gonna be beneficial to their wellbeing, and to their welfare, why not allow that to take place? I still believe that training as much as all of us in the training community recognize it as being important, I think you go to a, you just talk to people who adopt pets, and, and they all know that they need to get a veterinarian, but they don’t all think that they need to get a trainer.
They, they, they, they look at training whether, because it’s, they got a brand new puppy, or because they’re interested in participating in a sport, or because they have a problem behavior, now they need that problem fixed. That’s when people think they need to go to trainers, as opposed to realizing, like we talked about earlier, that behavior, and enrichment, and training are all an integral part of their care.
That’s what I wish everybody knew. I wish everybody understood that, that that training is a natural process, and that animals are learning all the time. And being involved in their training, in their enrichment, shouldn’t be looked at as anything out of the ordinary, or unnatural at all. It’s just a part of their learning process. That would be my, I think my, my first answer to that question, I’m sure if I thought about it, I could give you a dozen other things that I wish everybody knew, but that’s my answer for today.
[01:09:48] Emily: I love it. All right. Next question is what is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?
[01:09:53] Ken: Oh, my goodness. I think for me, it’s a, it’s the same answer, but it’s two pronged. I wish everybody understood the value and benefits of positive reinforcement. I think as a training community, we are seeing far more interest in positive reinforcement than we did 20 or 30 years ago. I believe that is growing in leaps and bounds, but it still has a long way to go for people to recognize why positive reinforcement can be an effective and better way to train. But even more than just that, I constantly struggle with the fact that in the positive reinforcement community, I feel that sometimes positive reinforcement trainers are the most divisive people around. When someone doesn’t agree with their way of training, oftentimes positive reinforcement trainers can be the most vehement, the most critical, the most angry that someone is doing this terrible thing to their dog.
And they feel like it’s their place to criticize that person, and to berate that person, and make that person feel terrible, and I find myself all the time going, what happened to your belief in using positive reinforcement? I believe we need to learn to use it with each other because then we’re going to have a better community, we’re gonna be willing to listen to people better. I am constantly struggling, I, I remember I was, I had just taken over the head of the training and vision and mission for Karen Pryor Clicker Training, and I was doing one of my consults with, I still work with a lot of aversive trainers, and for me to work with them, I need to understand them.
I need to meet them where they are. And one of them said to me, “You know, Ken, I gotta tell you, I, I like working with you, but what I’ve discovered is that when I’m around positive re, I don’t like being around positive reinforcement trainers, because they are so judgmental, and critical, they, they, and, you know, what’s even worse now you’re the leader of that cult, Ken.”
And I went, “Oh my, God. And, and, and I said, no, I’m not.” And I, I, I was trying, but I agree with that. I agree with the fact that sometimes, and social media makes it even worse because we somehow can lash out on social media without necessarily our faces, or our names being out there, and, and I constantly struggling with that.
So, I think if I could improve something about the community as a whole, I wish we were better at using positive reinforcement, and recognizing the value of that with our dogs. And in the positive reinforcement community, I wish we could look at ourselves and remind each other that we need to learn to use positive reinforcement when working with our colleagues, with our clients, because that’s going to make better inroads than using, than being mean, and judgmental, and difficult.
And so that’s that, that is a, that is a real, it, it hurts my heart, how often I see those challenges in our community. And so, I, I, I it’s for me, it’s gotta be a, a high priority.
[01:13:03] Emily: love that. I think it’s interesting, and you definitely have more of a perspective than I do because, you work with a lot more people. You have, I mean, you’ve been working in this industry for 50 years and I haven’t. But I think that, by the way, saying up front, this isn’t to argue with you, it’s just interesting to hear your perspective because I came from that world. Uh I’m, I considered a crossover trainer, and my experience was kind of my, my experience was the opposite where The people that I was around in, the more aversive training were really aversive to each other, and to me, and the people who kind of brought me into the positive reinforcement community were much kinder. And so, for a long time, I was like, what’s going on there? Is it really that the positive reinforcement community is more aversive than, you know, other training methodologies? Or is it just that our expectations of positive reinforcement trainers is higher? Because that wasn’t my personal experience. Right? But you’re not the only person who has said this, so I think there’s probably something to it, and my selection bias was just an outlier. So. It’s really something important to think about, right?
[01:14:11] Ken: Oh, I agree. I think there is no question, it’s not that every positive reinforcement trainer I’ve ever met is aversive, that’s not the case. In fact, I surround myself with positive reinforcement trainers whose approach I really like, and there are a lot of very kind, very supportive, wonderful, positive reinforcement trainers. I think it’s, it’s really more a, a fact of human nature. I think we grow up in a society that is aversive, that is critical, we are taught by our parents, by our coaches, to say no, and stop, and don’t, and quit. And so, I’ve certainly seen that same critical approach from punishment-based trainers, it’s just that I wouldn’t expect to see it so prevalent in the positive reinforcement community, because if we really practice what we preach, why aren’t we doing it there?
But I, and I think it’s the fact that, the, the arguments that are elevated that become difficult. If you ask me a question, and I answer with a kind, helpful response, it doesn’t get national headlines. It isn’t going to be repeated. You won’t believe what Ken said to Emily, he said this, and this, and this and this.
And he was so critical, and he called her this, this and that, and it was a terrible discussion. And that like wildfire spreads throughout the community when that’s bad. But when I say something nice, and kind, and helpful, it’s like, oh, that was good. That was nice. But it doesn’t make headlines. It doesn’t, it isn’t proliferated around the community.
So, I don’t think you were wrong. I think there is a huge number of positive reinforcement trainers that are very kind, but what we see in social media, what we see in, the community, often the voices that are elevated, and the voices that we hear about, are the ones that are critical are the ones that are difficult, and so it paints us as positive reinforcement trainers in a very bad light. But when punishment trainers use it, they’re not looked at in such a bad light because they promote punishment. So, of course they punish, and return, so it’s to be expected. And so, yeah, I, I think it’s probably, I will take what you just suggested and say, it’s probably unfair to say, and I didn’t say all positive reinforcement trainers, but it is true of our community that there are, so many people that, who don’t understand those of us that are crossover trainers, that’s how I started as well. So, I’m much more understanding, compassionate to someone who uses, I came into the positive reinforcement world, just assuming dogs are trained with punishment. Exotic animals are not. It’s a given; I didn’t know any better.
And so, I recognize that if you don’t have the tools, you’re not gonna recognize how to make the change. And so, I am very, very aware of the dichotomy of the way we learn, and the different people, and different approaches that are out there. But it’s still, if there’s something that I could change about the community, it would be to figure out a way to help positive reinforcement trainers realize that even if they’re just the vocal minority, they’re the ones that are being heard by so many.
And it constantly, when I talk to people who are wanting to cross over, they get pushed away, and get, get shut down by that community because the people that they come across are the ones that are so critical, and so judgmental. But it’s not true of all trainers at all. I, I know hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of very kind positive reinforcement trainers who would never say a bad word about anybody. So, it’s not, it wasn’t meant to suggest that that’s the prevailing problem, but it is a real problem that does exist in our community. And that’s something that I’d like to see changed, but I was in no way trying to suggest that that’s the way most positive reinforcement trainers are, it’s just the challenge that I see we face in this community.
[01:18:12] Emily: And I also wasn’t claiming that you were making a claim that all positive reinforcement trainers were negative, so yeah, absolutely. I, I am clear on that. I think it’s, it’s just an interesting conversation there, I think there’s, man, we could just have an entire episode just talking about that, cause there’s just a lot of layers to it.
Next question is, what do you love about what you do?
[01:18:33] Ken: Everything, well, that’s probably not true, that I just said something I didn’t like. So, I think there’s the two things that, that, that really draw me to this type of work one, the animals, being able to build a better relationship and build a, a, a strong relationship with the animals that are in my life is very, very rewarding.
It’s very, very reinforcing, but also very rewarding. But I also like being a teacher. And so, I really enjoy meeting people who are looking to learn how to use training tools better, whether they’re learning to switch over to positive reinforcement, or they’ve already embraced positive reinforcement, and they just want to learn how to use it better. I love the interaction with people who have that similar passion. So, those are the two things that I think I like most about what I do is that ability to build a relationship with the animals and that ability to work with people and help them improve their training.
[01:19:31] Emily: Those are my two favorites as well. All right. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you, where can they find you?
[01:19:39] Ken: Uh, you can find me, uh, at clicker training.com or Karen Pryor academy.com. I am always working on new courses that we offer here at The Ranch. The Ranch is a beautiful 13 acre, uh, facility at the foothills of Mount Rainier in the Seattle Tacoma area. We do courses, weeklong courses where people can come out, and train our animals. And we have new courses all the time. We have regular courses that we offer on a regular basis, but we have Guests at The Ranch Workshops where we invite speakers to come out and work with me and teach various concepts. So, I always have new things that are going on there. And then we have lots of new courses that we’re offering at the Karen Pryor Academy.
I have a new course coming out next month on, uh, positive reinforcement snake avoidance training. And it’s a course that hasn’t been announced yet, maybe it’ll be announced by the time this podcast airs, but it’s coming out next month. So, it, it’s not far from being announced depending on when you air this. I’m working on, I’m always working on several conservation projects, and I have a conservation project that I’m doing right now that I’m in the fifth year, fourth, fifth year of doing with elephant migration in Zambia, and that’s a big project. I have several others that are in the works. I have other things that are on the horizon that I’m probably not supposed to talk about yet. So, I’ll, I’ll stop there, but always have new things. I, I, I always juggling a bunch of different activities, and those are, those are just a few of them.
[01:21:03] Emily: You lead such an exciting life.
[01:21:06] Ken: I think so. I enjoy my life.
[01:21:08] Emily: It sounds, it sounds like a wonderful life. So finally, why should people care about our topic today? How is it relevant to them?
[01:21:15] Ken: I think training and enrichment is relevant to everybody because I, I’m a big believer, not only does it improve the quality of life of the animals that we have in our lives, but I also find that when you become really good at using positive reinforcement, it affects the relationships in your life, more positively. I find that you can be more effective as a, as a leader within an organization. You can be a better spouse. You can be a better parent. Uh, you can be a, be improve the quality of your, of your teaching through your colleagues. I really believe that what we do as positive reinforcement trainers, while my focus is certainly on improving the quality of life of the animals under my care, I really find that it bleeds over into the way we interact with each other. And I think that’s why it’s important for everybody, cause everybody can get value from learning about the wonderful application of positive reinforcement techniques.
[01:22:18] Emily: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been such an honor, and a pleasure to speak with you again, and I look forward to bringing you on again so we can talk more about communication culture in our profession.
[01:22:31] Ken: Sounds like a fun thing to talk about.
[01:22:33] Allie: As always Ken brought it during this interview. One of the things I loved is the simplicity of a lot of the topics he discusses and just proving that the way to become an expert in something is to master the foundation skills. Plus, I always love hearing about all of the different animals he’s trained. That’s the dream. Next week, we’ll be talking about practical problem solving.
Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.
Thank you for listening and happy training.