Kathy Sdao, MA, ACAAB is an associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist based in Tacoma, Washington. She has spent the past two decades as a full-time professional trainer for dogs and other animals including marine and zoo animals. Kathy traveled to the Michigan Humane Society’s Berman Center for Animal Care in Westland, Michigan to give a seminar July 25th and 26th. The audience was made up of local dog trainers and canine enthusiasts who gathered to focus on the unique power of positive reinforcement and how it changes behavior with minimal cost to the animal. The ties made between the role of reinforcement of animal behavior and the method or marking a behavior were well founded in behavioral science and taught in such an expressive and entertaining way anyone in the room from pet parent to expert trainer could take away some very valuable and applicable tips and techniques.
Sdao’s S.M.A.R.T. program involves challenging a pet owner to become knowledgeable about what treat, toys or activities act as reinforcers and truly bring their pets joy. There is also a skill to be built around putting away assumptions about what they think they see or expect their pet to do and truly observe their dog’s body language and watch for behaviors the pets are offering freely on their own. Finally the attendees were encouraged to practice a reliable and consistent way to communicate with the pet about a behavior they performed. The method of marking behaviors that was highlighted in this seminar was with the use of a clicker. During clicker training a small device that makes a sharp, clicking sound when pushed and released is used in a timely way to pinpoint an action in a moment in time so the pet knows they performed a behavior that was valued. A clicker produces a unique sound which doesn’t get lost in the jungle of words dogs here daily from people. Its speed and mechanical clarity allows a trainer to mark with great precision the behavior for which the dog is being reinforced. A big focus on the Sdao seminar was the fact that a variety of reinforcers unique to a pet’s preference must be paired with this precision marker. Clicker training has become one of the most popular and powerful tools for successfully shaping animal behavior.
Building up a common language between you and your pet is very necessary and is greatly beneficial to your relationship. Training allows us to build that common language, and with a focus on positive reinforcement we give our pets a paw up on learning for a lifetime.