1. Train a behavior that will make veterinary care easier for an animal in your life. Simple things like loading into a carrier, being comfortable with touch and training for restraint can make a big difference in reducing stress for veterinary care. Here is a video clip to get you inspired to train your parrots.
2. Read a book that is related to the field but not specifically about animal training. I really enjoyed reading the Science of Consequences by Susan Schneider this year. Another good one is Coercion and its Fallout by Murray Sidman. Not a book but another interesting resource is the Brain Science Podcast.
3. Try shaking up your training practices. If you always use a bridging stimulus, try to become a faster treat deliverer and see if you can train some behaviors without a bridge. (Trust me, you can) If you never bridge, try training a behavior that requires one, such as working with an animal at a distance.
4. Train a species you have never worked with before. This is a great way to really learn how important natural history and ethology are when it comes to behavior modification. Sure the behavior analysis principles are the same. But real behavior change comes with practical application. This means also learning about what matters to that species.
5. Train a solid recall on an animal in your life. It is a pleasure when an animal comes running/flying towards you the moment a recall cue is given. Practice recalling at short distances when you are 99.9% sure your animal will come. Gradually increase the distance and make sure quick response to the cue is part of your criteria.
6. Train a behavior you have never done before. I had a blast training my rabbit to do a scent discrimination this year.
7. Attend an animal training conference, workshop or lecture live and in person. In addition to learning you also get to meet like-minded animal training enthusiasts. Often the best part of attending an event is the wonderful friendships that are forged. Check the calendar here for upcoming events in 2015.
8. Share something you have learned about force free animal training with at least one other person. Remember this movement to get people to understand you can be nice to animals and still have them be well behaved is a wonderful virus we want to spread. Pretty soon, being kind in animal training will be the norm and traditionally heavy handed approaches will be a thing of the past.
9. Do a before and after story. If you work with animals with behavior problems or have one in your home with issues you would like to address, start documenting! Nothing shows how beneficial force free animal training is than a transformation story. Take video footage or notes on the behavior problem before intervention. Develop an intervention plan, implement it and document your process. Once you have resolution (and you will) take your “after” video and share with the world! Real life success stories are great motivation for others and show people that behavior problems can be fixed.
10. Question a practice you have always done. Decide if it still has a place in your training tool kit. If it doesn’t maybe it’s time for out with the old and in with the new. When I reflect on my own growth as a trainer, I see there are many things I used to do, that I would no longer consider. Some dropped off naturally but others were conscious decisions. Every trainer that improves their practices contributes to an even stronger and better training community.
There you go! Ten ideas to jump start the New Year for animal trainers. Feel free to share with other animal lovers looking to kick off 2015 with some animal training adventures.
Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provides pet training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in eighteen countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.