If you could have dinner with absolutely anyone in the world – who would it be?
Someone at the top of my list would definitely be Ken Ramirez! Well last week, I had this specific opportunity, spending three and a half hours having dinner with Ken, and – amazing past ATA podcast guest – Laura Ryder.
We talked about SO many things – the conversations were MEGA insightful, emotional (at times) & hilarious!
And if this wasn’t enough, we additionally got four whole days of workshops from Ken – talking about non-food reinforcers, concept training, problem solving, aggressive animals, medical training, training the trainers and conservation training! (VIA the fantastic NZ Association of pet dog trainers, APDT conference) The learning was amazing! So I wanted to sit down and share with you some of the things I learned! Here are my top five take aways;
1) At the risk of sounding like a broken record lol – the ATA tribe is AMAZING! I got to see so many of our NZ/Australian members as well as meet some for the very first time!
2) The importance of teamwork, brainstorming and making sure we have all the information!
Ken shared with us many stories where creative solutions were required to solve training challenges. One of these stories will stick with me forever!
This story was about some conservation work Ken did with wild Stella Sea Lions! Ken and his team were stuck on one aspect of the training plan and were sat in a room with many subject matter experts/professionals brainstorming solutions! They were having a really challenging time until eventually an intern – who was sat in the corner observing – stuck their hand up and suggested a really simple idea! This idea was implemented and proved to be a fundamental component of this projects success!
Sometimes we can’t see what’s right in front of us! It might take someone a little bit removed from the situation and seeing things from a different perspective to provide an idea and/or insight that can change everything!
3) Techniques for training aversive procedures!
Ken shared with us stories about his experience training blood draws and injections with animals! He talked about how we might approximate an animal accepting a needle being pushed through their skin! One technique I learned was where an animal presents a body part and then accepts an object interacting with this body part. One day it might be a blunt pencil, the next a dish brush followed but a scrunched up piece of paper, then a tennis ball, then a cloth and so on and so forth. Consequently what the animals learns is something will interact with this body part but the animal doesn’t know what. And inevitably it’s a needle through the skin. Ken also says he leaves significant gaps between needles, to the point it might only happen every couple of months.
4) The use & training of new non food reinforcers
Ken shared his strategy to teaching animals brand new non-food reinforcers and how he integrates this into his training. This can be anything from a clap, to a head scratch to a splash of water for marine mammals! Ken also outlined how he maintains the value of these reinforcers over time and integrates this into his everyday training! This was brand new to me to think about using and training reinforcers in this way! I’m SO excited to now have this in my learning repertoire and looking forward to adding it to my training!
5) Thinking about the balance of reinforcement when problem solving
One of my favourite sessions was when Ken shared with us his problem solving strategy. Part of this presentation included exercises to think about the balance of reinforcement when working through a behavior we might be labelling as problematic. This requires us to hypothesis possible reinforcers and punishers for either and/or both the behavior we want and the unwanted behavior we are seeing.
When the hypothesised punishers outweigh the reinforcers for a desired behaviour, then we can experiment with shifting the balance by strengthening reinforcers and removing punishers! By testing out our hypothesis via the animals future behavior one HUGE outcome is that we can move toward revealing the “true motivation” behind the behaviour/s we are focusing on.
When I think about this, it seems so simply – but ken did a really good job of explaining it and also offering practical exercises to compliment the idea.
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Well there you have it! My top five things I took away from four days with Ken Ramirez! “Nearly” as good as having dinner with the man himself!
Have you learned from Ken as well? I would love to hear what he has taught you?
And if you haven’t then here is your exclusive opportunity – First make your self a nice meal, then sit down to eat and put on this amazing ATA podcast episode with myself and Ken – Listen HERE!
OR… if you want even more!?! Ken also joined us for a 2 hours, 15 minute LIVE Q&A earlier this year! This is for ATA premium members only but you can access if (& all other 59 ATA web-class replays) via this exclusive $1 trail link >>> CLICK HERE … we hope to see you on the inside! (See a full list of past ATA web-classes here).
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