ORCA and the University of North Texas are proud to present:

The 2nd annual

Art and Science of Animal Training Conference:

Innovations and Refinements

Saturday, February 6th, 2010
8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

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This year’s title is Innovations and Refinements. The field of animal training is continually changing–just when we think we’ve finally understood the secret to behavior, we learn something new! Our guests of honor will share with us some of their own innovations in animal training.


Keynote Speaker:

Engineering Complex and Novel Behavior in Animals

Animal training usually consists of applying positive and negative consequences to behavior, strengthening some behavior and weakening other behavior until you get a desired performance. This is what psychologists call operant conditioning. But rewards and punishments only strengthen or weaken behavior that’s already occurring. You can’t get NEW behavior unless you know how to wait strategically; in a procedure called “shaping,” you wait for a bit of new behavior to occur and then reinforce it, and then you wait again until you get MORE new behavior, and so on. But here’s a surprise: When you’re not training—which is most of the time!—you’re really waiting, and while you’re waiting, almost ALL behavior that occurs is new in some sense. The new behavior that occurs most of the time in virtually all animals (including people) is called “generative,” and laboratory experiments show that this kind of behavior is both orderly and predictable. It HAS to be orderly and predictable, or shaping couldn’t work! First developed in the 1980s, Generativity Theory is a predictive, mathematical theory of generative behavior—in other words, of most of the behavior that occurs in real organisms most of the time. It has proved to be useful in both predicting and engineering complex behaviors in animals that is so extraordinary that it appears to have features of human “higher mental processes.” The theory can also be applied to improve the way we train animals.