Dr. No: How Teaching an Animal to Say "No" Can Be the Right Prescription

Positive reinforcement trainers try to create a safe and nurturing learning environment for animals. When this is done properly, the learning process is fun, and the animal participates in sessions eagerly. Trainers often point out that their animals have the choice to participate, and that the lack of punishment creates a stress-free working environment. Ken believes these statements to be true when everything is done correctly.

Choice and control have been proven to be powerful reinforcers for most learners. In recent years, trainers have explored how to provide more options in training. Over the course of Ken’s career as a consultant and problem-solver, he has encountered situations where the relationship and trust between trainer and animal appears strained for various reasons. In a few of the more extreme situations, Ken initiated a protocol in which the animal was taught how to indicate that it did not want to do a particular behavior. In essence, this was teaching the animal to say “no!” In all four cases where this protocol was used, it resolved the problem behavior and moved the animal and trainer back to a good working relationship.

In this Session, Ken will explore these case studies, describe the training process involved, and discuss the broader significance of this protocol.

Ken Ramirez

Ken Ramirez is the Executive Vice-President (EVP) and Chief Training Officer of Karen Pryor Clicker Training. There he helps to oversee the vision, development, and implementation of training education programs for the organization.

Previously, Ken served as EVP of animal care and animal training at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, where he developed and supervised animal care and animal health programs, staff training and development, and public presentation programs for more than 32,000 animals. Ken worked at Shedd Aquarium for more than 25 years and continues as a consultant to this day.

A 35+-year veteran of animal care and training, Ken is a biologist and animal behaviorist who has overseen or consulted on training projects for many zoological organizations throughout the world. He began his training career working with guide dogs for the visually impaired and has maintained a close affiliation with pet training throughout his career. Ken hosted two successful seasons of the pet-training television series Talk to the Animals that compared pet training to the important work done with training and caring for animals in zoological facilities. Recently, he has also recently worked closely with several search-and-rescue-dog organizations and service-dog groups, as well as with bomb and narcotic dogs.

Ken has been active in several professional organizations, including the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association (IMATA), of which he is a past president. He has been actively involved in the creation of a certification process for animal trainers in zoological settings. Ken has written for numerous scientific publications and authored countless popular articles. He authored the book ANIMAL TRAINING: Successful Animal Management through Positive Reinforcement, published in 1999. Ken teaches a graduate course on animal training at Western Illinois University.