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Sunday, November 9th, 2014

Gretchen Icenogle, CPDT-KA, discussed the controversial concepts behind "positive" training methods.  We will always remember her kind influence, passion for education, and dedication to the animal field.


Calling All Elephants: What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About 'Positive' Training from Animal Community Talks on Vimeo.


The following descripition is unedited from its original version to preserve the pure intent of its author.


In the context of animal training, the word "positive" has many meanings, some of them contradictory. While colloquially we understand it to mean "good," in its technical, behaviorist sense, it refers simply but confusingly to the addition of something to a training equation, whether it is pleasurable or aversive to the trainee.  Thus we arrive at the bizarre and paradoxical term "positive punishment" for things like water squirts or kicks to the ribs, things that you generally won't find "positive" trainers doing or advocating.

This talk won't focus on Skinner's poor choices in terminology but on points of confusion and doubt that are real and stubborn; its subject is the moral difficulty intrinsic in training. I want to examine as honestly as possible the power we arrogate to ourselves when we actively and deliberately shape another creature's behavior; I want to ask how or even whether we can use that power without incurring harm. I'll be talking specifically about the hardest case I ever faced, because it raised profound questions for me that I'd like to discuss with others who share my passion for nurturing vital and joyful relationships within and across species. I don't have answers to those questions, though I do have some strong opinions and look forward to hearing yours.

Donations went to Clackamas County Dog Services and Oregon Humane Society.

BIO: Gretchen Icenogle, CPDT-KA has spent most of her forty-five and one half years pursuing knowledge of dubious practical utility. This may be her last opportunity, so please indulge her impulse to list her credentials in full.


Gretchen earned a B.A. in English and American literature (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from Brown University, later an M.A. and Ph.D. in dramatic art from the University of California at Santa Barbara; she has taught literature, composition, theatre history, acting, directing, and playwriting to students ages 12 to 75. She spent many years in the English and theatre departments at Portland Community College, where she was beloved of students and deeply mistrusted by administrators, then a year in a visiting position at Reed College, ditto.


She finally got the memo and got the hell out of academe. Working as a volunteer at the Oregon Humane Society (under the warm and expert supervision of Tanya Roberts and Jenna Kirby), she renewed her lifelong kinship with unruly canines and discovered her new calling as a trainer. She founded Bridgetown Dog Training in 2012 with the aim of forging happy partnerships between people and dogs who share her impatience with the phrase "because I said so."


Throughout these professional peregrinations, writing has remained her deepest calling. Her play The Mark won a 2006 Drammy for Outstanding New Script, and in 2011 she received the William Stafford Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction from Oregon Literary Arts to support the completion of her memoir, Theater of Anatomy.


The last thing you need to now about Gretchen that's salient to this talk and its timing is that she's a breast cancer non-survivor, or anticipates becoming one in the relatively near future. There are some things she'd like to say before she goes, and she feels tremendous gratitude toward all of you willing to listen. If you'd like to follow her through some dark but thrilling days, you can find her at