Shaping games, conferences and a new dog

Chicago bean statue

I spent five days over Memorial Day weekend in Chicago for the 40th annual convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). As always, I had a wonderful time at the ABAI convention. I got to see lots of great presentations, catch up with lots of old friends, make some new friends, give a presentation about my thesis research, and help lead a day-long workshop about shaping.

The presentation I gave was part of a symposium (a group of four presentations) about the shaping game PORTL. PORTL stands for the Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab. It’s an interactive game that we’ve been developing at the University of North Texas (with some inspiration and ideas from UK dog trainer Kay Laurence). PORTL can be used to teach people and about basic behavior principles and shaping, to inquire about basic behavior phenomenon, and to conduct behavioral research. In short, it’s pretty awesome and I do promise I’ll write a longer blog post about it later on!

This is the third year that I’ve led a six-hour shaping workshop at ABAI, along with Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz and two graduate students who are part of ORCA (the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals). Shaping is often described as an art and as a difficult skill to learn. The workshop combines lectures, discussion, and shaping games using PORTL. The theory and practical techniques covered in the workshop help participants improve their shaping skills, learn new ways to teach behavior, and discover how shaping is an orderly and predictable process. This year we had both students and behavior analysis professionals in the audience and all left with a newly developed understanding of how to think about shaping. For more info about ORCA’s shaping workshops, check out this article that I wrote a couple of years ago for the ORCA website.

It was lots of fun to be back in Chicago. (For those who don’t know, I actually lived in Chicago for four years while I was completing my undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Chicago). Although most of the time was spent at the conference, we did have a bit of time to explore the city and to eat lots of good food, including delicious Greek food in Greek town, an enormous Chicago style deep dish pizza, and some wonderful Italian food.

A pup named Star


In other news, now that Henry has a new home, I have myself a new foster dog. Her name is Star and she’s a high energy Australian shepherd mix who was dumped by her previous owners because she “had too much energy.” She’s super cute and I think she’ll make someone a great dog. She just needs an owner who will be able to match her level of energy and activity. There will definitely be more on her to come in later posts.

Finally, a fun announcement

I’ll be travelling to St. Louis at the end of this month to help Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz give an awesome two day workshop about animal training, shaping, and behavior analysis.

STL portl items and questions

If you read the stuff above about our shaping workshop at ABAI and thought to yourself – “Man! I wish I could have been there…” Well, here’s your chance.

This is going to be a really neat workshop that will include lectures on training topics in the morning (including lectures about generalization, properties of cues, constructional affection, and resurgence) and then hands on shaping games and activities in the afternoons using PORTL. There will also be plenty of time for discussion and question asking throughout the weekend. Participants are going to learn lots of cool concepts and ideas and come away with a deeper understanding of training and behavior.

Dixie Tenny of HALO will be hosting the workshop and you can find all the details and registration info on her website here. Please consider joining us for the weekend, if you are able!

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