“When are you going to do a kids’ book?” I kept hearing. “About clicker training, but written for kids?”
In my day job in animal behavior, I’d written two training books which have done very well, but nothing for kids, and there is not a lot of material out there for young trainers.
I thought a clicker training book for kids was a great idea. Clicker training is not only good training, it’s available to people who are not big, strong, or dexterous enough to use traditional coercive techniques, and I am in full support of teaching young minds to use positive reinforcement and thoughtful planning instead of force or punishment to get what they want. However, I couldn’t figure out how I should do it.
I already try to break down clicker training into its basic components for my “regular” books and presentations, for adults. As Bob Bailey famously says, “Clicker training is simple, but not easy.” How would I approach it differently for kids, and without making kids feel I was talking down to them, especially as I emphasized safety?
The answer came in a short story. My day job sometimes bleeds over into my fiction career, and when I wrote a short piece about training a dragon to voluntarily cooperate for dental care, I realized it could go the other direction as well, and I had my route.
In accredited zoos and aquariums, the use of positive reinforcement training is the established standard, along with layers of safety measures such as protected contact. This could set a good example for kids (and their adult family and friends) when working with their pets at home, without making it feel like they were being asked to do something weird or babied down—after all, if the cool trainers are doing it with the cool animals, wouldn’t you want to do the same with your pet?
And these are the cool animals. I had a blast working out the residents of my special zoo and their training projects. A few artistic liberties have been taken for the sake of time, space, and simplification, but the training fundamentals are sound.
Dragons, Unicorns, Chimeras, & Clickers is illustrated by the fabulous ZJ Bickel and is available at all your favorite online retailers and any brick-and-mortar bookstore (if they don’t have it in stock, they can order it for you).
Here’s to the next generation of trainers. Happy clicking!