Thursday, June 14, 2018

An Open Letter to Chris Pratt in His Capacity as Representative of the Jurassic World Creative Team

Dear Mr. Pratt;

I want to thank you for your strong support of clicker training. It's not often that someone in a mainstream movie champions our cause. When Companion Animal Psychology put out a call for posts about training changes we'd love to see I knew immediately that your movie was what I wanted to highlight.

It's especially nice to have you use clickers with big, reactive, dangerous animals like velociraptors. In my work as a pet trainer I often come across people who think their dogs are too big or too aggressive to be taught with science-based methods. In reality, as you may know, clicker training was developed for work with marine animals. As long as your dog isn't bigger than an Orca we can probably make some progress.

I am writing to ask for your help. I understand that you didn't write Jurassic World and you didn't direct it so you may not have been able to make changes or wield influence in some areas. However, since you are the face of the franchise right now, maybe you'd be willing to bend someone's ear on behalf of marker trainers everywhere. We'd be as grateful as a velociraptor being air lifted off an active volcano!

Here's what I'd like the Jurassic World team to know -  a clicker marks a behavior. In fact, back in the early marine animal days it was known as a "bridge."  That sound forms a bridge in the animal's mind between the behavior they perform and the food they receive for performing it. These days I tell my clients that the marker is like taking a picture of the behavior you've asked for.

For instance, if I ask my parasaurolophus to give me a High Five I click the moment I feel her "paw" hit my offered hand. As soon as possible after the click I reward her with food. I reward her every time because that click is a promise. If I don't reward her every time then the clarity of the message - "This sound predicts that food is on the way." - gets weakened and my training will slow down. (Don't worry, there are ways to fade the food rewards over time but I'm not sure we have time for that in this letter. Feel free to contact me for more information!)

In Jurassic World the script seems to have called for your character to use the clicker as an attention getting device. It may even have indicated that the pattern of your clicks was asking the dinosaurs for specific behaviors. I admit that last bit was unclear to me. That's kind of the point, though! Clicking to get attention, or clicking to cue behavior, isn't very clear to someone who is learning to communicate with humans.

You might not have noticed any of this. If you hadn't used a clicker before and the team presented you with this information why wouldn't you believe them?

Could you stop believing now, please? Clicker trainers everywhere would be as excited to hear it as, well, as excited as I am for Jurassic World 3! You could even show them this order of operations:

Cue behavior (ex. say "Sit")
Behavior occurs (animal sits)
CLICK! (only once!)
Reinforce (deliver a reward, usually food)

It works. It really, really works! If you don't believe me, just ask my parasaurolophus.

Best wishes,
A Fan