Ken Ramirez, Marine Animal Trainer

The Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals

In the Department of Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas

Announces ORCA’s Annual Lecture Series

(Open to the public!)

Professional Animal Trainer

 Ken Ramirez

“The Practical Side of Science”

For Animal Trainers, Handlers, Pet Owners & Professionals

October 20, 20073:00-6:00pm

UNT Campus ENV Bldg., Room 130

Public Admission:  $45

UNT Employees and Students:  Free 

3 CEUs Approved by CCPDT 

Profits after expenses will benefit ORCA.

·         Ken Ramirez has been a professional trainer for more than 30 years.

·  He is currently the VP of Animal Collections and Animal Training at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.

·         Ken is a regular speaker at Karen Pryor’s ClickerExpos. 

·         Ken’s experience includes work with guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, standard pet training and many exotic animals.

·         He is also the author of the book Animal Training: Successful Animal Management through Positive Reinforcement

Pay at the door or….

Mail payment to: 

ORCA Department of Behavior Analysis
410 Ave. C, Suite 360
P.O. Box 310919
University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203-0919


pan2a.gifHere’s a fictionalized compilation of stories I’ve heard from people about their aggressive dogs.  Most people who work with aggressive dogs will recognize this story from their work.

Josie Q. Owner will say, “We adopted our dog from the shelter.  He was fine for a few weeks but after he’d been here a while he started barking and growling at any man that came over to visit.  When our friend lifted his hand one day our dog lunged at him then hid behind me.  We are sure he was abused by a man before we got him.”

People commonly assume that if their dog behaves either fearfully or aggressively that he or she was the victim of abuse.   To my surprise, while surfing the web about this subject,  I noticed that even some experts have presented the “he was abused” assessment as part of their response to owners asking about aggression in their dogs.  While certainly being abused may be the start down the slippery slope toward aggressive behavior, assuming that abuse actually occured is often stretching it.  If we didn’t see the abuse happening, it’s best not to assume it occured.  That assumption may lead us off on a path that doesn’t help us make progress in dealing with the aggression.  The good news is that we don’t need to know how behavior got started to change behavior. 

Aggression is situation-specific, and aggression toward a specific kind of person or in a specific situation does not necessarily mean that the dog was abused at any point in his life.  I’ve worked with quite a few dogs that were adopted into good homes as puppies, who were never hit or mistreated, and who still show up with aggressive behaviors at some point down the road.  Dogs, like all animals and humans, behave in ways that pay off for them.  Unfortunately, aggression sometimes pays off quite neatly for them. 

The 2 imporant questions to ask when trying to understand a given dog’s aggression is, “In what situations does this behavior happen?” and “What happens after the dog behaves aggressively?”  It is also helpful to understand situations in which the dog is not aggressive so that you can appreciate that your dog can behave in desirable ways. 

In most cases of problem aggression the dog has learned that his aggressive behavior makes people or animals go away.  The most common answer to, “What happens after he behaves aggressively?” is, “People or animals back off.”  The behavior puts distance between him and something or someone else.  The more experience the dog has in getting people or animals he doesn’t want around to back off by being aggressive, the more aggressively he will behave.

What if his aggression involves chasing prey (which may include small dogs or cats, squirrels, even children)?  It depends.  I once had a dog who eagerly chased squirrels throughout her life, and never once caught one. It appears that she was just as happy getting them to go away as she might have been catching one. Since she never caught one we might be right to assume that her behavior was reinforced by getting the squirrel to run away. For other dogs who actually catch some of the prey they chase, we might be looking at something a little different.  These dogs don’t get rid of the thing they behave aggresively toward- they kill and possibly eat it.  

From time to time we come across a dog that has been taught to play roughly and in order to initiate play they begin to act roughly.  This can accelerate to the point that they begin to growl, bark, and even bite at people they want to play with. 

The other question, “In what situations does this behavior happen?” includes all the stuff in the environment at the time the aggression occurs.  Often it will be something like, “A stranger approached him” or “another dog came into view.”  Sometimes it will be quite specific, like, “She’s only aggressive toward my sister, and only when my husband is gone.”  (Seriously!) Other times the dog may be aggressive only in one place, but not in others (e.g. He’s aggressive toward dogs in the park, but fine with dogs in our back yard), or only toward a type of person (men or children, for example).  There can even be very subtle situations like the time of day or how cold it is. 

The aggressive behaviors described here indicate that the dog has been successful in chasing men away by behaving aggressively.  We may not know why the dog wants to chase the guy away, but we can change the behavior by teaching the man to go away only when the dog is behaving nicely and stay put when he is behaving aggressively.  Clearly this may involve some training.  (The procedure is described in detail in the DVD mentioned at the end of this blog. 

The outcome of the procedure described in the DVD is that the dog will learn that his aggression doesn’t pay off, but being nice does.  Over time he will most likely stop wanting the guy to go away because he’ll learn that he is not a threat. 

The good news is that we don’t have to know why a behavior got started in order to treat it. This is especially good news because with dogs adopted in adulthood from shelters we rarely know anything about his life before the shelter.

Constructional Aggression Treatment:Shaping Away Canine Aggression                         Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, PhD & Kellie Snider                                                                                      A 10.5 hour seminar on videotape                                                                                      Produced by Tawzer Dog Videos Copyright, 2007


Constructional Aggression Treatment:Shaping Away Canine Aggression 

Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, PhD & Kellie Snider 

A 10.5 hour seminar on videotape withProduced by Tawzer Dog Videos 

Copyright, 2007 

Is available now! 

Current consensus in behavioral science labels aggression as a classical conditioning problem, and the treatment, accordingly, is desensitization and counter conditioning. But that might all change in the future. Research done at the University of North Texas suggests that classical treatments for aggression may have us all barking up the wrong tree. Kellie and Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz have devised a shaping-based, operant approach to treating aggression in clients’ homes that is producing stronger and much faster results than classical treatments.This seminar introduces the UNT research and Kellie and Jesus’ training procedure. Demo video and live demonstration is used to see their training in action. Other topics covered include cue poisoning, functional analyses of aggressive behaviors, and stimulus control.

Contains videos, demonstrations, powerpoint animations, lecture and Q&A.  


What’s in it for me?  

If you are interested in the emotional lives of animals, this DVD will be of interest to you.  This DVD is the culmination of several years of research by Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and his students on emotions in animals.  If you work with aggressive dogs this work may, as one DVD participant put it, “rock your world”. We will be talking about canine aggression in a completely different way from what you’ve learned at all the other aggression DVDs you have attended.  We explore the genetic, dominance and instinct-based theories of the nature of aggression and replace them with our research which reveals aggression as an operant… in other words we explain that aggression is learned behavior, and that by changing the consequences for the behavior using the Constructional Approach we can change the aggressive dog into a friendly dog.  We will present a training procedure that will provide trainers and pet owners to make significant differences in dogs’ behavior.


What will I take away from this DVD?  What will I be able to use? 

This DVD will provide you with the tools to replace the aggressive behaviors in dogs with peaceful, friendly behaviors.  Many people who have attended a weekend seminar have written to us that they have successfully used the procedure on their own and are now changing how they approach aggression issues.  Some are working with aggressive dogs for the first time because finally they have a tool they can use to make a significant change. In addition this work can be used with fearful animals, including feral cats and fearful hoofstock such as llamas and cattle.  Feral cats slated for euthanasia are being not only tamed but made into loving pets through the use of a version of this procedure. 


In addition, we have a Yahoo Group that is exclusively for the support of those who have attended a seminar or viewed the DVD and who are interested in actively using the procedure.  These people help us develop the procedure and provide us with data, and we, in return support them by providing additional information and helping them brainstorm their ideas.  We have learned much from these field testers and would love to have you join this body of trainers.  We are currently working on additional materials to answer frequently asked questions and to expand on points made in the DVD and seminars.  These will be made available to those who attend a weekend seminar or purchase a video to answer your questions.  We will do as much as we can to support you in your progress.  Beyond that, we will listen to your ideas and experiences and use them to develop the procedure.  We are delighted to credit all of the people working with us in the development of the procedure.


Why should I buy this DVD?

In addition to the points made above, if you have been to seminar after seminar hearing the same old things, this is a DVD you won’t want to miss. This is a completely new and proven effective approach to the treatment and understanding of aggression. Rather than relying exclusively upon generalized information from old published research or the work of other trainers we have examined the specifics of the lives of aggressive dogs and addressed them as the subject matter for our research.  The research was conducted in the dogs’ real lives, not in a laboratory.  Pet owners and dog trainers are now taking it and using it with their real dogs in their real worlds with real success