PacSci Perspectives


Science in the City: Not Your Typical Lecture Series

by Rekha Olsen | August 24, 2018

Seattle Humane Society and Special Guest Host a Science in The City Event

Science in the City is a weekly lecture series put on by Pacific Science Center in our PACCAR IMAX® Theater regularly on Tuesday evenings. The lectures cover a wide variety of topics, from artificial intelligence to cannabis use and everything in between, and are free for PacSci Members or just $5 for the general public.

The Science Center’s Science in the City lecture series featured some unexpected guests recently at Pet College 101: From Stray to Stay. As you can guess, the creatures that accompanied the talk came in the form of adoptable pets – there were three baby kittens in the kitten cuddle booth and a sweet dog named Kaia in the main theater! Pet College 101 featured speaker Disa Emmerson, Behavioral Program Director at the Seattle Humane Society, as well as her canine co-host Kaia. Together, Disa and Kaia put on an informative lecture and demonstration about how to use positive, science-based training on pets.

The basis for this training approach lies in Pavlovian classical conditioning, which is centered on positive reinforcement and association. For example, Disa gave Kaia treats when she turned around in a circle. At the same time that she gave Kaia a treat, she used a clicker to make a distinct clicking sound. Eventually, Kaia began to understand that the clicking sound signified treats and positive reinforcement, and came when she turned in a circle. This method of training is typical of what Seattle Humane uses to train their animals and, according to Disa, is the most effective positive method of training on what she calls the “Humane Hierarchy” of behavior-changing procedures.

As Disa emphasized, this positive reinforcement-based training is dependent on consistency. If you’re hoping to take this knowledge and apply it to your own pets, it’s important to remember that it will only work if you remain consistent with the treat-giving and, in Kaia’s case, the clicking. In addition to this, if you’re hoping to reverse any negative behavior that your pet may exhibit, you can also use a similar technique to counter-condition them. As Disa explained, with counter-conditioning, you are changing the emotional state of the animal to get rid of aggressive behavior. To do this, you will need to bring a treat into the situation when the animal exhibits aggressive behavior and give it to them just before they do the negative action. This will reinforce the idea that they will receive a treat when they don’t do a certain negative action.

Pacific Science Center Members were also given the opportunity to have an intimate Q&A session before the lecture with Disa before she opened it up to general questions afterwards. Guests heard her expert advice on issues they were having with their own pets, which made this Science in the City lecture a helpful and insightful discussion. Plus, getting to pet and play with adorable animals isn’t too bad either!

If you’re interested in learning about a wide variety of topics and having an opportunity to have your questions answered by an expert in the field, look no further than the Science in the City lecture series at Pacific Science Center. Click here for upcoming lectures and start planning your next evening!