Biography

Karen Pryor’s life work defies labels. As a marine mammal trainer in the 1960s, she was a pioneer in the use of behavioral science to develop the dolphin shows at Sea Life Park. While there, she was the curator and head trainer, and did ground-breaking work on animal behavior and cognition. Her work at Sea Life Park led to the first scientific paper on training creativity in animals. Karen Pryor saw the big picture, and understood how these training techniques could create empathetic and effective communication not just with marine mammals, but with all other animals, and amongst humans. She put those ideas into her book Don’t Shoot the Dog! (published 1984). This became an international bestseller (and continues to be to this day). What was outlined in the book became embraced by animal trainers, and eventually turned into what is now called “clicker training,” which is a positive and humane way to work with animals.

Throughout her life, Karen Pryor has seen problems and looked for doable solutions. As a young mother, she wasn’t satisfied with the advice that she was given about breastfeeding. So she did research, and went on to write Nursing Your Baby, which since 1963 has been continually in print (and revised) and has helped millions of mothers. Her work in the early 1960s as a marine mammal trainer at Sea Life Park was at the beginning of the era of such places. Handed an obtuse scientific manual for how to train, she delved into the science. Unlike many in the behavior sciences world, Karen Pryor looked to other fields, including ethology and neurobiology. She learned directly from such luminaries as B. F. Skinner and Konrad Lorenz, and in doing so revolutionized how animals are trained.

Karen’s skill and creativity as a writer and lecturer has helped to spread her message throughout the world. Her company, Karen Pryor Clicker Training, is a leader in the education of animal trainers, and runs ClickerExpo which has taught thousands how to use positive reinforcement. Animals in captivity are now handled more humanely and dogs are trained without force and pain. Her ground-breaking and insightful work has improved the lives of humans, too. Autistic children are taught without punishment, athletes improve without being yelled at, crews on fishing boats learn tasks quickly and safely, orthopedic surgeons gain skills under calm tutelage, and mothers can feel good about nursing their babies. The list of those affected by Karen Pryor’s work is too numerous to fully include here, and the roster continues to grow. Her influence is seen in the many scientific papers that cite her articles, how far-flung and fully embraced her training methods have become, and how others are carrying out her work and bringing her perspective to diverse communities.

Karen Pryor continues to look at the big picture. She is currently at work on another book.

Education
InstitutionDates 
Cornell University1950–1954B.A.
University of Hawaii1959–1962Graduate study
New York University1977–1979Graduate study
Rutgers University1979-1982Graduate study
Teaching
OrganizationDatesPosition
Hunter College, Department of Psychology2012–2018Associate Faculty
TAGteach International, LLC2002–presentCo-founder, CEO and lecturer
Karen Pryor Clicker Training
Karen Pryor Academy
ClickerExpo
1998–2014CEO and Director for educational programs, course design, instruction, faculty hiring, training and supervision
Sunshine Books, Inc.1992–1998Founder, CEO, editor
Sea Life Park and Oceanic Institute
Waimanalo, Hawaii
1963–1972Co-founder, developer, curator, head trainer
Research
InstitutionDatesTitle
Hunter College, Master’s program in Animal Behavior and Conservation2012–2018Co-Director of research in canine behavior (unofficial)
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Montefiore Medical Center
Bronx, NY
2014–2018Co-Principal Investigator
Karen Pryor Clicker Training
Waltham, Mass.
2014–2017Director of Research
National Marine Fisheries Service
Washington, DC
1979–1980Principal Investigator
U.S. Tuna Foundation
San Diego, California
1974–1982Scientific Advisor
Oceanic Institute
Waimanalo, Hawaii
1964–2002Researcher
U.S. Office of Naval Research
San Diego, California
1964–1967Principal Investigator
Other professional activities

2007–2010 : Board Member, B. F. Skinner Foundation

1999–present : Board Member, The Pryor Foundation

1998–1999 : Consultant on operant training for children on the autism spectrum, New England Center for Autism

1992–1999 : Founder and chair, Animal Behavior Special Interest Group, Association for Behavior Analysis International

1985–1992 : Expert witness on marine mammal behavior, U.S. Federal Courts (San Diego, Florida and Washington DC), U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives

1965–2017 : Worldwide consultant and lecturer on animal training and behavior science

Invited graduate seminars

2015 : Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

2015 : University of Wisconsin Veterinary School

2012 : Harvard University Brain Science Center

2012–2017 : Hunter College, CUNY, NY

1974–2017 : Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Rutgers University, Rockefeller University, Adelphi University, University of California at Los Angeles, Washington State University, University of Florida, University of Kansas, University of North Texas, University of Trondheim (Norway), Tromso University Medical School (Norway), University of Washington, Washington State University

Keynote addresses

2015 : TAGteach International Summit, Verona, Italy

2014 : Precision Teaching, Chicago

2004, 2010 : Southwestern Psychological Association

1995 : California Association for Behavior Analysis

1994, 1999 : International Marine Animal Trainers Association

1993 : Northwest Association for Behavior Analysis

1992 : President’s Invited Scholar’s address, International Association for Behavior Analysis

1987, 2013 : Florida Association for Behavior Analysis

1985, 1989, 1998 : National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors

1994 : Delta Society

Outside Recognition

1998–2001 : Member, Board of Trustees, Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies

1984–1987 : U.S. Marine Mammal Commission: Appointed Federal Commissioner by President Ronald Reagan

National television appearances: Good Morning America (2009), NBC Monitor, ABC News, National Geographic Explorer, Wild Kingdom, What’s My Line, and others

Academic and Professional Honors

2017 : Edward L. Anderson Jr. Award, The Art and Science of Animal Training

2014 : Trainer of the Year, Purina ProPlan 60th Annual Show Dogs of the Year Awards

2014 : Lifetime Achievement Award, Association of Professional Dog Trainers

2010 : Certificate of Excellence Award, Magazine Article–Behavior and Training, Cat Writers’ Association

2009 : Maxwell Award for Best Training and Behavior Book, Dog Writers Association of America, for Reaching the Animal Mind: What Clicker Training Teaches Us about All Animals

2001 : Tidy Cats Feline Behavior Award, Cat Writers’ Association

2001 : Certificate of Excellence Award, Books: Behavior & Training, Cat Writers’ Association, for Getting Started: Clicker Training for Cats

1997 : Annual Award, Effective Presentation of Behavior Analysis in the Mass Media, Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis

1985 : La Leche League International Founders’ Award

1984 : Maxwell Award for Best Training and Behavior Book, Dog Writers Association of America, for Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training

1984 : National Award for Excellence in the Media, American Psychological Association, for Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training

Membership in Professional Societies

2014 : Honorary Life Member, Association of Professional Dog Trainers

Animal Behavior Society

Association for Behavior Analysis, International

The Authors Guild

Society of Woman Geographers

Personal

Karen Pryor was born on May 14, 1932. Her father was the noted author Philip Gordon Wylie. Her mother Sally Ondeck Wylie was an antiques dealer. Married Taylor A. “Tap” Pryor in 1954 (divorced 1975). Three children: Ted, Michael and Gale. Married Jon Morrow Lindbergh in 1983 (divorced 1997).