Our conference is for people who work with every species of companion animal: we have presenters who will focus on dogs, cats, parrots, and horses, as well as multi-species talks from Professor Susan Friedman. In your professional or volunteer role, you probably focus on just one or two species. To get the most out of your conference experience, however, we encourage you to attend the talks that sound the most interesting to you. You’ll find that there are unique benefits to stepping outside your box.

As any zookeeper will tell you, working with many different species means both understanding what makes them unique, and what they all share. Learning theory, for example, has been shown to work with just about every species you could imagine, from bears to bees. But some elements of learning theory are more important when you’re working with large, predatory animals, whereas others come into the forefront when training tiny social insects.

If you want a really deep understanding of learning theory, you should expose yourself to how it’s applied to as many different species as possible so that you can draw on this knowledge the next time you’re faced with a challenging problem to solve.

When we’re used to hearing information, we unconsciously start to finish people’s thoughts for them. Our brains are really good at learning patterns and predicting what’s going to happen next. In fact, we’re so finely tuned for this that sometimes when we’re listening to someone talk or reading something, our brains fixate on what we already know at the expense of being on the alert for things we haven’t heard before.

Studies have shown that it gets harder to pay attention as we become more familiar with a task, so getting out of our comfort zone by listening to new people talk about a species we’re not familiar with can mean it is easier for us to keep focused and take in the information.

Learning literally changes the brain, forging connections that become stronger the more we practice those habits of thought. Getting out of those channels and beginning to expand our knowledge creates new synaptic connections. We’re not thinking along habitual lines, so we’re better able to make leaps in understanding and see things in a new way.

A really good speaker is informative, inspirational, and a joy to hear. Different experts approach the same concepts in new and exciting ways, and sometimes all it takes is someone to rephrase an idea and you get that long-awaited lightbulb moment. You’ll also be able to meet a different set of people in the audience, with different questions and interpretations of the content.

Broadening your horizons at a conference can lead to all kinds of new doors opening in your professional and personal life. You might end up inspired to diversify your behavior consulting practice and start learning more about working with cats, or, you might start a fulfilling new volunteer job with rabbits in a shelter! Whatever you take away from the conference, it’s always beneficial to take in as many new perspectives as you can. That’s why we believe IAABC 2017 is a unique opportunity for people working with every species to learn from each other and grow together.