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A Short Biography of Bob Bailey
by Bob Bailey

Bob BaileyI describe myself as a behavioral-systems analyst and engineer, small-businessman, field biologist, animal trainer, and teacher, not necessarily in that order. I was born in Ohio and grew up in Los Angeles during WWII before the rest of the world had discovered what was then idyllic Southern California. My early years in the 1940s were spent trekking the desert looking for animals in the San Fernando Valley, and swimming, surfing, and fishing along the California coastline. My father was a precision machinist and worked for MGM Motion Picture Studios, so I am a movie brat, and had my hair tousled by Spencer Tracy. I was educated at UCLA (Biology and Chemistry). I was a Teaching and Research Assistant, and I spent a lot of time in the 1950s studying and photographing animals in the desert and at sea. I was intrigued by what animals did – animal behavior. I began training animals, both in the lab and in the wild. My first captive training subjects were squid, amphibians, fishes, and reptiles. I trained crows, coyotes, and kangaroo rats in the wild. I was largely self-taught, and read the works of B. F. Skinner and Keller and Marian Breland, among others.

My first real job after the military was at the UCLA School of Medicine, researching psychotropic drugs. Leaving UCLA, I worked for a short time for California Fish and Game doing at-sea studies. I then became the US Navy Marine Mammal Program’s first Director of Training (1962), and was formally introduced to the Brelands, their company, Animal Behavior Enterprises (ABE), and scientific animal training. It was at that time that my life became intimately and inextricably connected with Brelands’. The Brelands taught the US Navy trainers, including me, the basics of operant conditioning using chickens as models. I believe it was a combination of the Brelands’ communication skills and my training the chickens that opened my eyes to what real training was all about. My primary claim to fame at this time probably would be the Navy’s first open-ocean release of a dolphin (1964). In 1965 I left the Navy to join the Brelands in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Marian and Keller Breland had studied under Skinner until 1943. They left the University of Minnesota and founded ABE, the first company to use operant conditioning to train animals. The Brelands were routinely using “clickers” (then, called “crickets”) by 1944-1945 for training dogs, cats, parakeets, and other animals. The Brelands conducted their first animal training classes in 1947, using chickens. They taught General Mills feed salesmen how to train animals, and give public stage shows. The Brelands, through ABE, were the first to use operant conditioning for training dolphins (1955), whales (1957), parrots (1957), and many other animals. The Brelands had written two landmark scientific papers, both in the American Psychologist: “A New Field Of Applied Animal Psychology” (1951) and “The Misbehavior of Organisms” (1961). The first paper reported the beginning of scientific animal training, and the second redefined the roles of operant and respondent conditioning in animal training. Keller died in 1965. I married Marian Breland in 1976. We had already formed a close partnership in the study and training of animals.

ABE had more than 43 full-time employees, and our business interests were worldwide. Over the years, ABE behavioral technicians trained over 140 species, and more than 15,000 individual animals, including ravens, vultures, pigeons, dogs, cats, dolphins, sea lions, and many other species to perform in difficult circumstances and in free environments. I trained thousands of animals representing over 120 different species. Over the years Marian and I had taught many trainers using—as our favorite behavioral model—the barnyard chicken. Marian and I closed ABE and retired in 1990 though she continued teaching at Henderson State University, where she had taught psychology classes since 1981.

Marian and I continued our private consulting and teaching activities. In 1994, Karen Pryor and Terry Ryan encouraged us to join Internet discussions and to teach “public” classes. We began a public version of our operant conditioning workshops using chickens in 1995. We began our operant conditioning classes in Hot Springs in 1997. Many nationally and internationally known dog trainers have attended our classes, including Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Terry Ryan, Susan Garrett, Sue Ailsby, Sophia Yin, etc.

Sadly, Marian died in 2001. I continued the classes in Hot Springs until 2004. I continue to teach and lecture from time to time, and to consult with private companies and governmental agencies in the USA and abroad.

Bob Bailey
January 2006

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