He firmly believes that his improvement in data accumulation, writing training reports, and offering positive feedback through notes and words, growth made through the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program, raised his work to a higher level. Now a graduate of the KPA course, Jay continues to receive help from the KPA community—“the huge support team behind me.” Steve Benjamin is quick to reply when Jay contacts him for advice. And Jay says, “If I have a question, I post it on the alumni bulletin board and get many responses.”
Jay’s original interest in grooming came from his deep love for animals and his skill with his hands. He realized that the grooming process is “a long-duration behavior chain that can be very stressful for an animal.” Some animals are so frightened of the grooming process that they require medication and/or work with a veterinary behaviorist. It occurred to Jay by analyzing the behavior chain and breaking it down into steps he could achieve the goal of training the skills needed for a dog to accept the grooming process.
Training a dog to stand in place on a table “is really only a targeting behavior” according to Jay. But that behavior has to be built: shaped and then brought under stimulus control. Distractions include noise, the presence and feel of tools like clippers, scissors, and the powerful blow dryers used, and the different body postures required. “All of these activities have to be individually shaped. What better tool to do this with than a clicker—and some treats!”
Often Jay first works privately with an animal at the animal’s home if the animal is so frightened that even the walk to the grooming shop triggers stress. Jay introduces the tools, clicks and treats at the sound of the tools, clicks and treats the feel of the tools on the animal's body, and clicks and treats manipulating the animal's body. He also teaches owners how to brush their dogs properly so that dogs don’t need to come to the groomer matted. (Jay has found working with owners much easier now that he uses tag points and reinforces owners with praise!) When the training steps are all completed, when the skills are mastered and brought under stimulus control, Jay knows that the grooming process is a much safer, and more positive, experience for everyone.
A New York City native and dog owner his entire life, Jay has both lived and witnessed the many challenges of having pets in an urban area. Exercising, encountering other animals and noises like sirens, encountering other people, including children and their bikes skateboards—the list goes on. As he walked his own dog in the city’s beautiful parks, Jay noticed that many dog owners were just managing their animals. He always thought these owners could benefit from classes, but never had the credentials to offer them.
When Jay became certified through KPA, he wrote a letter to the managing director of the New York City Riverside Parks Conservancy, an organization that sponsors a free Summer on the Hudson program each year. He offered a series of free classes, and Conservancy Director Zhen Heinemann took him up on that offer! Jay partnered with classmate Lauren Wojcik and the two have just completed a six-week program conducted “at the end of a beautiful pier on the Hudson River.”
The diverse students, roughly ages 25-55, were very interested in training their animals and the program received wonderful feedback. Jay and Lauren hope to offer it again next summer. Jay is already thinking about introducing modular classes next time! “People who sign up for the program need foundation skills, but also have specific issues to work on.” Jay would love to see a similar program in every park in New York City—and all over the country.
Jay’s free classes were a wonderful way to introduce people to clicker training. Jay refers to his classes as “a great marketing tool since it draws a crowd.” The Parks Department displayed banners in strategic areas that announced the program with his name and his title of KPA CTP!
There was one particular challenge to the classes—noise on the end of the pier came from wind, boats, airplanes and a vast array of people. But Jay thinks of the noise as just one example of a challenge a clicker trainer can overcome.
Jay’s latest adventure has just started. Having met a number of veterans with PTSD and/or TBI, Jay had thought about becoming involved in a program that helped that population. An e-mail from Pets for Vets about the possibility of training for the organization reached him at an opportune time. Pets for Vets pairs veterans with companion dogs; all of the dogs are adult dogs and come from shelters! Companion dogs are trained in foundation skills, such as sitting politely for petting, coming when called, paying attention to the handler, and responding to cues from the handler.
Instead of the original plan of visiting foster families to help them train companion dogs, Jay will become a foster parent to a companion dog in training. He will also be interviewing veteran applicants and matching appropriate companion dogs with veterans.