August 2016 KPA CTP of the Month
Anja Ballwieser, Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Certified Training Partner (CTP), is one of the first graduates of the KPA Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program to live and do business in Germany. From the bottom of the Alps and close to Munich, Anja operates Ballwieser Animal Training and spreads the success of clicker training.
As a trainer of multiple species, preparing animals for husbandry/medical procedures, for the arrival of a child in a family, and for film performances (!), Anja has always considered “all things Karen Pryor” excellent resources.
“Karen Pryor’s books and the associated websites (clickertraining.com, KPA.com) provide a wealth of training knowledge,” says Anja. When she chose the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program, Anja says it was because “KPA doesn’t sell a method, but teaches the application of behavior science.” As soon as she had the chance to enroll in the course, she jumped!
Lucky Anja completed the DTP World program in beautiful Hawaii. “I was very fortunate to learn from the amazing Terry Ryan. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!” Anja refers to her DTP time as “one of the best learning experiences of my training career.” She loved every part of the course. “The symbiosis of learning, in depth, about science and experiencing extensive hands-on training exercises I found especially valuable.”
Anja refers to her DTP time as "one of the best learning experiences of my training career.
The community experience was also important to Anja. “What was most illuminating for me was to meet so many fellow trainers, all eager to connect and network! When I was in the States, almost everywhere I went I met a KPA graduate. Each and every one of them happily shared knowledge and stories!” Anja strives to bring that spirit, and the positive reinforcement philosophy, to her German training community as well. One way in which training based on behavior science is being spread is through an upcoming DTP program beginning in December, 2016. “The first Dog Trainer Professional program to be held in Germany will be hosted right here at Ballwieser Animal Training,” declares Anja.
Anja is enthusiastic about how clicker training has impacted her work. “Clicker training is always mind-blowing to me. Working with families and their pets to prepare for the arrival of a baby or training an animal to perform a new task for a movie… the beauty of getting the message across to another species with just a click gets me every single time. After planning a training session and preparing the environment, I truly enjoy the silence letting the click do its work.”
When it comes to training animals for movie roles, Anja says, “Clicker training creates active, engaged, and thinking training partners; I need that for film.” Anja describes a movie set as “a special cosmos of its own, with unique challenges for people as well as for animals.” In the movie business, it’s important to have healthy, happy animals on camera, but skilled animals that can think on their feet are also required. According to Anja, training a movie animal necessitates all of the following: a lot of preparation and planning, experience in setting up great training plans, insight into the work being done on set, timing, intuition, patience, and knowledge of the needs and moods of the animal.
Clicker training creates active, engaged, and thinking training partners; I need that for film.
To make animals comfortable on a movie set, the first step is to imagine as much as possible what the new environment will be like. However, each day on each set is different. Anja reports that the environments her animal partners have and will encounter include a studio, the busy city, the woods at night, a mountain-gondola, [always] a large number of strangers, glaring light, loud noise, strange smells, crazy costumes, hectic set changes, and so much more! Anja’s goals for her movie animals are “a bomb-proof temperament and a strong positive reinforcement history in multiple environments.”
Offering more peeks behind the scenes of movies “starring” trained animals, Anja emphasizes that the animals always work with strangers. “A movie animal not only works with me, the trainer, but needs to be able to work happily and reliably with others. Some takes require work with two or more trainers. And then there are the actors (singly or in large groups)—tall, small, young, old, plump, nimble, kids, men, women, with beards, with helmets, with hats, etc.” With each and every one of them, the animal must work readily and without hesitation. Anja relies on clicker training to build a powerful reinforcement history with ever-changing human actors.
Anja relies on clicker training to build a powerful reinforcement history with ever-changing human actors.
A movie animal masters a lot of tricks, but that is not all! “The challenge is to have great stimulus control in huge distraction, over long distance and duration.” For example, Anja may need to stand far away, or remain positioned somewhere the animal cannot see her. In other takes, the sound of the scene is recorded, so she cannot talk to the animal. “Each behavior must have a verbal cue and a visual cue, and both need to be trained to great stimulus control. Plus, the animal needs to be able to respond to cues even without eye contact,” according to Anja.
Anja asserts that clicker training is fabulous for training behaviors to great fluency. “Working and training on set is full of surprises. Requirements, as well as the director’s wishes, can change instantly!” Often, Anja uses the clicker to train a new behavior on set. "Lucky for us, our clicker trained animals are up for the challenge!"
Another bonus of Anja’s movie animal work is the opportunity to train many species. “I love working and, let’s be honest, playing with all kinds of animals. Dogs, cats, chicken, doves, goats, sheep, pigs, mice, rats, a tortoise—and that’s just last week’s roll call!” As part of her successful training plans, Anja always learns about the animal’s lifestyle, language, and preferences. “I especially love working with birds—chickens or birds of prey. When your training partner flies off, that is a fascinating and humbling training experience,” laughs Anja. At that point Anja rearranges the training set up, re-evaluates the reinforcers, and starts keeping track of the rate of reinforcement.
Anja employs positive reinforcement philosophy outside of training classes and movie studios, too.
Once you start analyzing and thinking about positive reinforcement, it finds its way into every aspect of life.
She does admit though that “I might be further along on my journey toward a positive-only training with my animals, than with my husband.”
“There is always something new to learn and a skill to hone,” says Anja. She believes that ongoing learning and growth are crucial for successful animal trainers. Anja connects with fellow trainers at international workshops and conferences, including Terry Ryan’s Chicken Camps, the Professional Training Workshop at Natural Encounters Inc., Dr. Susan Friedman’s Living and Learning with Animals, TAGteach Level 1, and KPA’s Puppy Start Right for Instructors course. “And, I love ClickerExpo! It is such an inspirational place to be.”
Asked about future goals involving clicker training, Anja points out that as a recent first-time mom she has entered “a whole new world of learning and teaching in our family, and with other one-year-olds and their caregivers.” As an aspiring positive reinforcement trainer, Anja sees that there is a lot of room for improvement in child-raising and childcare. “I expect to learn so much more about living and learning with children in the years to come.”
Extremely excited about the upcoming Dog Trainer Professional program with Terry Ryan in Germany, Anja hopes that the KPA DTP family will grow even more in Europe. “What wonderful opportunities are still ahead!”