august 2020 KPA CTP of the Month
Consuelo López, KPA CTP, halted a study of literature to return to her greatest passion, horse riding. In addition to riding herself, she volunteered as a horse leader for an equine assisted therapy program. However, the atmosphere where the horses lived and trained felt wrong to Consuelo. “Most of the horses were shut down, scared, and avoidant,” she remembers. This exposure prompted her to enroll in a program to earn a postgraduate Diploma in Animal Assisted Therapy.
In Consuelo’s course of study, Karen Pryor’s name was mentioned often. Coincidentally and concurrently, Consuelo began to work for an animal-protection organization that specialized in cases of illegal wildlife trade. “After cooperating with the government to rescue a lion from a circus, I was lucky enough to be part of the delegation that took him to a lion sanctuary in South Africa. I spent a year there working in rescue centers for lions.” Consuelo realized that she wanted to pursue a career in animal behavior and training, but she did not know where to start. Animal behavior and training was just emerging as a subject of study and interest in Consuelo’s home country of Chile. “While I was living in Johannesburg, I attended several workshops about animal training. It was a tremendous surprise when I found out that the Karen Pryor referenced in my diploma program was alive—and that she had founded an academy for professional trainers in the United States.”
Consuelo began the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program’s World course in 2011. In 2012, she traveled to Sequim, Washington, USA, to complete the hands-on part of the program. “I worked with the best coach/mentor that anyone could have: Terry Ryan.” Consuelo’s trip covered several intense and full weeks. She also attended Terry Ryan’s famous Chicken Camp!
The most enriching part of the DTP program for Consuelo was the emphasis placed on training skills for working successfully with human students. “I had always noticed that there are many animal training programs, but very few that focus on applying the concepts of positive reinforcement with clients.” Consuelo found TAGteach to be very powerful. “It gave me an in-depth perspective of how trainers should interact with clients. Just as we would do with an animal of any species, we need to identify what the student is good at, train one criterion at a time, divide the task into small steps, and raise the standard in such a way that the student continues to be successful and can be reinforced.”
Consuelo believes that the KPA style of learning influenced her significantly because of instruction she had experienced in the past. “I had instructors who, despite being excellent animal trainers, were completely oblivious to how aversive their teaching methods were.” Her memories helped Consuelo “understand firsthand how punishment can impact behavior in a devastating manner—and actually stop you from learning.” Recalling her workshop assessment with Terry Ryan, Consuelo says, “When I had to do the five-behavior chain, I was anxious and scared because I was carrying previous experiences on my back. But Terry took me away from the group, identified what I was doing well, however small that was, reinforced me, and helped me regain my confidence. With that confidence came the motivation to finish my exam.” That assessment with Terry was “one of the most significant learning experiences I have had. Every time I have a human student and his or her dog partner in front of me, I remember that moment and try to replicate it.”
Consuelo believes that KPA’s “internationally recognized seal of excellence” has had the biggest impact on her professional work. “I do not know of any other dog training program with such a level of scientific rigor or more qualified and experienced faculty members and highly prepared graduate students,” she says. Consuelo has found that KPA “opens doors wherever you go.” Although she emphasizes that she still has so much to learn, Consuelo says, “I am confident that I have an educational foundation that I could not have earned anywhere else. I am proud to be part of the KPA community and I am fortunate to have had opportunity to study with and learn from the best in the field.”
I do not know of any other dog training program with such a level of scientific rigor or more qualified and experienced faculty members and highly prepared graduate students
In addition to her animal training work, Consuelo translates animal-related publications. She credits another KPA CTP, her friend Scotti Harvey, for this branch of her career path. Scotti connected Consuelo with another friend, Grisha Stewart. When Consuelo and Grisha met for lunch, Grisha mentioned the difficulty she was having finding translators for her work; she needed translators with knowledge of animal training concepts. With Scotti’s encouragement, Consuelo offered her services to Grisha. “I had studied literature, I am obsessed with the correct use of the Spanish language, I speak English fluently, and I am a KPA!” Consuelo has completed translation work for Grisha and for other authors and animal businesses. While she has not done much formal translation recently, she says, “Occasionally I help translate the IAABC material for the Spanish Division, of which I am the Division Chair of the Chile Division.”
Consuelo says that the “principles of positive reinforcement are so ingrained in my daily life and in the way I interact with people and animals that I don’t even realize when I’m applying them anymore.” A few weeks ago, she clicker trained her two-and-a-half-year-old niece in order to trim her hair.
“With the lockdown, there was no way to take her to a hairdresser. My niece is a very active girl and has trouble staying still, which can be dangerous if you are holding a scissor in front of her eyes! I had my sister bring some high-value reinforcers, like my niece’s favorite biscuits or stickers, and I took care of the rest.” Consuelo reports that she used the clicker as a game: “click, then biscuit.” Little by little she raised one criterion at a time: sit in the chair, fold your arms, tilt your head down, close your eyes, sit still, maintain duration, etc. “The haircut was finished in less than ten minutes. No fuss.” While Consuelo admits that the haircut was not the finest, she did trim her niece’s hair without gouging her eyes and her niece “had a blast.”
In addition to Terry Ryan's Chicken Camp, Consuelo has attended seminars led by Ken Ramirez, Grisha Stewart, Kathy Sdao, and Michele Pouliot, among others. She completed the LLA Professional course led by Susan Friedman and earned a Certificate in Applied Animal Behavior from the University of Washington as well. “I try to attend ClickerExpo or the IAABC conference at least once every two years and I’m always doing seminars or webinars that offer CEUs.” Consuelo is planning to complete a master's degree in Animal Behavior or Anthrozoology, disciplines that interest her most these days. “I had registered to attend the Dive Deep course at The Ranch this past May, but, due to the COVID-19 situation, I had to postpone my trip to the United States.” Consuelo ended up transferring her enrollment to other KPA courses: the Dog Trainer Comprehensive course (“to refresh my memory”), Train Your Cat, Puppy Start Right for Instructors, and Better Veterinary Visits. She also aspires to become a certified K9 Nose Work Instructor, a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, a Fear Free Trainer, and a Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor. “One should never stop learning!”
Looking ahead, Consuelo’s goal is to “reach a point in my career where I can fully dedicate myself to horse training.” She completed an introductory course on equine clicker training in Spain. “The equine world is still staggeringly aversive. I would love to help spread the use of positive training to improve the lives of these magnificent, but poorly understood, animals.”