December 2015 KPA CTP of the Month
Alice Tong once worked with people; now she works with dogs and their people! The Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Certified Training Partner (CTP) transitioned from a career in social work and counseling to her current love, professional dog training. With a background that also includes ethnomusicology, Alice brings creative and global experiences to her clients and their animals at her training business Choose Positive Dog Training.
More than 10 years ago, Alice adopted her first puppy from a local rescue organization and began her work with dogs. Wanting to do her best by her puppy, a 5-pound chihuahua, Alice investigated training through reading, talking, and, yes, watching Cesar Millan’s at-the-time popular Dog Whisperer television show. Alice experimented with a trainer in the Cesar mode, someone who used a choke chain on the small dog. When Alice saw the look of confusion and the questions in her innocent puppy's eyes “What is this thing attached to my neck, and why am I being hurt for every movement I make?” she halted the training and moved away from punishment-based methods and philosophies. Instead, Alice pursued more positive training, reading books by trainers such as Ian Dunbar and Jean Donaldson.
Several years later, Alice decided to break from social work and take on a less mentally stressful job at a doggy daycare. As the daycare employed positive-reinforcement methods, Alice was able to learn from the staff and improve her handling skills with a variety of dogs. “I loved interacting with and being with the dogs there; the experience motivated me to continue exploring working with dogs long-term,” says Alice. In addition to the doggy daycare, Alice worked in other organizations, including shelters, that increased her knowledge and cemented her goal to work with dogs with positive methods. Time, experience, and opportunities to learn from other positive trainers increased Alice’s confidence. “I began to see how being a dog trainer was actually a viable career choice for me.”
While Alice was employed at a shelter, colleagues there told her about the KPA Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program. “I decided to enroll in KPA because I liked the hands-on learning available through monthly in-person workshops,” she says. Alice is full of praise for her DTP program instructor, Nan Arthur. “Nan continues to be a supportive and knowledgeable mentor for me,” reports Alice. As she began the KPA course, Alice was more familiar and experienced with lure-reward training, which sometimes incorporated the clicker, than she was with the specific mechanics and principles of clicker training. “One of the first things I realized was how often my hand was in my treat bag as I cued my dog to present behaviors.” Some of the primary benefits and skills Alice attributes to her education through the DTP include: the benefits of using the clicker to mark and capture behavior to help the animal learn more quickly and clearly, how to split criteria even more finely, how to proof behaviors more effectively, and how to structure training plans more successfully. Alice shares that the toughest aspect of the KPA DTP program was preparing for the final assessment.
I put pressure on myself and my dog to learn all the behaviors in our behavior chain for our final exam.
Joining a community that prioritizes treating humans with compassion and positive reinforcement has had the most significance to Alice professionally since her completion of the DTP course. “Both Karen Pryor and Ken Ramirez lead by example in the way they interact not only with animals, but with colleagues and clients using positive reinforcement. They inspire me to do the same.” Alice says that her KPA experience has also influenced her training protocols for working with reactive and/or aggressive dogs. She is successful using the clicker to mark moments of calm engagement and disengagement from triggers (Read Reducing Leash Reactivity: The Engage-Disengage Game to learn more about Alice’s protocols.)
Another gain from her KPA course has been increased confidence interacting with clients and their animals. Alice explains, “As a clinical social worker, I was trained to be an active listener who guided a client through his/her own journey of healing, rather than act as a directive teacher. KPA has helped me feel more comfortable as a teacher for both humans and dogs.” Alice reports that she is more proactive in how she sets up clients for success. “Just as dogs need clear instructions to realize what we want from them, so do people. I actively point out behaviors that my clients do that I want them to repeat.”
One specialty of Alice’s training business that requires careful interaction is helping clients with dogs that suffer from separation anxiety. To support her skills in this area, Alice has earned her CSAT - Certification in Separation Anxiety. While her clients are sometimes local, she often works with a dog and family “virtually,” using all of the technology available today. Alice’s global clients are from all over; it seems that dogs with separation anxiety are a world-wide worry! As an offshoot of her training work, Alice builds websites for dog trainers! She has designed sites for many KPA CTP colleagues, including Terry Ryan and her Legacy Canine Behavior & Training business.
Alice is a ClickerExpo veteran, attending her first conference in 2011 in Newport Beach, California. She has been both an attendee and a volunteer, making it to four conferences in all. At ClickerExpo, Alice finds that community of “passionately positive” trainers and people she joined through KPA. Sharing time and experiences with them in person is especially valuable to her. “With everything and everyone online, it is rare to be physically in the same room with trainers I know. It is also nice to meet trainers I know only through online classes and communities.” These meetings remind and reassure Alice that there are many like herself out there trying to help dogs and owners using positive methods.
Her favorite Sessions and Labs at ClickerExpo? Alice says that she is always excited to see Ken Ramirez present.
He speaks so clearly, and with a friendly and spirited energy. Ken also has an impressively long history of using clicker training with a huge variety of animals!
Kay Laurence’s quick wit and extensive dog-specific experience always draw in Alice as well. As a volunteer at ClickerExpo, Alice takes advantage of her behind-the scenes access. “I also really enjoy interacting with trainers from all over the world as I ring up their orders at the ClickerExpo Store.”
Since completing the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program and becoming a KPA Certified Training Partner, Alice has also enrolled in and completed the KPA Puppy Start Right for Instructors course. Other courses that Alice has pursued to keep current in positive methods and offer the most to her clients and dogs include: Susan Friedman's LLA course, Malena DeMartini-Price's Separation Anxiety Certification Program, multiple courses through the Fenzi Academy, and Barking Mad: BAT and other Techniques for Frustration with Grisha Stewart. She attends local dog seminars frequently, and is currently enrolled in Ken Ramirez’ Smart Reinforcement program to learn more about non-food reinforcements. There is no doubt that Alice will continue to add to and hone her positive skills, always searching for ways to help animals and their people succeed.