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.