Featured Dog Trainer Professional Graduate: Dawn Gilkison
Dawn Gilkison, KPA CTP, has combined her lifelong “fancy” for dogs with her considerable experience in both animal behavior and education. The result is her business, Positive Solutions Dog Training in the Portland, Oregon area. Through Positive Solutions Dog Training, Dawn supplies personalized in-home training and consultations around many issues—from basic life skills for puppies to performance coaching with dogs in competition. All of her training is positive and fun!
When Dawn enrolled in a reactive-dog class with Helix Fairweather, she heard for the first time about Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) and the KPA Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program. At the time, she was working as a high school science teacher, but when budgetary and teaching environments changed, Dawn reconsidered her field. She left teaching after 15 years, not knowing what she would do next. Dawn had studied canine behavior while earning her master’s degree in biology, but, up until the point she left her high school classroom, she considered dog training to be her “hobby.” Her next-step explorations redirected her to Karen Pryor Academy. Dawn enrolled in the KPA DTP program in the spring of 2010, completing the course with Helix Fairweather in Salem, Oregon! “I knew that I enjoyed teaching dogs and people,” says Dawn, “but I also knew that I needed a stronger foundation in the science of learning.” Dawn also looked to the KPA course and its surrounding positive environment for support as she launched her own business. Two strengths of the Dog Trainer Professional program, according to Dawn, were its organization and presentation. “I really appreciated the way that the online course was structured. That organization has influenced how I present information to my students.” Dawn’s challenge in the program was working with another species. “I found that training a species other than canine was a very challenging, but it was also a valuable experience.” Dawn actually trained a goat! “The goat presented entirely novel challenges for me, compared to my experience training my dog,” recalls Dawn. Since graduation from KPA, Dawn has used the curriculum provided in her DTP program as a foundation for her dog training classes and students. “All of my students use a marker in training their dogs. Almost all of the students use a clicker, and a few have used a verbal marker.” Dawn also commends the “ABC” approach to problem-solving she learned through KPA. “I emphasize the importance of breaking down new skills into smaller steps when I work with clients.”
I look for positive reinforcement training in many other areas, especially in sports, and find that the lessons always have applications to my work in dog training.
Asked about special requirements and training for canine-performance training, Dawn says, “The same foundation skills that any dog and handler team needs are also needed for performance training.” These skills include giving attention to the handler, offering behavior, understanding how to respond to cues, and learning how to settle. “These are essential skills for any higher-level training.” Dawn discovered platform training through Michele Pouliot at ClickerExpo, finding it a source of useful applications for gundog training—as well as for other areas of performance training. “The platform is very helpful when I am training dogs to remain in place when other stuff is going on around them – flushing and flying birds, shooting and movement of hunters, and more.” When Dawn once presented a weekend seminar to a dog-training club, she demonstrated shaping a dog to get on to a platform. “I used one of the attendees’ dogs (an adult male Vizsla), and was able to shape going to and standing on the platform after a few minutes work with clicker and treats.” Later, Dawn found out that previously the dog had developed an aversion to platforms after training with a shock collar! Keeping her hand in science education, Dawn teaches biology part-time at a local community college. “I use R+ in my classes and labs. I also use R+ for myself to reinforce doing tasks I might otherwise avoid, like housecleaning,” admits Dawn. Since completing the DTP program, Dawn has also completed the KPA Puppy Start Right for Instructors course. “I plan to take the Shelter Training and Enrichment and the Better Veterinary Visits courses in the future.” Of course, Dawn looks forward to ClickerExpo each year! Dawn now takes a positive approach to all aspects of her learning and her life. “For any new skill that I want to learn, I try a ‘clickery’ (or is it ‘clickerly?’) approach.” Recently, Dawn has taken up target archery. She uses an instruction book that employs clicker training principles without saying so explicitly (Beginner’s Guide to Traditional Archery by Brian J. Sorrells). “I look for positive reinforcement training in many other areas, especially in sports, and find that the lessons always have applications to my work in dog training.”