February 2016 KPA CTP of the Month
The animal training history of Michelle Mullins, KPA CTP, dates from childhood, when she would work on behaviors with family pets using tidbits from the dinner table. After 15 years as a gymnastics coach, Michelle switched careers to work professionally with animals, joining Premier Pet Products. She was led to the business by the success she experienced with one of their products, the Gentle Leader headcollar.
Enjoying Premier Pet Products’ “Bring Your Dog to Work” policy, Michelle soon realized that she wanted to be part of the organization’s Training and Behavior Education team. With considerable help and support from a trainer already on staff at Premier Pet Products, Michelle worked to become that trainer’s assistant within just a few months. “I can never thank her enough for hiring the new kid. During my interview, I thought mentioning that I watched a certain not-so-positive TV trainer would be a good thing. Thankfully, she knew how to shape a young trainer!” Michelle says.
Michelle heard about Karen Pryor Academy’s (KPA) Dog Trainer Professional program from another KPA Certified Training Partner (CTP), Janet Velenovsky. Janet recommended the quality of the KPA program material as well as the instructors. Michelle says, “The KPA program was clearly the program of choice for trainers looking for scientifically supported education. The program has it all, from the most effective training skills to business knowledge to instructor skills.”
It took Michelle a full year to complete the Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program through KPA, a program that usually requires 6 months. Her program journey was interrupted by both a major personal health crisis and the loss of her first KPA dog.
Simply put, my instructor and the KPA organization showed me unparalleled kindness and respect. I’ve come to find this a hallmark of the KPA family.
Since graduating from the KPA DTP program, Michelle has found the impact of that program to be profound. “While I embraced reward-based training before Karen Pryor Academy, I now have the knowledge, skills, and resources to train more effectively and with the best results.” Michelle finds that her training experiences with clients now include an emphasis on the dog’s emotional experience, in addition to the behavior learned. “Nowhere is this more apparent to me than when, in one of my roles as a handler on photo and video sets, the animals require training on set for in order for us to capture the shot we want. Clicker training is not only the fastest way to get the behavior, but it allows me to keep the animal relaxed and happy. When the animal models are having fun, it shows in the pictures.”
As an employee of PetSafe (Premier Pet Products was acquired by PetSafe), a company known as more traditional, Michelle has faced every imaginable reaction—from a funny look to outright disdain—from trainers when they learn of her decision to continue working at PetSafe. She reports that her decision to stay and her continuing choice to work for PetSafe was never as hard a choice as one might think. Relationships with her colleagues and advice from mentors, including Dr. R.K. Anderson, helped Michelle work through her doubts. As the manager of the Training and Behavior Education Department at PetSafe, Michelle works primarily with the Toys and Behavior category, but she and another colleague who completed the KPA DTP program are utilized by many other departments. “I have a voice in product development and I bring training and behavior expertise to the table. I have the opportunity and resources to share positive loose-leash walking solutions, enrichment toys, and clicker training products and principles with colleagues and pet professionals all over the world,” explains Michelle.
Michelle believes that education is the best way to promote change, but that respect toward people with different perspectives is required as well. She works to bridge the gap with others with different training backgrounds and philosophies so that together they have a positive impact on animal welfare. Michelle asserts that clicker training and its principles impact all of her interactions now.
I find myself using clicker training to teach everyone and everything. People respond to clear communication and positive reinforcement. Often, without realizing it, they reciprocate.
Feeling fortunate to have many opportunities for continuing education, Michelle attends several seminars and workshops each year. Next up is an Advanced Training Seminar with Ken McCort at Wolf Park in the fall. Michelle says, “I’m always learning from every client I meet and animal I train.” With an immediate goal of training her six-month-old puppy to trade the small, shiny objects she likes for more appropriate toys! “After that, the sky’s the limit!”