Q: Tell us about the first animal you trained.
A: The first animal that I trained was a Siamese beta fish. It was a beautiful blue and I was twelve. He learned to swim through the loop of my thumb and index finger wherever and whenever this “loop” appeared in the aquarium.
Q: Was there a particular dog/animal in your life that was your most important teacher?
A: The first dog that was 100% trained with a marker and reinforcement was an English cocker spaniel, Penny. She learned new things so quickly and easily, and she understood concepts. I remember telling Penny when she was about six or eight months old how impressed I was that she was so smart, “even smarter than Kate.” Kate was my German shepherd of about six years. Penny learned quickly to open doors and shut doors, but I had not yet put the two behaviours together.
I will always remember the day Penny opened a lower cupboard door that flew wide open. I asked her to shut the door, though it was fully open against the cupboard. She stood still for a moment and then came around the cupboard door, pawed it a little to get some space, then smacked it with her paw, slamming it shut. Penny taught me how much is possible and how smart our animal friends really are.
Q: What is your favorite activity or sport to do with your own dog(s)?
A: Over the years, my three favourite activities have been teaching (imagining what is possible), obedience training, and tracking.
Q: What is your proudest training moment?
A: My proudest training moment was entering the first Obedience Trial with my first dog ever, a toy poodle. We tied for first place with a fellow and his Doberman. My poodle and I had done our own training, independent of a club, until about a month prior to the trials. That competition was a significant start!
Though it was not a training moment, I think one of the proudest moments for me, something very surprising and moving, was receiving a book in the mail that was written by a person who had been a highly reputed traditional trainer in my town. This person came to my puppy class with a new puppy, to see what I was doing. She made a huge turnaround—bless her for having an open mind. After the class, she moved and time passed. Later, I received her book and a lovely letter. There was an amazing acknowledgement in her book!
This woman went on to serve on the APDT board, develop her own school and write more books. She said that said she considered me her competition way back then, but, through my class, she learned to see another way of being. The lesson for me is that you never know where your shadow falls. It has been said that clicker training is not what you do; when you “get” it, it is who you become.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: A typical day starts at 7:00 am. Sometimes I have Rotary meetings, sometimes breakfast with a friend. After that are office hours: answering e-mail, communicating with students, etc. Several days a week I swim around noon. On other days I walk in the nature trails near my place. Evenings, I might have a board meeting for our church, or for the refugee committee, or for the advisory committee at the college.
Q: What advice would you give to a new training student?
A: My first piece of advice is to remember to breathe. Take three deep breaths, think about what you want to do, and make a plan for the training. Always take breaks and play!
Q: Do you have any student success stories you can share?
A: I especially enjoy watching kids develop connections and have success with their pets. I remember sitting with a mom watching her daughter, who was perhaps ten years old, and her little fluffy white dog. The connection between the two was almost tangible. I commented to the mom about how well she was supporting her child, getting her to class a bit early every week and encouraging her. Mom’s eyes filled up and she said to me, “She is going to know so much more about parenting than I ever did.” That was a moving moment for me. Catch learners doing what you like and let them know!
Q: What do you do to continue your training education?
A: I keep myself up to date and informed about training trends through books, e-mail discussions, workshops and conferences, and dialogue with faculty colleagues. I enjoy shaping behaviours in any beings that present themselves—including the chickadees at the feeder (to come to my hand…). I trained my friend’s new dog to sit instead of jumping up, and I have played with my neighbour’s chickens…
Q: Outside of dog training/dog sports, do you have any hobbies?
A: I love grandparenting my four grandkids who are 11, 15, 21, and 23. I like to swim. I like to walk. I enjoy my involvement and participation in service projects locally and internationally with my Rotary Club, my church community, and our Refugee Support committee.
Q: If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
A: If I were a dog? Maybe a poodle…