Q: Tell us about the first animal you ever trained.
A: I was actually animal-deprived as a child, although I did persuade my parents to let me get a “used” gerbil, Rat. Rat would ride around the house on my shoulder, but I don’t know if I can say that I trained that systematically. The first animal I really had the opportunity to train was my current dog, Pigeon, who is now more than 17 years old.
Q: Was there a particular dog/animal in your life that was your most important teacher?
A: That would be Pigeon. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be a dog trainer. My husband and I adopted her at 7 months. In the early years, we put her in situations she couldn’t handle pretty constantly, and then were surprised when she began to aggress in those situations. While I was trying to learn how to help her, I found myself reading more and more about dogs and behavior. At a certain point, I realized I was interested in training more broadly. That’s a pretty typical origin story, I think.
Q: What is your favorite activity or sport that you do with your own dog(s)?
A: Hiking in woods or meadows. Pigeon tires very quickly these days and is starting to lose a lot of her faculties. But we try to take her to some open or woodsy space every week, even if we spend more time getting there than we do hiking. We will continue to do this as long as she seems to enjoy it. In her younger days, we both enjoyed training new “tricks,” and recreational nose work did wonders for her confidence in novel places.
Q: Outside of training/dog sports, do you have any hobbies?
A: The most longstanding hobby I have is probably playing music, although I’ve not had much time for it in recent years. I taught myself how to play guitar after I finished college and played in two garage/punk bands over 15 years or so. I never quit my day job, but we did get to make records and go on tour. I also like to listen to and see live music and, when I have time, to read fiction.
Q: When did you start training and how has the industry changed since you started?
A: I started training in 2005 and began doing it for a living in 2011. I think the trend I’ve noticed most (which might just speak to my interests) is toward the two-way “dialogue” or “cooperative” style of training, rather than top-down “obedience.” The clicker training community has done a lot to promote this approach. Some of the nuances people are bringing to dialogue-style training these days are really inspiring.
Q: What is your proudest training moment?
A: I can’t think of one particular moment. All of the things I can think of that I’m proud of are more like the cumulation of many training moments where I did a lot of small things right, including teaching Pigeon, a dog that was totally disinterested in toys, to take, hold, and, eventually, play fetch with a toy; teaching a dog that ran away from husbandry procedures to chin target for ear-cleaning and flea meds and volunteer for tooth-brushing; or teaching a dog that fled every time anyone even approached the ice maker to run to the kitchen every time she heard it.
Q: Do you have any student success stories that you can share?
A: My clients have shared a number of them with me directly and with KPA anonymously through the Assurance, Commitment, and Education program. I have collected the highlights here.
Q: Do you have a memorable student/client story that you can share?
A: There are many that I find touching, but I did get some emails that actually made me tear up a bit. The clients have two dogs and had already worked through some major issues with them beautifully, with the help of the veterinary behaviorist who referred them to me. I worked with one dog on barking and lunging at other dogs on walks. He can now (mostly) just watch them go by with a loose leash and check in with his handler when he’s done looking. The other dog had developed a particularly persistent behavior of barking when guests were present—but not barking at the guests. He barked at the owner to get her to train him! I won’t go into all the details here, but we had to do some creative thinking about stimulus control that I felt pretty proud of. The clients recently let me know that, for the first time in these dogs’ lives with them, they were able to relax on their annual beach vacation and have guests over without constantly monitoring the dogs.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: Well, that has changed radically and several times in the past few years. One of the things I like about my work is that my days can look pretty different from each other. Generally, I like to do administrative work like answering emails and writing follow-ups in the mornings, with coffee. I see clients starting mid-morning and then it’s often back to computer work, like evaluating KPA students’ assignments or reviewing homework for Susan Friedman’s Living and Learning With Animals course or functional-assessment and intervention-design worksheets for IAABC’s behavior consulting course. I am currently working on my master’s thesis and editing a book for a fellow dog trainer. Recently, I’ve been asked to develop some presentations, so that gets worked in as well.
Q: How has completing the DTP and becoming a KPA CTP changed your life and career?
A: It was my introduction to the science behind what I was learning to do as a trainer, which I’ve now gone on to study at a graduate level. It changed how I look not only at dog behavior but human behavior as well. I think it’s possible I became a more compassionate person as a result of what I learned. On a practical level, I get many more referrals as a result of being KPA-certified than I do for being certified by or belonging to any other organization. KPA also introduced me to the social community I value most within the larger dog training community.
Q: What do you like most about the DTP program?
A: Three things: A curriculum that’s based in and strives to keep current with behavior science. The opportunity to choose from a range of experienced, kind faculty members whose interests or strengths may bring something extra to the table. The long-term support of a thoughtful, civil community should you choose to take advantage of it.
Q: What excites you most about leading the DTP?
A: I really look forward to seeing those same light bulbs go off for other people and to increasing the ranks of smart, humane, effective trainers out there in the world.
Q: What advice would you give to a new student?
A: Confidence isn’t a prerequisite for skills; skills are a prerequisite for confidence.