Q: Tell us about the first animal you trained.
A: I have to reach far back into my memory to try to make an accurate recollection! But, two animals pop into my head simultaneously. They would be Kri, a beautiful Pacific white-sided dolphin, and Kenai, the fast-moving Alaskan sea otter at Shedd Aquarium. I’m grateful to have photos of both animals, for they are some of the best teachers I’ve ever had.
Q: Was there a particular dog/animal in your life that was your most important teacher?
A: I look at each species of animal, and each individual animal, as playing an important role as the teacher. I wish I could go back and have a chat with my younger self for so many reasons. One reason would be to tell myself to slow down and listen to what the animal is teaching me via body language and offered behaviors. I would advise myself to savor the dialogue between us during playtime, training sessions, and observing their natural behaviors engaged with the environment. I’ve learned to embrace this advice thanks to time and professional maturity!
When I worked at Brookfield Zoo, I recall learning alongside of a troop of ring-tailed lemurs. During a training session, we observed a female favoring her hand, and not grasping the food in a normal manner. We called the veterinary team with an update, and they scheduled a visit right away to assess the concern. An amazing veterinarian named Dr. Jennifer Langan joined us for the next session, behind-the-scenes. I cued the lemur to come to station on her elevated platform while Dr. Langan stood at my side. The cue for a hand target followed, and the lemur offered her left hand toward the buoy target placed directly in front of us while we stood on the other side of the barrier. I was generous with reinforcement while Dr. Langan conducted the visual exam. What is still vivid in my memory is how relaxed the lemur was, as well as the smile on Dr. Langan’s face as she complimented our training team on a job well done. Teaching moments like that provide reinforcement long after the actual session. This story was a collaboration between the animal and the care team, and an important teaching moment. Dr. Langan may not recall this specific scenario, but she should know the positive impact it had for all involved!
Q: What is your favorite activity or sport to do with your own dog(s)?
A: Long, relaxing walks with my Rhodesian ridgeback, Santino, is my activity of choice. We have a lot to talk about when we engage in the environment. He savors the delicious smells, and I listen to the birds. I talk to him about all sorts of ideas and topics, for he is an excellent listener. It’s a win-win.
Q: What is your proudest training moment?
A: There are so many! But, I would have to say that the proudest with an animal was when Santino offered his chin-rest behavior for suture removal at our veterinary clinic last year. He had a small bump that required removal, and the pathology report, thankfully, came back benign. The veterinarian, Dr. Drew Sullivan, said that Santino was such a good boy. I was so proud!
My proudest personal training moment would be when Karen Pryor came to observe me teach a group class in 2011. It was the final step in being considered to join the KPA faculty. Karen was going to be in Chicago for ClickerExpo, and the head office said that she wanted to observe me teach. Gulp. I was so nervous! But, Karen made me feel extremely comfortable; our client-dog teams were just as starstruck that THE Karen Pryor was part of their class. They could have kept her there until midnight taking photos and asking her questions. Karen is beyond gracious and reinforcing. Thank you, Karen!
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: Drink coffee, drink coffee, and drink coffee. Each day varies based on my projects, work travel for seminars, private and group class clients, and KPA student homework review and support. People who know me well also know that I am a bit old-school about communication. I love to hear a voice and chat via phone or live video. I enjoy hearing the tone in a voice and observing body language. A favorite part of being a KPA faculty member is to meet with my students in person at our workshops, and via live video for training dates. To cheer and support each student in real-time is quite reinforcing for me.
Q: What advice would you give to a new training student?
A: I have a few pieces of advice:
Enjoy the journey, for time flies by! Journal your many experiences in writing, photos, and in video. Always be the learner who is open to new experiences and information.
Be kind and professional. My first training mentor, Ken Ramirez, always coached us to take the high road, to speak kindly of others, and to collaborate with like-minded professionals.
Remember what it felt like when someone took you under his or her wing? How grateful you felt to finally get that chance you’ve been working so hard for? Be that person to someone else who is new to the animal-care and training field. Inspire them the way that someone else inspired you. Be the generous mentor. Pay it forward!
Q: Do you have any student success stories you can share?
A: I have so many! But, the recurring theme that weaves into student success stories is when they support each other during the six-month Dog Trainer Professional program. I always remind each group at the start of the program that their individual experiences balance on numerous variables. One variable is how each student interacts with the others. This isn’t a competition about which student is better. It’s a program that focuses on team camaraderie and learning together.
Q: What do you do to continue your training education?
A: If I am teaching at a conference, I make sure to attend other speakers’ sessions to learn from them. I also travel to attend seminars for my own continuing education; I have a great line-up planned for 2017 and 2018 to soak in others’ knowledge. For the past two years, I have been a Teaching Assistant in Training for Dr. Susan Friedman’s Living & Learning with Animals course. Dr. Friedman and her team are extraordinary teachers. This is an amazing educational experience, and this year I will be a Teaching Assistant for the 2017 series!
Q: Outside of dog training/dog sports, do you have any hobbies?
A: I enjoy water sports like snorkeling and SCUBA diving, baking, gardening, and sightseeing around Chicago. Even though I live in downtown Chicago, I can never get enough of this beautiful city. Sweet Home Chicago!
Q: If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
A: Seriously? Isn’t it obvious? A Rhodesian ridgeback!