Q: Tell us about the first animal you trained.
A: I have always had animals around and many were “trained” via life happening! I remember the moment I realized that my guinea pigs would begin to squeal when I walked into a room with food. I paired that action with a cue of “reek” (very high-pitched and cartoon-like), and before long I could cue and they would squeal from a distance.
Q: Was there a particular dog/animal in your life that was your most important teacher?
A: I would have to say that all of my dogs and each of my clients’ dogs were and are good teachers, but Gaia, a cane corso that I have worked with for more than 8 years now, is by far the dog that taught me the most.
Gaia is more than 120 pounds, and was born with multiple health issues. Her owners did everything right, but the first year of her life was filled with skin issues, allergies, and diarrhea. Training was a challenge and Gaia would often spit out treats. Her life was in danger when she began to resist things like eye drops or ear drops that were prescribed to treat her infections. Gaia would growl, snap, mount, and even bite at times.
Gaia learned quickly that her people would back off from medicating her when they heard her guttural growl. However, in order to get the needed medications, she had to be boarded at a vet clinic, where she spent a week being forced to take the medications. This experience made Gaia even more fearful and defensive about husbandry handling.
Working with Gaia taught me to take things very slowly, in thin slices, to help her understand that she had lots of choices—all the while keeping myself safe. Using the Premack principle to get her to take treats was first, then I used a muzzle, and, finally, I taught Gaia that she could say “No” if she wasn’t ready. Now, seven years later, lessons from Gaia factor in to all of my behavior cases.
After building a relationship with Gaia, she tore her ACL and had to have surgery before I had a chance to work on her back end. The vet wanted her to start range-of-motion work, but she was not having it! I simply shaped her to move her own back legs. Here is a video that shows some of the work I did with Gaia’s face and body sensitivities.
Q: What is your favorite activity or sport to do with your own dog(s)?
A: I have never being a competitive person, so working on simple things with my dogs is most fun for me. I do love to play silly games with both of my dogs, though. We “Relax on a Mat,” sit at doors, and learn a few tricks. We also hang out when I’m home, and just relax together.
Q: What is your proudest training moment?
A: My proudest moment was earning my KPACTP designation with my dog Austin as my partner. Sadly, Austin died recently and is sorely missed.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: I don’t think I have “typical” days, but there are only a few rare days that I’m not working with dogs on some level. KPA, the DogTec Dog Walking Academy, and private clients are on the edges of all my days, either getting ready for, working on, or teaching for these responsibilities fill many of my hours.
Having just moved to a new home, and having brought my business into my home, I appreciate the fabulous view around me! It helps me combine some down time and work, which is what I want “typical” to look like as I move forward.
Q: What advice would you give to a new training student?
A: Listen to the science, listen to those who have paved the way for positive reinforcement training to become mainstream, and listen to the dog in front of you. The dogs always have the answers; we just need to listen. I would also say don’t get stuck in the recipes of training when the dog in front of you needs more than just following steps.
Q: Do you have any student success stories you can share?
A: There are so many great student success stories, but one that stands out is a student who was a wounded warrior, injured in combat and sent home with PTSD. “C” became interested in training when he was paired with a service dog via Freedom Dogs, a group I volunteer with. Freedom Dogs clicker trains their service dogs, so the organization is a perfect match for me and a chance to give back to the wonderful veterans that have served our county.
Part of the requirement for Marines seeking a service dog from Freedom Dogs is that they learn about training with positive reinforcement. “C” came to several meetings at my training facility to work with the dog that would be paired with him and learn about using clicker training to enhance his dog’s skills. Sitting in the back of the room, wearing sunglasses, “C” kept his distance at the first meeting. He moved closer during the second meeting. Ultimately, the sunglasses came off and he moved to the front of the room.
Positive reinforcement worked with “C” just like it did with the dogs. Because he felt safe and could make choices, this wounded soldier learned how amazing positive training is for any animal, including humans. About nine months later, “C” graduated from the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program!
Q: What do you do to continue your training education?
A: Of course, I attend ClickerExpo each year (I have only missed one of the West Coast conferences), and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) conferences, where I presented in 2016. I also attend many training seminars and workshops. Recently, I became certified with Dogsafe to become a first-aid instructor for dogs.
Q: Outside of dog training/dog sports, do you have any hobbies?
A: I am by trade a writer and photographer, so those activities are always enjoyable. I write for a number of publications and recently illustrated a two-part article by Sarah Owings (one of my KPA grads) for Clean Run magazine.
I love spending time with my 10-year-old granddaughter, who also has a deep love and appreciation for animals; she is learning husbandry with horses. Hanging out with my husband Mike and my dogs is what I consider a relaxing time.
Q: If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
A: Probably some weird mixed breed, but for sure there would be some herding lines in there!