Q: Tell us about the first animal you trained.
A: We have a family story that goes like this: Once, when I was a very young girl, perhaps 3 or 4 years old, my mom popped in the shower for a few minutes. When she came back, she found me sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor with our twelve cats and one dog sitting around me in a circle. In my lap was a dish of butter. One by one, I was offering each animal a lick in turn, saying: “Some for you....some for you...some for you...some for you...”
Q: Was there a particular dog/animal in your life that was your most important teacher?
A: Throughout my life I've seemed to end up with challenging animals—roosters that came after you when you went out in the backyard, dogs that would tunnel under the fence and had to be rounded up using the lure of an open car door, a horse that came off the racetrack and would explode with intensity from time to time. But the dog that brought me to clicker training, and the true life-changer out of all of them, is my pit bull, Zoë. When we adopted her as a puppy, she would shut down in new environments, and show intense aggression toward other dogs. Traditional training was an immediate dead end. It was because of Zoë that I went on a quest for a better way. Eventually that quest led me to Emma Parsons’ book Click to Calm, positive reinforcement training, ClickerExpo, and, ultimately, Karen Pryor Academy.
Q: What is your favorite activity or sport to do with your own dog(s)?
A: With Zoë, I play clicker games at home and we cuddle a lot. My new dog, Tucker, thrives on challenge and adventure a bit more than Zoë, so I've become extremely passionate about Nosework. In just a little over a year, Tucker and I have gone from total newbies in the sport to only one title away from Elite ranking. Competing with Tucker is utterly exhilarating. I'm completely addicted at this point. We have a blast together.
Q: What is your proudest training moment?
A: I've got a few...
With Zoë it was when we completed our ten-part chain for our final training assessment for KPA. Zoë used to be a dog with intense environmental sensitivities, as well as a tendency to shut down when pressured. But she nailed that final assessment with speed, enthusiasm, and joy. My instructor's first comment was “happy dog.” I was prouder of Zoë and all our hard work together in that moment than passing the course!
With Tucker, there have been many proud moments: (1) earning his trust when he was bouncing off the walls in a kennel at the shelter after a lifetime of some very harsh treatment, (2) figuring out how to play with toys with him safely, (3) slowly easing him into my household without stressing Zoë too much, or putting either dog in danger, (4) finally finding the right balance for him between his intense desire for high-adrenaline activity and the importance of ensuring that he gets enough rest, off-switch, and downtime.
Ultimately, where Tucker really shines is in Nosework. He won the Harry Award at his first NW1 trial, a designation given to a rescue dog at that level that shows the most promise in the sport. Only a year later, he won third overall at his first NW3, and high in trial at his second.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: In the morning, Zoë wakes me up with what I like to call “squish the mommy”—she lays her full weight across me in bed and then licks my face non-stop until I get up.
Next, coffee and computer time. I answer e-mails, check in with Facebook, etc. Often my husband and I discuss some political issue, or science, or training before he heads off to work.
Before breakfast, I often like to exercise with my dogs. I call it “house-er-cise.” I open all the doors and side gates so we have lots of room to run. Tucker carries a favorite toy in his mouth, a large, fuzzy “rainbow ball.” Zoë likes food more. I wear a treat pouch so I can reinforce her for keeping up. Together, the three of us run through the house, up the hill in the backyard, around the house, and up and down the front steps 10-20 times or so. Periodically, I toss treats in the grass for the dogs to snuffle out while I do short yoga routines.
After that, I make breakfast for the dogs—usually lightly seared Small Batch Raw food and cooked veggies. I also feed the bunnies, and clean their cages.
Next, I either see clients for a few hours, or go to Glendale Humane Society for staff education day. Sometimes I go to a café to work on writing projects, DTP student feedback, or client reports, followed by errands for my mom.
Two to four days per week, I take Tucker out for Nosework practice.
In the evenings, I enjoy cooking organic, vegetarian meals for my family. The dogs get puzzle toys.
After dinner, Zoë likes to play her clicker games. Her favorite is a version of Treibball that we play with a soccer ball in the living room. Then my husband and I often watch MSNBC, or international soccer.
Q: What advice would you give to a new training student?
A: The most important aspect of being a good student of training is embracing a “growth mindset.” According to the psychologist Carol Dweck, a growth mindset is when “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work...This view creates a love of learning, and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
The KPA DTP course is challenging. It requires hard work, and openness to feedback—from your instructor, but, above all, from your animal. As I like to tell my students, clicker training (as a learning model) is a two-part process: first, you celebrate and reinforce what you've accomplished—every approximation, no matter how small. THEN you set criteria for where you hope to go next. It's this ability to set appropriate criteria for yourself, objectively and continually, that requires a strong growth mindset.
Q: Do you have any student success stories you can share?
A: In my last group, I had a student who struggled with public speaking. She was a good trainer, but ask her to explain out loud what she was doing and she would choke. The teaching requirement in the DTP course was particularly hard for her. We practiced in class, with me practically having to feed her a script line by line to get her through. But she studied hard, went to observe other trainers who were teaching classes, and listened to my instructions carefully. On the day of her final teaching assessment, she did one of the best “fake it until you make it” performances I have ever seen. She stepped up to the plate, and taught her mini-lesson articulately and confidently—and passed! I was so proud of her!
Q: What do you do to continue your training education?
A: I am always looking for new avenues for learning, both for myself and for my dogs. I attend seminars with trainers who challenge me, such as Ken Ramirez, Kay Laurence, Dr. Jésus Rosales-Ruiz, Alexandra Kurland, Leslie McDevitt, and Dr. Susan Friedman. I take a number of online classes, too. I have incredible mentors, Helix Fairweather and Nan Arthur, both of whom I stay in contact with regularly. Becoming a ClickerExpo faculty member and being able to absorb all the wonderful ideas from fellow faculty members twice a year really keep my ideas fresh as well.
Q: Outside of dog training/dog sports, do you have any hobbies?
A: Cooking is a biggie. I also enjoy writing, but mostly about dogs and dog training.
Q: If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
A: I'd be some type of mutt, I think. I am interested in so many different things, and have very different moods and modes of being. Sometimes I'm as avid and driven as a border collie, other times I'm as lazy and nonchalant as a cuddly, couch-potato pittie-mix.