Q: Tell us about the first animal you trained.
A: When we lived in Samoa without television, I ordered Emma Parsons’ book, Click to Calm, along with a clicker. In the evenings, I practiced the steps in the book with my dog, Milo. I was amazed that I could practically “see” the lightbulb go on over her head as we worked! It was fun teaching Milo some tricks, and I really enjoyed the communication that we developed. This first foray into clicker training was what set me on the path to want to know and understand more!
Q: Was there a particular dog/animal in your life that was your most important teacher?
A: My deaf dog, Blanca, has been an amazing instructor. She has opened my eyes to the world of non-auditory communication in a way I’d previously not considered. With my master’s degree in special education and a passion for special-needs dogs, my focus has shifted. I now work with families that have non-hearing dogs, helping them communicate effectively and via the science of behavior.
Q: What is your favorite activity or sport to do with your own dog(s)?
A: We love to go on long beach walks to sniff and explore. I live in the Caribbean and the beach is only 40 steps out our front door. We are looking at getting some stand-up paddle (SUP) boards and hope to become more proficient at SUPing in the ocean!
Q: What is your proudest training moment?
A: My proudest moment was when I was accepted as a KPA faculty member! I love our organization and the R+ that we all strive to show people as well as animals. I’m super proud and honored to not only be a Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Certified Training Partner (CTP), but also to take part alongside my peers and mentors in helping to shape the next generation of force-free KPA CTPs!
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: Watch a video version of my typical day! Most days I get up, take the dogs for a run or walk on the beach, and feed everyone via their favorite food puzzles of the day. While I am having my tea and fruit, I check over my schedule and answer e-mail inquiries. I usually try to schedule my appointments at 2-hour intervals to allow for transitions. On some days, all of my appointments may be conducted from my house. On other days, I might grab my PAW tote bag to see clients in their homes. In between time is spent updating/writing blog posts, working on behavior and training articles, sorting logistics for conferences (I am hosting a fantastic conference in Puerto Rico with Dr Susan Friedman and Lori Stevens), and/or polishing PowerPoint presentations for speaking engagements.
Q: What advice would you give to a new training student?
A: I would tell him or her that the animal is always correct. If the dog/horse/rabbit is doing something that you don’t like, stop and think about how you can be clearer in your training, how you can raise the rate or level of the reinforcer, or how you can make the “right” behavior easier for the animal to perform!
Q: Do you have any student success stories you can share?
A: My first separation anxiety client is a success story that I remember fondly because it involved such a difficult and stressful behavioral problem. This client had not only one dog suffering from separation anxiety, but two! It was a lesson in compassion, patience, and empathy. What began with the caregiver spending zero seconds away from the dogs culminated in calm, relaxed absences of several hours! Working so closely with this client then (the protocol is intense and necessitates almost daily contact over a period of time), I remain in touch with the family today!
Q: What do you do to continue your training education?
A: There are not enough hours in the day! But, when you love what you do, it does not feel like work. I try to attend several conferences and a few smaller events each year in order to network and keep up on the latest research and behavior news—as well as to learn and explore new ideas and strategies. Taking classes, attending workshops, and reading about new training and behavioral information are all exciting and fun pursuits for me. The bonus of traveling to new places and meeting new people helps me continue to grow and learn. Just recently, I was asked to speak at an amazing conference in Japan. For the two days following the workshop, I liaised with other professionals and assisted at two zoos, chatting about husbandry and medical voluntary and cooperative training plans. Experiences likes these keep me on my toes and yearning to learn more!
Q: Outside of dog training/dog sports, do you have any hobbies?
A: Travel! In fact, in June I’m traveling to Mexico for my anniversary. However, I have managed to liaise with a local animal rescue group and will be doing a short behavior and training presentation for the staff and families that foster the dogs.
Q: If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
A: While so many dogs are just too cute for words, my two special styles are the Boston terrier and the larger, blocky pit bull dog.