The DTP program did produce some challenges, however. “I attended KPA hoping and expecting to improve my teaching skills and ‘fill in the gaps’ of what I had learned on my own about clicker training.” But, the program far exceeded her expectations. “Mind blowing!” is how Valeria explains it to others. The most challenging part of the program, according to Valeria, was learning new things about her animal partners, her then ten-year-old bull terrier Rippy and fourteen-year-old Manx cat Jynx.
“I always thought Rippy was a slow learner, until Debbie said to me during one training session ‘I think he’s got it and is ready to move on to the next step.’” Rippy was much more intuitive than Valeria had given him credit for, and turned out to be a fast learner at KPA. As for the cat, Valeria says, “My finicky old cat taught me how to be creative with reinforcement delivery and rewards (hint: tuna juice in a syringe).”
Valeria learned so much through the DTP program that it is hard for her to narrow it down to a few “best” or “most important” lessons. “I loved devising a training plan, breaking an existing behavior down into all of its components, opportunities, triggers, and reinforcers, and then building it back up into a plan for the desired behavior.” Since, Valeria has “given up my membership to Lumpers Anonymous” and refined her shaping skills.
“I think the most illuminating thing about the DTP has to be that it taught me to look at things from a different perspective. Instead of stating what I don’t want from anything in life, I rephrase it into ‘What do I want?’ Then I devise a plan headed toward that goal.” Learning TAGteach was another bonus to Valeria professionally. “I teach others the skills needed to be effective clicker trainers.” In the past, Valeria felt like she overwhelmed students with too much information. “Now, I break down training into simpler steps and progress at a pace that is appropriate for my clients to learn successfully.”
A less tangible benefit for Valeria was finding out about the positivity of the KPA community. “Over the years I have discovered how competitive trainers tend to be.” Conversely, the KPA training community exhibits strong fellowship, and that is a draw for Valeria. “One person cannot have all the answers; it is great to have like-minded people with KPA language and training to call on.”
Over the last thirty years, Valeria believes that she has “worked successfully with just about every behavior problem out there, and with every age dog.” She has encountered many dog-sport people, trainers, hobbyists, and others with a vast array of skills as well. “But the overwhelming theme I encounter among everyday pet owner is the illusion of getting results in an hour—as seen on TV.” Valeria does not try to compete with dog training TV idols.