June 2015 KPA CTP of the Month
Tammy Bourgoyne, KPA CTP, is a former engineer who enjoys problem-solving. Now the founding instructor for her business @thedogrun Canine Learning Center for Puppy Parenting and Beyond, Tammy problem-solves with pets, pet parents, and other animal caregivers to provide the most positive futures and happiest connections for families. “I am truly passionate about animals, behavior, and the creative process of helping each individual animal and family in their own unique circumstances,” Tammy says.
A dog owner and animal lover since childhood, Tammy considered work with animals as her career, even flirting with the idea of marine mammal training in high school. She turned to engineering however, but started adding animals to her own household as soon as she lived independently. While her family dogs had been sweet companions, they had no formal training. Tammy wanted her own dogs to have training, but was not comfortable when she tried traditional dog training classes. Regarding those traditional training classes, Tammy says, “Often I did not continue.” When behavior issues arose among her dogs, and professional veterinary behavioral help was not available in her area, Tammy worked independently to learn how to help her dogs. Her research led Tammy to the discovery of Karen Pryor and Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT) in the late 1990s.
From that point on, Tammy was a frequent visitor (and shopper) at Karen Pryor Clicker Training. “KPCT was my go-to site for reliable clicker training information and resources as I taught myself.” When Karen Pryor Academy was launched, Tammy knew about it right away, via her subscription to the KPCT monthly newsletter and announcements on inserts to her shopping orders. “I immediately recognized that the Dog Trainer Professional program (DTP) program was exactly what I needed to further my clicker training and instructional skills—and to build my confidence,” she recalls. Each time Tammy saw a notice about the DTP, she tried to figure out a way to attend. In 2010, a DTP workshop with Debbie Martin was offered in Baton Rouge, and Tammy applied and enrolled.
Tammy believes the most illuminating concept that she learned through the KPA DTP was that a cue was not only the name for a behavior, but also contained the power to mark and reward—just like a click and treat. She says, “Realizing that giving the ‘green light’ to perform a fun behavior actually reinforces the current behavior was a light-bulb moment for me and deepened my understanding of positive reinforcement training on many levels.”
There were many personal challenges within the Dog Trainer Professional program, Tammy admits.
I tend to put a great deal of pressure on myself to be the best that I can be. The pressure drives me to overcome obstacles and achieve my goals. However, it can also create tension and anxiety.
Tammy finds that the pressure is highest when she cares a great deal about the outcome—and she really, really cared about doing well in the DTP program! Tammy throws in concerns about performance anxiety with practical and oral assessments and her ability to fulfill KPA graduation requirements as additional challenges she faced heading in to the program.
Tammy’s tension and self-imposed pressure at first led to a lot of frustration for both Tammy and Marty, the adolescent poodle partnering with her for the KPA program. Tammy’s persistence ultimately revealed her underlying issues. “Through the program I gained a realization and awareness that I may have never reached otherwise.” In the long run, the initial difficulties and challenges that Tammy and Marty faced were a blessing in disguise, according to Tammy. “I learned much, much more from the program and experience than I ever would have if I had not struggled for nearly two years earning my KPA Certified Training Partner title.” It was a multi-step journey that began when Tammy realized that Marty was sensitive to her internal emotional state, even though outwardly she was performing well and interacting in a positive manner. First, Tammy learned to recognize the subtle signs that Marty was sensing tension, even before she was aware herself. Next, she developed strategies to help her relax and to maintain Marty’s fun during training. Finally, Tammy chose to incorporate tension and nervousness into the training program as a distraction as she and Marty were learning and performing the required 10-part chain behavior. She explains, “My KPA instructor, Debbie Martin, suggested drinking a lot of coffee to simulate my performance anxiety when I was in the final stages of preparing for my final assessment. It worked! Thanks, Debbie!”
Tammy’s realization about the effect of her emotional state on Marty has also given her a new perspective when she works with clients. For example, when clients are struggling with inconsistent responses from their dogs, they may doubt the clicker training process or lose confidence in their own ability to clicker train successfully. Recognizing a close bond between owners and their pets, Tammy is able to offer an alternative conclusion and explain to her clients that “how they feel impacts how the dogs feel, which impacts the dogs’ ability to learn.” With this explanation, Tammy has found she can alleviate a lot of the frustration and create empathy within her classroom. Tammy has also used TAGteaching when coaching clients, and continues to improve her TAGteach skills.
An interest in working with fearful dogs and dogs with behavior disorders was sparked in Tammy when family dogs experienced issues. Tammy’s own beagle, Belle, prompted her to learn more about animal behavior and, eventually, discover clicker training when she exhibited “some very puzzling behavior.” Belle would eat non-food items such as fabric and furniture stuffing in what seemed to be random occurrences. This troublesome behavior continued most of Belle’s life in spite of Tammy’s efforts to find help for her. “Eventually I received a diagnosis of a compulsive disorder (analogous to obsessive-compulsive disorder in people) for Belle when she was about 12 years old. Treatment with medication and behavior modification improved her quality of life until she passed away at 16 years of age.”
About the same time Tammy found relief for Belle, Tammy’s sister-in-law adopted a very young puppy found roaming the streets. As Tammy recalls, “Hillary” was extremely fearful and showed aggression when she was younger than 12 weeks old. “Instinctively, I knew this situation was beyond training alone, and sought help from my veterinarian.” Utilizing the help of a veterinary behaviorist recommended by her vet, Tammy took in Hillary herself in order to implement the prescribed behavioral treatment plan. This fostering was intended to last until a suitable new home—without children—was found. However, Tammy reports, “Her new home turned out to be with me.”
Tammy learned firsthand what it is like to love and live with a dog with a serious behavior disorder.
It is a huge and lifelong responsibility. Quality of life can be improved with appropriate treatment, including the use of clicker training.
Motivated by her experiences with Belle and Hillary, Tammy works with others to find help for their pets sooner. She says that in caring for fearful dogs or dogs with serious behavior issues “emotional support is often needed just as much as reliable information and expert guidance.” With her own history, Tammy can relate to and connect with these pet parents. Under the supervision of a veterinary behaviorist, and with her KPA CTP certification, Tammy can offer clients reliable information and tools to improve the quality of family life.
Another outgrowth of Tammy’s work with Belle and Hillary is her interest in factors that impact behavior, such as early socialization. Tammy launched a Puppy Start Right curriculum at @thedogrun to provide a high-quality socialization and puppy parenting class.
The skills Tammy took from her KPA course study are not limited to clients and their pets. As part of her effort to lessen and eliminate tension when she was working through the DTP program, Tammy started to use TAGteach techniques herself. “I created a few tag points to say to myself when Marty would alert me that I was getting a bit intense. One was simply, ‘Smile.’ Another was ‘Get a toy.’” When Marty urged Tammy to play a game of tug or chase for a few minutes, she could not resist smiling at his joyful antics. TAGteach-prompted breaks like these helped both Tammy and Marty relax and succeed. Tammy has continued “self-tagging” in her quest to replace unwanted personal habits with more desirable habits. “While I am generally very patient with animals and other people, I tend to be very impatient with myself, and can be very self-critical. Using TAGteach and clicker training principles, I have been interrupting negative thinking and purposefully changing my focus to come up with a positive spin in that moment.”
Tammy also uses clicker training lessons to decrease procrastination when she is overwhelmed. Recalling a piece Karen Pryor wrote about overcoming the difficulty of getting started on a seemingly difficult task (in Karen’s case, attending an evening class after a long day), Tammy tries to emulate Karen’s solution. Karen broke down the task of getting to class into a series of steps, rewarding herself at the end of each step with a piece of chocolate. Now, so does Tammy! “I practice that approach often and have found it very helpful when I am feeling the need to procrastinate. I also share this approach, phrased as a suggestion, with family members when they complain about having to do an unpleasant chore. It has helped them, too.”
Since completing the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program, Tammy has continued her education, learning more about normal canine and feline behavior and development, as well as common behavior disorders and problems such as separation anxiety and reactivity. Most recently Tammy has been taking advantage of technology and connecting with clicker training and behavior experts online via webinars. Tammy has selected live and on-demand webinars offered by organizations that include the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians and TEAM Education in Animal Behavior. She has also benefitted from the KPA webinars available free to her as a CTP. (The recent KPA webinars with Karen Pryor and Ken Ramirez have been particularly helpful to Tammy as she works with clients.)
“I have really enjoyed connecting remotely with the clicker training and behavior science community, as live, in-person learning opportunities in my area are rare. Not only have I learned new aspects of behavior and training, but I have also studied how the information is presented in an effort to improve my own coaching and instructional skills.”
Tammy’s newest goal is to improve animal welfare in her area by promoting continuing education in, and a partnership between, behavior and clicker training. “I was surprised to learn that behavior has not been part of the standard curriculum in many veterinary medicine schools. That is changing, but more can be done.” As the most common reasons people give up a pet are inappropriate elimination issues, aggression, and other unwanted behaviors such as reactivity, it is clear that “behavioral health and the strength of the human-animal bond have a huge impact on animal welfare.”
Tammy is a proponent of the team approach among pet parents and pet care professionals as described in a seminar presented by TEAM Education in Animal Behavior entitled The TEAM Approach: The Behavior of DOGS! and a new textbook entitled Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses edited by Julie Shaw and Debbie Martin. She sees pet care professionals, such as qualified behavior experts, veterinarians, trainers, daycare providers, pet sitters, shelter staff, and others, as all on the same team. They strive for a common goal: improving the quality of life for pets and the people who love them. “Each team member brings a unique perspective and skill set. By creating opportunities for continued education and cooperation, the team can help pets and their families connect for life,” says Tammy.
“Clicker training and TAGteach have the power to shape positive emotions as well as more appropriate behavior,” says Tammy. She believes, and demonstrates herself both professionally and personally, that clicker training is “the engine driving successful behavioral treatment and the repair of strained human-animal bonds.” Tammy’s wish is for clicker training to become the conventional wisdom everywhere, used routinely for teaching skills that are necessary to live happily and connect animals with families for life.