june 2020 KPA CTP of the Month
When Kiki and her husband adopted their dog, Pigeon, more than 15 years ago, a neighbor who was a trainer at the Shedd Aquarium demonstrated clicker training with her own pet. Kiki found the demo “mesmerizing.” Her neighbor gifted Kiki a box clicker with a Sunshine Books label (Sunshine Books is the publishing arm of KPCT), which led Kiki to the classic Don’t Shoot the Dog. Searching for a trainer and training classes, Kiki discovered KPA CTP Laura Monaco Torelli (now a KPA faculty member), who, like Kiki’s neighbor and KPCT’s own Ken Ramirez, also had a connection to Shedd Aquarium!
When Kiki decided to pursue dog training as her own career, she, in her words, “persuaded” Laura to add her as an intern in Laura’s business. Laura had completed the KPA Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program, one of the course’s early graduates. Based on Laura’s rave reviews, Kiki says, “I was pretty sure it was something I would want to do, too.” She completed the DTP program in 2011 with Julie Shaw in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Reflecting on her experience in the DTP program, Kiki says that the problem-assessment model was the most illuminating part of the course. “Until then, I don’t think I really understood how you could reduce unwanted behavior without punishment,” she says. This concept, along with an opportunity to see and listen to Jesús Rosales-Ruiz at ClickerExpo, spurred Kiki’s interest in behavior analysis. Soon after, and on the advice of other KPA alumni, Kiki enrolled in Susan Friedman’s Living & Learning with Animals (LLA Professional) course focused on behavior analysis. “It blew my mind!” While they were both at ClickerExpo 2014 (Long Beach, CA) on the Queen Mary, Dr. Friedman invited Kiki to join the LLA course as a teaching assistant. It is “my favorite thing that I do now.”
One of Kiki’s challenges during the KPA DTP program was working with a dog that did not live with her. As her own dog, Pigeon, was not a good candidate for a course that required handling by other people, Kiki “borrowed” Guffman for the intense solo, and then workshop, learning and training. Guffman’s family was very positive about his part in Kiki’s DTP coursework. “They even let me come to a relative’s house on Thanksgiving to practice for a workshop.” A training novice, Guffman developed a close relationship with Kiki. When he was supposed to be working with another DTP student, a classmate of Kiki’s, at one of the four onsite workshops, Guffman “broke away from her and bounded across two connected buildings to find me.”
Kiki considers “clicker training not training with a clicker, but the dog training arm of behavior analysis, and that informs everything I do—whether I’m using a clicker or not, whether I’m using food or not, whether I’m teaching a dog or a person.” While the clicker philosophy is integrated into every segment of Kiki’s life, she points to an example that is common in her training work, loose-leash walking. “It’s not one behavior, it’s not a homogenous chain of step-step-step. It’s many moment-to-moment choices made in an environment that changes constantly as you move through.” This type of analysis clarifies for Kiki how best to set up a dog for success (“a clicker training mantra”) and how to make related decisions such as choosing and delivering reinforcement effectively. She shares more about her current thinking on this topic in her blog.
The training lessons of KPA are valuable to Kiki, but she also values the KPA community, what she calls “a smart, civil, and thoughtful bunch. The KPA community has played a huge role in my development as a trainer, both when I’ve been active and at times when I’ve been too busy or too lazy to do more than lurk.”
The KPA community has played a huge role in my development as a trainer..."
During a small summer workshop hosted by a fellow KPA CTP, Jesús Rosales-Ruiz again moved Kiki ahead on her road to trainer excellence by putting an idea in her head: going back to school for a master’s degree in behavior analysis. In May, Kiki completed her last required class at the University of Kansas and is preparing for the research project that will form the basis of her thesis.
Kiki is passionate about behavior analysis. She says, “When I first started learning about it, I felt like the angels were singing the secrets of the universe. Suddenly, instead of just trying hard to follow protocols, I had principles that could guide individualized approaches to teaching and problem-solving.” She has pursued her master’s degree to gain “deeper understanding of those principles, more clarity in how to use them deftly, and more depth on the history and philosophical foundations of the science.” Kiki reports that, like other sciences, “behavior science is not all neatly figured out yet.” So, while she is learning more, “the result of more education has been less certainty, which can be pretty uncomfortable, but also pretty beautiful.”
The fact that clicker training emphasizes dialogue between learners and teachers, and “not control of the learner,” is important to Kiki. She explains that “teacher and learner are arbitrary labels for participants in the ‘training’ dialogue. We are all each other’s teachers and we are all each other’s learners.” Kiki hopes that this perspective has made her “a better partner, a better friend, maybe even a better citizen—at least sometimes.”
While completing her master’s degree is Kiki’s foremost educational goal, she is looking ahead to arranging hands-on experiences, too. “I would really love to visit The Ranch when that’s possible again and I would like to try Hannah Branigan’s Zero to CD program.” Although Kiki has never competed with a dog, she “would like to set up some accountability for working on precision behaviors.” She adds that “Pigeon would like it if I signed us up for some more nose work!”