march 2023 KPA CTP of the Month
Samantha (Sam) Milner, KPA CTP, had heard about the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program, but attending a seminar conducted by Ken Ramirez in the United Kingdom, where she lives, led her to investigate the program fully.Sam remembers that Ken incorporated DTP students’ work in his talk, which intrigued her. While Sam had always been a clicker trainer with her dogs, the organization where she works as a Guide Dog Mobility Specialist, Guide Dogs UK, was looking to make clicker training their standard. “I wanted to level-up my understanding and practical skills,” explains Sam. “The obvious choice was to attend KPA!”
Many years ago, when she worked as an assistant psychologist, Sam read Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog. “I was familiar with Karen’s career and knew that any program she would be willing to put her name on would be of good quality. I wasn’t disappointed!” Sam completed the DTP program with “the excellent Linda Ryan” in New Forest, United Kingdom, in 2017. Her partner was her “lovely old black Labrador, named Mischief.” Together, they worked through four workshops and all of the online learning to complete the course. “Mischief did me proud,” says Sam.
Thinking back over the DTP program, Sam believes that what was most helpful was “the opportunity to receive feedback from a group of skilled trainers in a constructive and positive way.” She shares that the learning environment felt safe. While she was used to being observed as she trained, Sam generally did not particularly enjoy it. However, during the DTP program Sam looked forward to being observed, which was rare. She also learned from the opportunity to observe and provide feedback to others in her group. “It was an excellent reminder of how it feels to be in my clients’ shoes and of how important it is to offer feedback in specific and positive ways, ensuring that learners are set up for success.”
What was most helpful [about the DTP program] was the opportunity to receive feedback from a group of skilled trainers in a constructive and positive way.
As Sam completed the DTP course, Guide Dogs UK was working to standardize the organization’s training program with clicker training. “Fortunately, I was able to apply my knowledge straight away.” Since then, Sam has used clicker training daily across the full range of guiding tasks that she teaches, as well as in basic cooperative care. “For general grooming and physical health check-ups, a dog that can use a platform as a station makes tasks easier.” Sam explains that, in the past, dogs were withdrawn from the guide program when they could not be examined by a vet. Now, with clicker training, those dogs are able to complete the vet step and go on to be successful guides.
As another example, Sam describes how guide dogs can be clicker trained to offer a start/stop button behavior that allows a person who is visually impaired to know where in space s/he is. “The person being guided can communicate with the dog, although s/he cannot observe the dog’s body language.”
In her Mobility Specialist role, Sam not only works with trainee guide dogs, but also with the dog and the guide-dog owner as a team, helping them develop a working partnership. “TAGteach has really changed my approach to teaching and problem-solving with clients. I break down tasks into very small steps to ensure success and build confidence.” The basic principles of TAGteach are always in play when Sam works with the team. “I love how clients and dogs can succeed from the start.”
Sam’s previous career in human psychology had prepared her to work with others in ways that are positive, yet her KPA experience expanded those approaches. Sam now uses markers with her children for medical care. “When I completed the KPA course, my baby, who was less than a year old, would become distressed during medical exams. I used the TAGteach approach to help her become more comfortable in that environment.” Both of Sam’s young children have benefitted significantly from careful preparation for medical care, particularly during the pandemic when Sam “needed a two-year-old and a four-year old to cooperate for nasal swabs!” Sam reports that she also used TAGteach to help her teach handwriting skills “when I suddenly found myself home-schooling.”
Sam is certified in Level 1 TAGteach and has completed the course for TAGteach Level 2. She has completed the KPA Puppy Start Right for Instructors course as well. “Since I don’t work much with young puppies, this course helped fill in my knowledge about this part of a dog’s life.” Sam has attended the ClickerExpo Luminos conferences in the UK, “a great way to stretch my brain muscles,” and shares that she particularly loves listening to Michele Pouliot. A seminar with Linda Ryan and Laura Monaco Torelli helped Sam absorb more knowledge about cooperative care. Acknowledging her own involvement with babies/toddlers and dogs, Sam hopes to become a Family Paws Educator. She also plans to extend her PGCert in Clinical Animal Behaviour, “when I have a bit more time!”