Fulfilling her KPA requirement to train another species of animal, Laura worked with her friend's cat, Chico, to follow a wooden spoon and go lay down on a mat on cue. Each night, Chico would allot Laura exactly ten opportunities a training session to reinforce behaviors—and then Chico would lie down and sigh. “It took me two weeks to train two very simple behaviors that I can usually teach a dog in one 15-30 minute training session.”
The positive reinforcement focus of clicker training is important to Laura who finds it “so relationship-building.” Laura believes that clicker training helps people bond better with their dogs—and helps dogs bond better with their families. “When people become more emotionally invested in their pets, they are more likely to try to work through issues when they arise, rather than rehoming the dogs,” Laura explains.
All the resources that are provided to graduates of the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program have helped Laura with her class curriculum. “I have been able to put together a program that helps families in my community live more happily with their dogs, I have worked successfully with people interested in participating in dog sports, and I have trained everywhere in between,” says Laura. “I love the people I have met through training, and I have met so many lovely dogs!” Laura’s presence in the community has increased; she now consults with local shelters and rescues about developing training programs and is asked to speak on a regular basis about dog training and behavior.
Laura has personal experience to call on when she works with dog-sports hopefuls. She has participated in tracking, freestyle, rally, and nosework, but says, “I'm not the most competitive person around and have not trialed in these sports. I participate for fun.” Laura has, however, participated in trials and titled in agility with her dog, Tiger. All of her dogs have earned tricks titles, including her deaf and blind collie, Fiona. She employs a “two-finger double tap” on Fiona’s body as a marker signal to indicate when Fiona has done something Laura likes, and then rewards her.
Laura trained a dog named Cody to perform in the show Annie when her children participated in a local community theatre group. Cast as a member of the chorus of Annie herself, Laura volunteered to work with the dog that “was a perfect size, fit the look, and was great with children.” Newly adopted, Cody had no training, and that is where Laura stepped in. After their first session, when it took 30 minutes for Cody to catch on, Laura was able to train Cody to sit, lie down, come, and find his mark on stage. When Laura was onstage, she specially trained children to click and work with Cody. Laura and her team offered high-value treats to keep Cody onstage and used a trail of cheese for Cody to follow straight to his mark on stage. The audience was never aware of these tricks, and Laura was credited in the program as the show’s dog trainer!
Laura feels strongly that helping people relate more positively with their dogs impacts how they relate with their family members. “I have seen people treat their children and significant others more kindly after having taken my classes. It gives them more tools to improve undesirable behavior, whether canine or human.” Wishing she had known all she knows now about positive reinforcement dog training when her children were younger, Laura says “I would have been a much better parent. I would have also been a lot less frustrated with my children through their teenage years!”
Still an eager student, Laura attends seminars each year to keep up with the latest information about canine cognition and behavior. She considers a visit to Wolf Park, an entire day spent interacting with dolphins and sea lions in Puerto Vallarta, and interactions with many different species of exotic animals at the San Diego Zoo notable experiences that were possible because of her career as a dog trainer. “Clicker training will always be an important foundation in my dog training education,” Laura says. “I look forward to new and more creative ways to use clickers to train new behaviors, helping dogs feel better about things they find scary, and bridging the communication gap between species.”