May 2020 KPA CTP of the Month
Tabitha first heard about Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) and the Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program from friends and colleagues in the veterinary and behavior professions. Looking to improve her teaching skills (with both people and animals) and working toward a veterinary technician specialty in behavior, she enrolled in 2018. Tabitha completed the program in August of that year in Columbus, Ohio, with her “wonderful teacher” Sherrie Yuschak.
The Dog Trainer professional program was filled with challenges for Tabitha, challenges that were completely separate from the curriculum and requirements! “I had a severe leg injury that forced me to defer the first time I was in the program,” she explains. Circumstances led Tabitha to partner with an assortment of dogs as she worked through the DTP program. “I had the pleasure of working with five different dogs!” But this challenge became an advantage, according to Tabitha. “Each dog had a different learning history and experience with clicker training. Learning with each dog individually taught me a lot.” Having a variety of animal trainees/partners helped Tabitha learn to set up individualized but successful learning environments. She also gained experience analyzing a range of behavior and was pressed to “adjust my teaching plan on the spot.” The DTP course found Tabitha working with multiple species, from cats to goats—in addition to her partner dogs.
Tabitha works with families with cats and dogs, but she also works with shelters and veterinary clinics. She uses clicker training whole-heartedly and successfully in all of those settings. “Clicker training is a wonderful tool to use for a variety of challenges. I use it to address behavior triggers and in environmental management to prevent and resolve common behavior problems, including counter-surfing, introducing a new pet, helping pets get along, fear of people and other animals, destructive behaviors, and attention-seeking behaviors.” In the shelter setting, Tabitha finds that clicker training makes animals more adoptable, and more likely to be interactive with the people who adopt them. “The confidence and comfort animals gain from clicker training makes it less likely they will hide or exhibit undesirable behaviors, thus raising the odds that they remain in lifelong, loving homes.”
“The positive, consistent, and predictable human-animal interaction that is important for every animal” is emphasized at the shelters where Tabitha works and trains with staff members. “Clicker training also helps keep shelter animals enriched, and they can be taught handling behaviors that make daily tasks easier for shelter staff as well.” Tabitha’s favorite part of teaching shelter staffs about clicker training is “seeing positive changes not only in the animals at the shelter but also in the volunteers and staff.” Clicker training helps shelter staff members and volunteers assess and understand the body language of the animals in their care. These tools make it easier for shelters to “help more animals, including animals exhibiting fear-based behaviors like aggression,” reports Tabitha. “Reducing fear and stress in animals results in happier animals and happier people.”
Reducing fear and stress in animals results in happier animals and happier people.
Tabitha also works with The Jackson Galaxy Project Cat Pawsitive Pro Program as a trainer-mentor. The program “is dedicated to teaching shelters how to use clicker training basics and various positive-reinforcement-based training methods like capturing, targeting, luring, and shaping.” There, Tabitha helps create training plans and troubleshoot behavior challenges presented by individual cats.
On top of private client and shelter work, Tabitha is a registered veterinary technician at a veterinary practice where she teaches cooperative care and anxiety-reduction for veterinary visits and other stressful situations. Working to prevent, address, and manage fear and stress associated with veterinary visits and procedures is especially important to Tabitha. “Unfortunately, many cats and dogs are afraid and anxious at veterinary visits and this can result in animals not getting the care they need,” Tabitha says. She works with clients and the veterinarian to develop travel and handling plans to mitigate these stressful feelings for the animal. “I use training methods that include clicker training, classical counter-conditioning, and desensitization. Some behaviors I teach include are going into the crate or carrier on cue, enjoying a basket muzzle as much as the leash, and cooperative care behaviors such as a chin rest, stationing, and targeting.” These strategies help animals with everything from receiving injections to stationing on cue to happily taking their medication without restraint, according to Tabitha. Currently, she is using clicker training to help her own cat enjoy her recently prescribed inhaler treatment.
Another passionate interest of Tabitha’s is educating people. She offers lectures and hands-on workshops to the general public, and to veterinary, shelter, and training professionals. “I present on feline and canine behavior, Fear Free and Low Stress handling, and enrichment. A few of my most requested lectures and workshops are Thinking Outside the Cage: Shelter Enrichment in Cats, From Hiss to Purr: Keeping Kittens in Lifelong Loving Homes, and Cooperative Cat Care: Getting Consent at the Vet (Hands-on Workshop).”
Lessons from the KPA DTP program have helped Tabitha personally and interpersonally. “As a clicker trainer, I focus on the behaviors I want instead of the behaviors I don’t want, build respect through trust, accentuate the positive, give clear criteria, and redirect if there are mistakes. I do my best to apply this to my everyday life and every interaction I have. Complimenting others is one of my favorite things!” Tabitha is focused on continuing her education. She has completed Low Stress Handling and Elite Fear Free Certifications and is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant through the IAABC. “Recently, I attended Dive Deep with Ken Ramirez at The Ranch and completed Dr. Susan Friedman’s Living and Learning with Animals,” Tabitha recounts.
Although her training work started with cats, Tabitha has enjoyed the addition of canine services to her business. For all species, she believes that “clicker training encourages creativity and initiative, builds confidence, strengthens the human-animal bond, provides mental stimulation, and gives animals choice!”