In the forthcoming interview, Lorraine delves into the dynamic evolution of the industry over the past two decades, offering valuable insights into its transformative journey. Additionally, she offers wisdom to new trainers, sharing her seasoned advice for those entering the ever-evolving realm of canine behavior and training.
When did you begin training?
I started in the training field as a professional more than 20 years ago. At that time, reward-based training was still considered novel and, even when it was employed, it wasn’t executed effectively. The KPA DTP program filled a significant void as one of the pioneering professional training programs focused on clicker training. I was among the first cohorts of the Academy, having only developed an interest in the training field a few years prior. Armed with a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, I was confident in my theoretical knowledge of learning principles and their application to people. However, I felt less confident in applying these principles to non-verbal beings, despite the extensive research literature on animal learning. The KPA program proved to be an ideal fit for me.
Was there a particular dog/animal in your life that was your most important teacher?
It's challenging to single out one of my dogs. Each dog has taught me valuable lessons, but those with the most influence emerged after I embarked on a career in the training field. Grace was the first to lead me into the field due to her aggressive behavior. Learning alongside each other, we built trust through conditioning and desensitization protocols. I learned observation skills with her, sometimes watching her breathe so that I could see if she was relaxing.
Then came Crystal, my KPA pup, rescued from dog fighting. She presented behavioral challenges but became an excellent learning companion for the program. I remember working with her on the box exercise, the first shaping exercise for my cohort. When I tried to shape her to lie down in the box, I realized that the box was too small. However, instead of getting a bigger box, I decided to make it fun and see if I could shape her to curl down into the box. She was game and did it perfectly! That experience of figuring out the next step for her was an illuminating training experience. Crystal was also the dog that became frustrated when she could not figure out what I wanted her to do, and her frustration showed as aggression. She would jump up and bite my clothes when I gave her a cue that was not yet fluent for her. Crystal's frustration taught me about the Least Reinforcing Scenario (LRS), a technique that involves using a neutral or non-reinforcing response to discourage undesirable behavior, followed immediately by another opportunity to earn reinforcement.
However, my heart dog was Dolly, rescued at 8 weeks of age from dog fighting. Dolly’s loving nature and exceptional ability to defuse the aggressive behaviors of the other puppies rescued from dog fighting contributed significantly to my development as a trainer. Her exceptional perseverance allowed her to stay focused on a task for hours. Dolly didn’t give up on figuring out a problem. She helped me hone my skills as a trainer more than any other dog.