COVID-19 quarantine requirements were implemented just before Sarah’s third DTP workshop. “While moving to dog training within an online space was challenging, I think it prepared me to work virtually with clients.” Sarah reports that she and her classmates learned how to create engaging online lessons and coach through a virtual space, finding that those tasks clearly required different skill sets than in-person work with clients. “Watching several ‘client’ teams on the screen during our mock group class at the end of the DTP program was quite different from observing teams in person. I had to learn how to time myself and how to set up online sessions so everyone would benefit.”
There were two parts of the DTP program that were the most illuminating for Sarah. The first was learning how to let go of labels that hindered or otherwise impacted how she saw or worked with dogs. “I remember saying to Nan that training would be more difficult for us because I had a ‘rescue Husky.’” Nan helped Sarah understand that focusing on the dog’s label was not helpful; focusing away from labels led to more positive interactions with dogs.
The second most useful lesson from the DTP program was learning about cues, according to Sarah. “It was so helpful to record training and watch it in slow motion to determine exactly what was cueing the behavior. Teaching a trick or trying to understand why a dog is reacting on a leash or trouble-shooting aggression issues, it is always crucial to know what is happening immediately before the behavior.” Sarah improved her observation skills and learned the importance of examining the full environment, including the antecedent for a behavior or what happens immediately before a behavior. “These steps are critical in teaching foundation skills in order to work on advanced behavior concerns.”
What she learned from the DTP has helped Sarah with all of her clients, canine and human; she tries to consider everything that may impact an individual’s behavior, regardless of species. “Positive reinforcement training has changed my outlook on all aspects of behavior.”
What could be considered “basic” training has helped Sarah address more advanced behavior cases presented by her clients’ dogs. “Thinking about cue transfers, reinforcing alternative behaviors, and recognizing what is actually cueing behavior (rather than what I am assuming) feel crucial to successful behavior change.” As an example, Sarah shared a story about one of her favorite dogs, “a sweet dog named Pippa that was very fearful and had bitten someone who had come to her home.” Because Pippa would snarl or growl almost immediately, Sarah had to rely on videos to determine the appropriate threshold at which to start working on the dog’s behavior. Following the KPA tenet of starting at the very beginning, Sarah discovered that the training start point had to be the sound of car keys jingling in the driveway. “Recognizing the subtlety of cues and how the environment shapes behavior are crucial considerations for any training plan.” With her own dog’s handler-directed aggression, Sarah found the same principles to be true. “Once I could recognize what was happening immediately before the dog bite, it was easier to support my dog and create a bite-prevention plan.”
When it comes to the people end of the leash, “I always consider the strengths of my human clients. For example, it is important to recognize when a client is asking for help, something that may not be easy. If I can be patient and listen, it’s an opportunity to learn more and connect. Listening to and being kind to pet guardians are signs of a successful trainer.”
Since graduating from the DTP course and becoming a KPA CTP, Sarah has completed several other courses, including Living and Learning with Animals with Susan G. Friedman, PhD, How Movement Works with Lori Stevens, and Reinforcement Strategies with Mary Hunter. Sarah is currently the marketing coordinator at Karen Pryor Clicker Training. In that role, she sources and develops content across company platforms, often highlighting the skills and impressive work of other KPA certified training partners.