Sarah heard about the KPA Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program when she was working with a service- and therapy-dog organization. She knew there had to be a training method that helped dogs that “never progressed further with desired behaviors” using standard training methods. These needy dogs, including Sarah’s own dog-reactive dog, were being harmed in Sarah’s estimation, “not only behaviorally, but physically.” At the time, Sarah was experiencing some physical limitations with one of her shoulders. She says, “It was time to learn how to train a different way, where I didn’t have to hurt my dog or myself!” She completed the KPA DTP program in West Lafayette, Indiana with Julie Shaw in 2010.
As a former balanced dog trainer (balanced training involves both reward-based techniques and aversive consequences), Sarah found the idea of shaping to be completely foreign. “The ‘shaping to cone’ exercise at the end of the first in-person weekend made me bawl, because I failed miserably!” Sarah remembers. There were many positives that Sarah pulled from the DTP program, however. “I realized how I was using my body to cue my dog. Those body cues were sometimes potentially intimidating moves, such as stepping into him to get him to sit or to back up.” With this realization, Sarah had to re-assess “everything I thought I knew how to do previously.”
As she transitioned to fulltime dog training as a career, Sarah juggled busy part-time dog training work with her career in sales for a pet-food company. That experience in pet-food sales actually helped Sarah make the decision to leave her position; it built her understanding of the demographics and psychographics of her “ideal clientele.” That knowledge gave her the confidence to try something related but new. “It was tough to walk away from the people (and the consistent salary), but it was the best thing I could have done for myself,” Sarah shares. “It felt good to be able to say that I was leaving to live out my vision.” Sarah has kept up contact with co-workers. “Many of them have contacted me for dog training!”
One specialty within Sarah’s business is training dog-dog aggressive dogs and, in increasing numbers human-aggression cases. Sarah has found that “these dogs are so over-stimulated that any verbal communication from the handler can distract them, interrupting their focus and ability to learn new things.” Training her clients to use the clicker helps the clients communicate with their dogs “in an efficient and effective way without having to speak to them.” This choice results in more dogs that can learn new, more appropriate behaviors despite facing their highest-order distractions and triggers.
Several years ago, Sarah was contacted by a volunteer with the St. Louis County shelter “because I was a clicker trainer.” The volunteer “paid out of her own pocket (!) to train shelter dogs so that they could become more adoptable.” After their training sessions ended, Sarah stayed in touch with the shelter volunteer. Over time, that volunteer, Nicole Veile, became a class assistant at The Persuaded Pooch, and then a part-time puppy trainer. Now she works fulltime as a trainer for Sarah’s business. “She’s a joy to work with and impacts clients and dogs positively every day. Best of all, she just completed her KPA CTP certification!”
KPA has not only directed Sarah’s career path and helped her build her business, but it has impacted her personally, too. The camaraderie among fellow KPA CTPs is a highlight. “The KPA learning standard is consistent. I feel like I instantly connect with other CTPs and already know a lot about them. They are kind, dedicated, and humane people who have very strong work ethics!” Sarah considers herself lucky to live in a community with a high concentration of KPA CTPs. “We have a wonderful, cooperative network here in St. Louis. It’s great to feel supported by other trainers instead of experiencing the cutthroat competition that people experience in other markets.”