Annie found it difficult not to have a KPA faculty member, or even an experienced KPA graduate, local to her. “I would have liked to follow a KPA instructor for a week. When I finished the program, I realized I’d never really seen someone teach a full lesson, or a class.” As one of the first KPA Certified Training Partners (CTP) in New York, Annie could not find a trainer in the city with whom she could apprentice.
After graduating from KPA, Annie had the opportunity to work as an associate producer for the Animal Planet television show Too Cute for two seasons, and felt more secure financially. Her unique combination of a journalism background and certification as a dog trainer from KPA is what got her that job, Annie believes. “Although dog training was only a minor part of my work there, I don’t think I would have earned the job at Animal Planet without KPA.
Since 2012, when she left the show Too Cute, Annie has been able to support herself entirely via dog training. She started School For The Dogs with her partner Kate Senisi out of her apartment, a large floor-through Manhattan loft where she grew up. Annie lived in the front; Annie and Kate led classes and lessons in the studio in the back.
Sadly, in December of 2013, a large electrical fire destroyed the apartment and the studio. Using money raised through an Indiegogo campaign (funded largely by past clients), the business was recently re-opened as School For The Dogs’ first storefront location, on East 2nd Street and Avenue A in Manhattan. Annie believes that School For The Dogs is the only storefront, dedicated dog training center in Manhattan. School For The Dogs offers a small store with a well-curated selection of dog training tools, daily classes, a dog training library, playgroups, and more. Just recently, and for the first time ever, Annie turned down an assignment for theNew York Times “because I felt it would be a distraction from my dog training business.”
When asked how Karen Pryor Academy has impacted her work, Annie struggles to answer because she says that “KPA hasn’t just impacted my work: now it IS my work.” Before her KPA training, Annie didn’t know about positive reinforcement training, and thought Cesar Millan was “amazing.”
“As I grew up I was told that the way to get a dog to lie down was to step on his leash really close to his neck. When he was bad I was supposed to bite his ear. We had a shock collar on my dog to keep him from barking, and I was taught the proper way to use two fingers to hit his nose when he was naughty.” As more of a mild and pacifist personality by nature, Annie marvels that she did those things without question. Looking back at the harsh tactics she was taught and used, Annie is struck by how ineffective they were and how ridiculous it was for a child to be told to interact with an animal that way. Even as an adult, before her KPA experience, Annie “alpha-rolled” her 16-pound Yorkiepoo, and growled in his face to remind him that she was dominant.
“Fortunately dogs are very forgiving, but it breaks my heart now that I put him through these trials. I feel embarrassed that I behaved in those ways toward a creature that is completely dependent on me and loves me to the nth degree,” says Annie with regret.
These days, there is very little in Annie’s life that she does not think of in terms of classical or operant conditioning, rewards and punishments, rates of reinforcement, etc. Using her former career as an example, Annie explains:
“The behavior of being a freelance journalist used to be rewarded with money, but the timing of the reward wasn’t good. The check would too often come six months later, after several invoices and many phone calls to a publication's billing department. The pleasure of seeing my work in print was usually delayed as well. As the industry changed and more writing went online, the rewards shifted. More assignments were being rewarded with less pay, and the checks were still delayed—often more so than before. The timing of the reward of seeing my work published became more immediate, but that wasn’t as big a reinforcer to me as money to pay the rent. When my work was posted online, sometimes there were well-timed punishers in the form of immediate negative comments. It’s no wonder the journalism behavior diminished!”
In contrast, dog training is intrinsically rewarding for Annie. The monetary reward usually is immediate and commensurate. That behavior, her new dog training career, has only become stronger.
In addition to her KPA course work, Annie has attended ClickerExpo and Association of Professional Dog Training conferences. She has completed TAGteaching seminars, among other kinds of seminars. The larger part of her post-KPA education has been self-guided, Annie reports.