What it Means to Be a KPA CTP: Michelle Mullins
Michelle Mullins is the owner of and Director of Training at Honest To Dog, LLC. She provides private, in-home training, focusing on vet/grooming tasks as well as on reactive and aggressive dogs. Michelle is also an animal handler on photo and video sets! Her emphasis is always on the dog’s emotional experience. Since completing the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program in 2013, Michelle has worked even more steadily at her mission to show that “education is the best way to promote change.” In this interview, we ask Michelle what it means to her to be a Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Certified Training Partner (CTP).
How did you hear about the KPA Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program, and what inspired you to enroll?
I heard about Karen Pryor Academy’s (KPA) Dog Trainer Professional program from another KPA Certified Training Partner (CTP), Janet Velenovsky. Janet recommended the quality of the KPA program material as well as the instructors. The KPA program is clearly the program of choice for trainers who look for scientifically supported education and who want to be on the leading edge of innovation in the pet industry. The program has it all, from the most effective training skills to business knowledge to instructor skills.
When and where did you complete the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program?
It took me a full year to complete the DTP program through KPA, a program that usually requires 6 months. My program journey was interrupted by both a major personal health crisis and the loss of my first KPA dog to cancer. Simply put, my instructor, Laurie Luck, and the KPA organization showed me unparalleled kindness and respect as I worked to complete the program in Maryland and Virginia. I’ve come to find these traits a hallmark of the KPA family.
Can you tell us about your experience with the KPA CTP alumni community?
As a former employee of PetSafe (Premier Pet Products was acquired by PetSafe), a company known as more traditional, I have faced every imaginable reaction—from a funny look to outright disdain—from trainers when they learn I have worked there. In contrast, the KPA alumni community was open and welcoming from the start. They understood and supported me in my commitment to maintain a voice in product development and bring clicker training and humane behavior expertise to the table.
The community has been equally supportive as I left the corporate pet scene and started my own business. I travel a lot and find that wherever I go I can reach out to this community and find amazing colleagues to learn from and hang out with. We bond easily over our common experience and our commitment to sharing clicker training with clients.
Was there any part of the DTP program that was particularly useful/illuminating?
The guided, hands-on skills and practice with my instructor were instrumental in building my skills. Having someone observe and then help adjust my timing, criteria selection, and rate of reinforcement was, and still is, my go-to way to grow and improve.
How has Karen Pryor Academy impacted your professional dog-training work?
I have found the impact of the KPA program to be profound. While I embraced reward-based training before Karen Pryor Academy, I now have the knowledge, skills, and resources to train with the most humane and effective results. Clicker training has impacted all of my work, from puppy classes to aggressive behavior issues.
I find that my training experiences with clients now include an emphasis on the dog’s emotional experience, in addition to the behavior learned. Both the clients and the animals benefit and enjoy the training. Nowhere is this more apparent to me than when, in one of my roles as a handler on photo and video sets, the animals require training on set in order to capture the shot we want. Clicker training is not only the fastest way to get the behavior, but it allows me to keep the animal relaxed and happy. When the animal models are having fun, it shows in the pictures.
I have found the impact of the KPA program to be profound. While I embraced reward-based training before Karen Pryor Academy, I now have the knowledge, skills, and resources to train with the most humane and effective results.
Can you describe ways in which clicker training or the KPA program has impacted positively other areas of your life, including interpersonal interactions?
I believe education is the best way to promote change, but that respect toward people with different perspectives is required as well. I work to bridge the gap with others with different training backgrounds and philosophies so that together we have a positive impact on animal welfare. Clicker training and its principles impact all of my interactions now. I find myself using clicker training to teach everyone and everything. People respond to clear communication and positive reinforcement. Often, without realizing it, they reciprocate.
What other KPA courses have you completed and how have those helped your career/ business?
In addition to the KPA Dog Trainer Professional course, I’ve completed the Better Vet Visits course. This course is fantastic. It is not just about the training skills needed for teaching cooperative care behaviors, but also about working alongside veterinary professionals. I’ve been able to share this knowledge with veterinary clinics in my local area, which has greatly increased my veterinary referrals. My Handle With Care sessions are very popular with these veterinary clinics, and on their own.
Are there any opportunities that your KPA education offered you that you may not have been presented with otherwise?
Absolutely. In addition to the many leads I receive through my FAT profile on the KPA site and through veterinary referrals, I find that my KPA CTP affiliation opens doors in both academic circles and in animal behavior programs like zoos, aquariums, and other organizations where behavior training is done. I’ve been a guest speaker on clicker training at Ohio State University, the University of Tennessee, and Blue Ridge Community College.
The depth and breadth of Michelle’s experience with KPA appears to have expanded both her business and her life. Thanks, Michelle, for being one of the many positive trainers enacting change for animals.