KPA. . . Here We Go!

Meet Paco.

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Like I mentioned last week, Paco is the dog I am bringing through the Karen Pryor Academy with me. We will be learning together — he the cues, and I how to teach him the cues. He’s about seven months old and cute beyond words.  I actually just met Paco recently. His family graciously agreed to let me use him as my KPA dog (seeing as I don’t have one and it is a requirement of the course, I needed to borrow one), and our training together kicked off.

The first day I met him we went for a walk and I tried to do some basic work with him. He did well on the walk, so I was excited for how much training we could do together — plus he was so cute!

The next couple times I went to work with him, I started doing more training. Unfortunately, I really put the pressure on. “You must learn sit RIGHT NOW, dog!”  Of course I didn’t mean to be aversive about it (clicker training is supposed to be fun, after all), but I felt pressured to make sure we were ready for our first testing week, and it became clear pretty quickly that poor Paco was not enjoying himself. He would get frustrated and start to shut down during our sessions.

Thankfully, I recognized this during our second time training together and decided to take a step back. Paco and I barely have a relationship after all, let alone a reinforcement history. The next time, I went in with the intention of spending an hour making sure both of us were enjoying our time together. Working was not a priority; simple relationship building was.
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Paco loves interacting with people, so we spend a lot of time just playing. One day we also went on a nice long walk to Soapstone, a little gem of a trail tucked into the middle of Washington, D.C. Paco enjoyed playing in the water and taking in all the new sniffs.  After that adventure, I brought him back to my house to meet my roommates.  He loved meeting my roommates (and of course they loved meeting him), and soon he was fast asleep in my lap. I think that counted as some good bonding time. Overall it was relaxing and laid back – criteria I need to be sure to incorporate into our time together!

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Now that he knows me a little better, our training sessions are improving.  Just one week of working with Paco made me realize the importance of evaluating your own teaching. I was making learning aversive for Paco, and I needed to adjust the way I was communicating with him. If I hadn’t stopped and noticed what I was accidentally doing, we could have been headed for disaster.

I am thankful that I made this realization so early in the KPA course (and my career, too), because the next six months are likely to be very challenging for both Paco and me. We need to be able to find fun and enjoyment in every place we can, while we work hard. I have a feeling Paco and I will quickly adopt the “work hard, play hard” mentality. We all know how much a good game of tug can relieve stress.

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Stay tuned to see how things with this course – and with Paco – are progressing!


I’ve Got Good News, and I’ve Got Bad News. . .

The good news: you know that post where I wrote about my goals and dreams as a dog trainer, and how one of those goals was to go through the Karen Pryor Academy someday? Well, “someday” became this day. Right now. Last month, to be exact. That’s right: I am officially a student of the Karen Pryor Academy.

Many trainers that I look up to have taken the KPA course and become a Certified Training Partner. It’s something that, like I said, I have always put on the agenda for someday down the road. Through an awesome twist of fate, though, the stars aligned and I enrolled this Fall. Come February I will, fingers crossed, have the initials KPA-CTP after my name – but I have a lot of work, learning and practicing between now and then to make that happen!

That brings me to the bad news. . . I have to cut back the blog again. I know, I know. I just went down to Tuesday/Thursday! But KPA is a big commitment, and a heavy course load. That is why it will be such an accomplishment, after all. Between my 9 – 5 job, my clients for Dog Latin Dog Training and making an effort to still maintain a bit of a relationship with my friends and boyfriend (I am still 23 after all!), I will need to devote pretty much all my free time to KPA. So, I will promise you this: Wednesdays. I will still be here every Wednesday. I might even be here a bit more than that! I’m kind of just going to promise Wednesdays and then post additionally as the mood strikes me.

I’ll leave you with a bit more good news. KPA requires me to have a dog to take through the course who I practice new skills with and use during our two-day long testing weekends. Well, since I don’t have a dog of my own I was in a bit of a pickle. Yet again the stars aligned and a handsome little pup named Paco crossed my path. His family lives about seven minutes from me in DC, and, after recently adopting him, they were looking to get him some training.  Hooking the two of us up was the perfect solution: I get my training partner, and he learns lots of awesome new skills. Win-win! Best part (in my opinion)? Paco is a pittie mix! Who knows what the heck he actually is – but he’s got short brown fur and a big blocky head so you know I love him.

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I will be writing more about Paco, my experience with KPA and of course other dog topics as I go – so stay tuned. I might be here less, but in my opinion the blog just got very interesting! I hope you agree.

See ya Wednesday.


My Journey to Becoming a Dog Trainer: Part 1

I had a dog growing up. I’ve loved dogs all my life. I worked at the humane society in high school, and then even studied Animal Sciences in college. But I didn’t really have an interest in training dogs until about ten months ago when it felt like a switch flipped. Since then, I can’t seem to learn enough about working with dogs.

With my childhood dog, a Wheaten Terrier named Barley, we used a shake can when he would do the wrong thing like get into the garbage. We walked him on a retractable leash and didn’t pay much attention to how he was invading our surroundings. We wondered why he acted the way he did around other dogs (he could be reactive) and why he wasn’t ‘normal’ like the ones who love every other dog they meet. We would scream at him when he would bark out the front window. But I figured that was Barley and that was the way you interacted and dealt with dogs. Looking back, I can now see why we didn’t have the closest relationship.

Barley

I remember bits and pieces of being exposed to training as I got older. Some of the first, I think, was watching Victoria Stilwell’s It’s Me or the Dog show on Animal Planet. I would catch it whenever it was on and was fascinated with how she could change a dog’s behavior by adjusting schedules, house rules and basic guidelines. Fast forward to college when I took animal behavior courses and companion animal courses (when we weren’t taking companion animal courses we were learning mostly about cows and poultry) and I got another glimpse of how animal’s learn. In our behavior courses we covered learning theory and discussed famous studies like those by Pavlov and others and how they related to why animals learn and act the way they do. We also learned about clicker training, though many of the examples we were shown that demonstrated clicker training used horses, donkeys or pigs!

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People think that Animal Science majors get to hang out with dogs and cats all year. False. This is what I spent most of my time doing.

Despite all this background, I still wasn’t that interested in dog training. I started working at the humane society, and even fostering, and didn’t realize the importance in training past just basic obedience (sit, down, stay). Our shelter trainer, a CPDT and graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy (man were we lucky to have her), would chat with me about my fosters and basic ways to help any problematic behaviors popping up and, while I appreciated it and tried to follow through with her advice, I still just didn’t get the big picture of why dogs do the things they do and how I could change the way they behave.

My outlook changed when I attended the Animal Farm Foundation internship last September. Even though the course focused mainly on learning about how to help pit bull dogs get adopted from shelters, the most valuable lessons I took away from that week were the training ones.

Practicing shaping with Eli.

When we arrived Monday afternoon, I met our house dog Lady Bird (LB). She was an energetic little thing – way more spunky than I had ever really dealt with. Throughout orientation the first night Lady Bird kept trying to jump up on my fellow intern while we were all talking – something that was quite annoying. The intern simply stood up every time LB got on her lap, ignoring her the whole time, causing LB to naturally fall back to the floor. By the end of the time we were all together, Lady Bird had quit jumping up. No shoving, no pushing, no yelling… just a simple change of consequences and reinforcers.

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The week continued with “aha!” moments like that, like when I realized I could pretty quickly teach a dog to sit while I open a door or not bark in the kennel – all using the same basic principles. I couldn’t believe it: the basics that I had learned in school and had watched others do for so long could be applied to behaviors across the board – with great results! I was hooked. By the end of the week, Lady Bird was a delight and I was a training-knowledge fiend.

Upon my return, I quickly realized that I had so many resources at my finger tips: Your Dog’s Friend, Beth the shelter trainer, other blogging friends, books, websites and so much more. I dove right in. While I am learning so much valuable information, I am also realizing that this is how it’s done, this is how people get into training. You’re not born knowing everything about dogs or wanting to train them (okay, maybe some have dreams to be a dog trainer as a kid, but not all of us), and you might not even wake up one day and just decide you want to be a trainer. Sometimes it takes lots of exposure to it or lots of trial and error or lots of exciting successes to get you hooked. Everyone’s story is unique.

Come back on Thursday to see how my dog training journey is unfolding. I am excited to share with you all where things are headed!

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