One Step Closer to the Stars

I wasn’t sure what to write about for today’s blog post. I’ve got so many dog-related topics at the forefront of my brain, each one seemingly just as important to write about as the next.  Even though I just about had my mind made up for what today’s post was going to be, I changed my mind last minute to take advantage of the raw emotion I’m feeling right now, and to give you guys a[nother] blog post from the heart.

This afternoon I opened up an email saying that I passed my certification exam for the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA).  Over the weekend, Paco and I were tested on everything we have worked on for the past seven months. I know in the grand scheme of learning about dogs and dog training and dog behavior, seven months is only a blip of time – but the past seven months have been what feels like nothing but intense training and hours of studying. I’ve learned so much about dogs, but also about myself.

I know graduation from KPA did not make me a dog trainer overnight. Dog behavior is complex and takes years of experience, in my opinion, before you can truly get a grasp on what is going on in the brains of our four-legged companions.  But KPA gave me skills and much of the knowledge needed to tackle every day behavioral issues in a way that works with how dogs learn and, better yet, how we can build trust in the human-canine bond.  It fueled the already strong passion I have to go out and show the world that you can train dogs without using an ounce of fear, pain, dominance, force, strength, whatever; and that a relationship built in positive reinforcement and mutual respect is really beautiful.

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I can’t imagine bringing any dog through the course other than Paco.  That pup has such a love for life and any progress I made as a trainer would show through tenfold in his abilities because it meant we were communicating that much better. He was such a star! On the last day of workshops we were goofing off together and I taught him how to bow and then how to target a yogurt lid on the wall from a distance – both using maybe five minutes of shaping. I would squeal because he’d get it right and he’d get all excited and wiggly and I would start laughing at him and soon we’d cause a whole scene of happiness and I’d stop for a second and almost start to cry because once upon a time this was a dog who didn’t even really want to make eye contact with me, let alone work with me. Clicker training goes a long way, folks – even for pit bulls and other “strong” breeds (whatever the heck that means). Towards the end of our time working together all I needed to do was tap into Paco’s love for playing tug and he would perform behavior chains for me for however long I wanted. His tail would wag and his whole butt would shake and he’d keep coming back for more, waiting for his next cue. He loved working. He loved it. I also forget until looking at two photos like this that he has literally grown up with me. From a gangly young puppy to a handsome adult, Paco took every step of this journey right along beside me.

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Graduating from KPA was a huge accomplishment for me. It means I’ve got some fancy letters at the end of my name now: KPA CTP, which stand for Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. Because dog training is a completely unrelated industry, no two certification programs are the same (unfortunately – hopefully one day that will change). Your average dog owner might not know what exactly KPA CTP means, but if they looked up the school they’d see that KPA’s program is built around the science of learning and force-free training principles, and that they believe strongly in continuing education – a standard that is important in dog training. Moving forward, I will work towards my Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) certification; one that is a bit more broad, but doesn’t necessarily have the same education behind it. The whole industry is very complicated!

This was a huge stepping stone for my ultimate career goals (too many to write) and overall life goals (helping more dogs). While I’m relieved it’s over, I know it also means many more opportunities – and much more work – from here on out, and I can’t wait!

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Going With the Snow

All you East Coasters know the snow storm we experienced at the end of last week. We’ve had a lot of snow so far this winter, but all in small doses. On Wednesday night we had 10+ inches dumped on the DC area!

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Knowing I had my Karen Pryor Academy final testing weekend coming up in just two days, I borrowed Paco to get snowed in with. His family knew they’d have a house full of kids since everyone would be off school, so they were happy to let me take him for as long as I wanted. We grabbed some extra training treats and a bottle of wine and we settled right in for however long we would be snowed in for. In between playing, snuggling relaxing on the couch and eating snow day food, Paco and I got in a lot of really great training. I felt ready for our big test!

IMG_4285IMG_4298Friday morning rolled around and I got some great news that the shelter was closed for the second day in a row so I had the whole day to prepare. I planned out my to-do list and got started with organizing all my supplies for the big weekend. I would need high value treats, long lasting chews, all of our studying/exam materials, the props for our ten-part chain and more.  I was excited to get it all out of the way so I could relax with Paco for the evening.

I got news shortly after my day started that because of the snow we’d gotten and the snow we were going to get Friday night, the final testing weekend was being postponed.  When I read the email, my initial reaction was to be upset. I’d prepared so much and felt so ready, and now I would have to wait even longer to get all my hard work wrapped up.

After a quick pity party I realized there was nothing I could do to change the weather, and that I needed to make the best of the situation. For starters, I now had an entire weekend with nothing on my calendar – something that hadn’t happened in what feels like literally years. Also, now I have more time to prepare for our final exam. Since all of our coursework is out of the way, for the next four weeks (the test is rescheduled for mid-March) I can focus solely on my and Paco’s performance.

IMG_4273So while I wish that I could be writing to you all right now about how the course ended and how Paco and I did, that is no longer the plan. I’ve got four more weeks of practicing and (anxiously!) waiting to test my skills. And we’ll embrace that extra time and be thankful for the additional opportunities to improve ourselves so that we have our best shot at passing and getting our KPA CTP certification. We will keep you updated!

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