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Back to School: Clicking at Karen Pryor Academy

Editor's note: Canadian dog trainer Andrew Turner was among the first to graduate as a Certified Training Partner from Karen Pryor Academy (KPA), an innovative dog training school that provides superlative learning through online coursework and onsite sessions at locations across the country. Andrew studied with KPA faculty member Emma Parsons in Franklin, Massachusetts. We spoke to Andrew about his KPA experience, and why it matters.

Why did you enroll at KPA? What made you think KPA would be a worthwhile career investment?

Andrew Turner

Andrew Turner

AT: I have always trained using positive reinforcement and a verbal marker. I thought I knew about clicker training and that it would not suit me until I finally read a book on positive reinforcement using a clicker. I tried it, was amazed—and hooked! From that point forward I have always used a clicker for teaching.

Shortly after reading the book, I found out about ClickerExpo from a web search. There was a ClickerExpo to be held in Cleveland, Ohio, in March 2007. I registered and booked my travel arrangements.

This conference was not like others I had attended. Many of the speakers' names were not familiar to me and the choice of Sessions and Learning Labs was extensive. There was also the opportunity to have dinner with a faculty member. I reserved dining space with Steve White, one of the familiar names to me from an APDT conference I had attended several years previously. It was most enjoyable and relaxed. The other guests were all friendly and everyone was included in the conversation. When clicker trainers get together you know it's going to be a fun time! We are more relaxed and probably have more empathy than compulsion trainers.

I attended many sessions, including those presented by Emma Parsons, Victoria Broitman, Ken Ramirez, Attila Szkukalek, and Kay Laurence. I was captivated by all of them. All were passionate, dedicated, and oozed enthusiasm. These people were teaching how to train with force-free, friendly, and successful means. Above all, it was clear that they had respect for all animals, something that I have found is not always apparent with dog trainers.

KPA Program Director Tia Guest had a table in the ClickerExpo "shop" with information on the proposed Karen Pryor Academy. I stopped by several times and spoke to Tia. I enjoy learning and thought that this could be something that I would benefit from. Each presentation at ClickerExpo reinforced this idea and I left knowing that I wanted to enroll in KPA; the faculty had, unwittingly, cemented this.

When I learned that Emma Parsons was one of the KPA faculty members, I immediately knew that I wanted to enroll in her class. Emma's talk in Cleveland had been emotive and I knew exactly how she felt about her dog "Ben." The bonus was that she was also the closest KPA instructor to New Brunswick, Canada, and within reasonable driving distance. If I was accepted, I had no doubt that the investment would be one that I could capitalize on for my career and most importantly for the dogs I work with.

How was KPA different from other learning opportunities you've experienced?

AT: Learning with KPA was inspiring. The access to online discussion—not only with your own instructor but to all faculty instructors and students—allowed debate and problem-solving. There was never a feeling of "you're on your own." Feedback was fast and Tia always seemed to be available to answer technical questions 24 hours a day!

The design of the online learning content allowed review of each lesson and allocation of study time. The assignments were hard work but rewarding because they enabled one to comprehend, learn, and often gave opportunity to put into practice. Indeed, I integrated much of what I learned into my teaching with clients as I progressed through the course.

The business lessons were an aspect often neglected in animal training. Again, the lessons were set up so that one could apply learned components to one's own business and this was particularly insightful.

Workshops were a box of delights. They were structured so that we could demonstrate what we had learned with our own dog and receive positive feedback from the instructor and fellow students. This just opened up a relaxed and confidence-building learning environment for us and the dogs. From the first workshop, each subsequent workshop was eagerly awaited and always proved to be a highlight. Working with other dogs and seeing your own dog being taught was insightful. It becomes clear that animals excel from positive reinforcement. We were lucky to witness two puppies, Emma's "Lizzie-Taylor" and Daniel's "Gypsy," as well as Maria's rescue dog "Molly," blossom between one workshop and the next.

What about the KPA experience has been most personally satisfying to you thus far?

AT: Completion of the KPA curriculum made the penny drop—it's all about behavior and it's only about behavior. With the correct understanding of operant conditioning and force-free teaching anyone can do it. This means that I can teach my clients to teach their dogs whatever they want.

What impact do you anticipate KPA may have on dog training in general and clicker training in particular?

AT: I have no doubt that KPA will cut the pathway for the emergence of a new generation of positive reinforcement animal teachers. Traditional dog training is stuck; it cannot evolve any more as a correction/punishment-based method. There is no place for chains and electric shocks in the 21st century. Some countries have already banned the use and sale of electric shock collars and prong collars. The movement towards fun, friendly, force-free positive reinforcement is underway. Clicker training will become synonymous with force-free teaching. As clicker training spreads so will the incentive to train other animals with force-free methods. Horses will be taught with the clicker, children will want to train their pocket pets with the clicker. Vets will graduate from veterinary college knowing that canine dominance is unfounded and has no place in today's society—they will promote clicker trainers.

Professional dog training associations will gradually work towards positive reinforcement. The UK APDT has been all-positive for several years; the same will happen to the USA APDT and Canada's CAPPDT. The Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers will mold its criteria towards positive reinforcement. Police dogs will be trained with the clicker; their chains will be discarded. The kickback will be tremendous. Positive reinforcement is infectious and needs no remedy.

What impact has your status as a Certified Training Partner had on your training business?

AT: Since graduating I have been super busy. I've just finished 20 consecutive days of work without a break. I'm incorporating what I learned at the Academy and my clients love it and some just don't want to stop learning! I'm now planning on introducing clicker training for children to teach their pets. The parents will be observers and see the enjoyment that their children have with their pet and the bond developing. I attended the Canadian National Agility Championships and had a vendor's space. I had only clicker training gear and educational materials. Also I had an 8' x 2' banner made with the KPA logo. In the weeks to come, I am hoping that new clients will start to discover me from my KPA profile page.

Any interesting anecdotes about your KPA classroom experience?

AT: We instantly hit it off—all of us! Emma has a great sense of humor yet is professional at the same time; a very skilled teacher. We all enjoyed playing the shaping game. I can't recall if it was TAGteach or shaping, the former I think—anyway we all had to take turns at doing the "tushy-scoot" which meant standing from a sitting position. That actual term was in Emma's notes! Needless to say, this exercise resulted in uncontrollable laughter and giggling and Emma didn't miss out on the fun!

Emma kindly allowed us to observe one of her reactive dog classes. She also took us to visit a modern animal shelter and Karen Pryor's business at Sunshine Books. Karen very kindly took us all out for lunch. We all appreciated this; it was at our last workshop and took the pressure off our impending assessments.

I anxiously await Emma's KPA course on reactivity/aggression—I will be the first to enroll!

Find out more about Andrew and his training services at the KPA website.

Thinking about taking your dog training career to the next level? Learn more about Karen Pryor Academy .

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