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Karen Pryor Academy: What’s In It for You?

Why KPA?

For new trainers just opening their own business, the decision to enroll in Karen Pryor Academy's (KPA) Dog Trainer Professional program is obvious and easy. If you want to become the best, you must learn from the best. Who better to learn from than the woman who introduced marker training to legions of dog trainers and devotees in the book that revolutionized the field, Don't Shoot the Dog!

dog on foam finger

Photo courtesy of Alicea Schaeffer

For those with established and successful training enterprises, perhaps the benefits of KPA are less apparent. You may have a number of trainers on staff and a full roster of clients, with a waiting list—generally satisfied with the state of your business. If this describes your business, congratulations on your success! What could the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program offer you?

A friend in need, a referral indeed!

My friend Katie called me from Chicago for some help. She had rescued three Pomeranians, two with reactivity issues. Katie is a devoted pet owner, and found a behaviorist to work with her dogs. Unfortunately, Katie found it difficult to make appointments with her behaviorist, whose schedule booked quickly.

With Katie in Chicago, and me in upstate New York, there was little I could do to help, except to offer support, suggestions for good reading, etc. I needed to find Katie help in her area. I wanted to refer her to someone that I knew understood the science of positive reinforcement training, its correct application—someone who would respect Katie's desire to address the presenting behavior issues without the use of aversives.

There is only one place I know of where trainers make such a pledge, an organization that certifies only those students with a 4.0 coursework average and makes retaining certification contingent upon a commitment to force-free training techniques. That organization is Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Behavior & Training.

I went immediately to the KPA website, hoping to refer my friend to a KPA Certified Training Partner (CTP) in the Chicago area. Luckily, I came across Laura Monaco Torelli, and I asked Katie to call Laura to arrange a lesson.

Within a day, I received a call from Katie saying she'd made an appointment with Laura. I also received a voice mail message from Laura, thanking me for the referral. Days later, I heard from them both again, two women amazingly happy with their new training partnership and three dogs on their way to good behaviors.

Since then, I've referred to other KPA CTPs on many occasions, and the referrals have all had the same result—happy clients, happy dogs, happy trainers. It's a win/win/win!

I've referred to other KPA CTPs on many occasions, and the referrals have all had the same result—happy clients, happy dogs, happy trainers.

Laura, what's in it for you?

I had no idea that I'd make a new friend from this first referral, but I certainly have! Laura lets me bother her with training questions at least once a week now. I love the opportunity to chat with her, and to get guidance from someone with so much, and such varied, training experience. As someone who lists Ken Ramirez's book, Animal Training: Successful Animal Management Through Positive Reinforcement, on my "Top 5 Things I'd Bring with Me on a Deserted Island" list, I admit I was a bit humbled to hear that Laura had worked so closely with him, and that Ken recommended that Laura attend Karen Pryor Academy.

happy KPA CTPs

(l-r) Jules Nye, Koos (friend of Jules),
and Casey Lomonaco

Photo courtesy of Lou Mande

(Rounding out my deserted island Top 5 would be: husband, chow mix, Saint Bernard, iPod!)

My curiosity was piqued. What did this program have to offer Laura, who had been a Senior Lead Trainer at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium? Laura has a successful training business with a number of employees in the Chicago area, and is currently the Animal Training and Behavior Consultant for Niabi Zoological Society. What did Ken, one of the authors of the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program, think it had to offer Laura, an experienced trainer and graduate student in biology, in the way of new skills/information?

Laura, a patient teacher of both dog owners and dog trainers, responded to my questions:

"Having had amazing learning and training experiences in my career, I found myself looking for more positive resources and mentors to add. My educational journey has been all about positive reinforcement training for animals and people. My career began in 1991 as a marine mammal trainer for Ken Ramirez at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. The first book that was handed to me for required reading as a new trainer was Don't Shoot the Dog!

My career has since included the joy of training with other species in the zoological community with San Diego Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, and currently as the Training Consultant for Niabi Zoo. In 2007, I sought Ken's input about Karen Pryor Academy. His enthusiastic response and detailed feedback about the KPA Dog Trainer Program was the exact endorsement I was looking for! Everything Ken foretold that I would experience did happen—among other amazing learners and faculty. Even though I'm an experienced trainer with the most wonderful mentors, KPA taught me more! Not only did I learn how to be a better animal trainer with domestic and exotic animals, but I learned how to be a better teacher to people. The six months in the KPA program was just the tip of a very big iceberg. What I also received and continue to benefit from was the supportive network of faculty, alumni, and learners that provides a constant, proactive dialogue of listservs, seminars, private e-mail and phone calls, all discussing training. I've also made life-long friends through my collaborations with KPA. My experiences have been so outstanding that I was honored to accept the Student Application Coordinator position at KPA recently. What an amazing journey to be introduced to Karen Pryor 18 years ago, and to now be a graduate of her Academy. My journey to learn more among phenomenal people and animal continues on...."

I've heard similar sentiments within the alumni group. These graduates are people with master's and doctorate-level degrees in animal behavior, veterinary professionals specializing in behavior, and accomplished trainers representing the entire training spectrum: training dogs for detection and protection, for agility or herding, for service for all types of disabled individuals, for aggression and reactivity issues, and, not least, for family dog relationships.All of these trainers learned new skills, improved upon their existing skills, and improved their business.

All of these trainers learned new skills, improved upon their existing skills, and improved their business—results that came from participating in the KPA Dog Trainer program.

Business building

One of the outstanding benefits of the KPA Dog Trainer Professional program is that the Academy continues to help training partners grow their businesses after graduation. Helping CTPs raise their profiles and grow their businesses is an important part of the KPA mission. In pursuit of that mission, KPA has made, and continues to make, smart investments in efforts that directly improve your bottom line.

For example, one of the Academy's initiatives is a sustained effort to build bridges to the veterinary community. Most successful trainers will agree that our businesses are largely referral-based, and that veterinarians are one of the best sources for referrals. In recognition of this, KPA gives you tools to market in your local community. KPA also helps with outreach beyond a trainer's local area, something that is difficult for many of us on our own. Traveling to veterinary conferences across the nation to educate the veterinary community about the benefits of positive reinforcement training in general, and of KPA certified trainers specifically, costs thousands of dollars. In 2009, KPA faculty and Certified Training Partners lectured at and attended four major veterinary conferences around the country.

KPA also extends marketing into the pet-owning community, in both national print and electronic/online publications. The Academy markets KPA CTPs collectively on its website. Each graduate creates a profile for his or her business. Profiles can be updated from your own home or training center at any time. KPA takes it from there—marketing the profiles and generating referrals for you! KPA trainer profiles have been viewed over 15,000 times in the last seven months, with traffic from all regions of the country and the world. CTPs can obtain statistics on how many views their individual profiles receive, where the visitors are coming from, and a variety of other profile-related data. Want to see a sample profile? Visit mine!

KPA has created an extensive and growing resource center for CTPs with tools to help you market yourself. There are resources to use for introductions to local veterinary professionals, including letters of referral, fact sheets, veterinary lead files, and press releases about the program, graduating classes, and notable alumni. The alumni group is also a great resource for marketing ideas.The alumni group is also a great resource for marketing ideas.

Other benefits of the Dog Trainer Professional program

  • The network. I can't say enough about the wonderful network created by KPA alumni and faculty. As a graduate, the opportunity to discuss curriculum development, TAGteaching in the classroom, dealing effectively and positively with challenging clients or cases, training plan development, and more is invaluable.
  • Referrals. The ability to give and receive solid referrals is very refreshing. I know that each time I make a referral my own reputation is on the line. When referring to a fellow CTP, I am making a safe bet. I know they're all 4.0 students. I know they've all been evaluated by impartial third parties on training skills, both with their own dogs and with other dogs, as well as on ability to teach students positively.
  • The pledge. I know of no other programs that require students to make a pledge that they will promote and use dog-friendly training techniques, and of no other programs that will in fact revoke a trainer's certification if they pay lip service to positive training (using the term as a marketing buzzword to lure clients) while using shock collars or other aversives when working with clients' animals. KPA sets the gold standard for positive reinforcement trainers.
  • KPA discounts. CTPs are offered discounted rates at the www.clickertraining.com Store, on other KPA courses, and for ClickerExpo registration (bonus: an alumni/faculty luncheon at ClickerExpo, one of the best parts of the conference!).
  • The curriculum. When you graduate, you receive the Karen Pryor Academy curriculum for beginner dog training classes. I joke with students that this is what their tuition really pays for. The curriculum is chock-full of information on how to structure either a linear or modular class based on ten foundation behaviors. The foundation behaviors are broken out into various skill levels, and teaching sheets are provided that include an explanation of each level along with suggested click points and suggested TAG points.
  • "You can train a dog, can you train a..." One of my favorite things about the Dog Trainer Professional program was the requirement to train another species. Training a hermit crab or miniature donkey will certainly expand your skills as a dog trainer!
  • Business learning from Aaron Clayton. If you've attended one of his seminars at ClickerExpo, you need no further explanation for why business advice from Aaron is so valuable. He has designed a number of business lessons for the course that focus on helping you improve your bottom line. Being a good dog trainer and a good business owner are two very different achievements. KPA helps develop both in its graduates.
happy kpa ctps

KPA CTPs (l-r) Jules Nye, Allison Zimmerman,
Casey Lomonaco, Laura Donaldson
Photo courtesy of Lou Mande

The few, the proud, the KPA CTP

The KPA Dog Trainer Professional program is intense and challenging. One of the students who recently came through the program at Clicking with Canines said he hadn't done anything as challenging since law school!

I often think that being a KPA CTP is like being a Marine. On www.marines.com, the "core values" that define a Marine are stated: Honor, Courage, and Commitment. The site also says, "Marines are held to the highest standards, ethically and morally. Respect for others is essential. Marines are expected to act responsibly in a manner befitting the title they've earned."

It is an honor to be a KPA CTP. For too long, dog trainers have used traditional training methods grounded in scientifically unsound and disproven theories of dominance. Karen Pryor Academy provides dog trainers with the knowledge and skills needed to implement effectively scientifically proven, modern training techniques. Along with that information is the concrete business education needed to grow businesses.

Certification represents a commitment to the science of learning, and to keeping abreast of behavioral research so as to improve the well-being of our two- and four-legged clients (not to exclude my clicker kitty, Ahab the 3.5-legged cat, or any other students who are "differently legged").

Have questions about the program? Check out https://www.karenpryoracademy.com/dog-trainer-program for more information!

About the author
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Casey Lomonaco lives in upstate New York, where she offers editorial, writing, and behavior consulting services through her company Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training. When she is not working with or writing about dogs, she is knitting, reading, or hiking in a forest—with dogs.

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