What and How I Teach

I teach using positive reinforcement. That means I teach by providing desirable consequences for behaviors that I want to see more of. Food is often the easiest reinforcer to use in teaching new skills, but as behaviors are learned, and you learn to gauge what your dog finds truly reinforcing, you will learn to use a wider variety of reinforcers.

I will also teach you to how to use positive reinforcement in the reduction of behavior you don't want. I do not use techniques where the primary strategy is to reduce behavior by inflicting pain, because across multiple species, these techniques carry a well-documented risk of creating fears and phobias, avoidance behaviors, aggression, and/or apathy. 

I have formal education in how animals learn. You might be surprised to learn that this is not required in dog training, an unregulated field. Some of my education has been verified in widely respected certifications (also not required for dog trainers) by the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior and the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. I currently teach other animal professionals about behavior science fundamentals under the auspices of Dr. Susan Friedman at Behavior Works, and starting Fall 2018 am pursuing a master's degree in applied behavior analysis at the University of Kansas (online, so I remain based in Chicago). 

When teaching new behavior, I often use an "event marker." An event marker is a distinct signal that helps the dog understand precisely what he did right and why he's getting that treat. One such marker is a little plastic noisemaker called a clicker (pictured below) Others might be verbal, like "yes" or "good," or hand signals (e.g., a thumbs-up for a deaf dog). 

red iclick.jpg

Some of the advantages of using an event marker are that you can:
  (a) Use plenty of food for reinforcement without having to show the dog the food in order to get the behavior to happen, and avoid having food become part of your cue;
  (b) Quickly take advantage of the many behaviors your dog actually already knows how to physically do (sit, lie down, stand, turn, wait, be quiet) to get him to do them when you ask, or in response to  environmental conditions;
  (c) Bridge the gap between the behavior and the reinforcer for precise communication even when you are working away from the dog;
  (d) Help the dog understand what behavior will be reinforced.

In my experience, learning to use a clicker as an event marker can help a novice trainer develop the good timing necessary for all effective training. But the use of this particular device as your event marker is not required. 

I break down complex behaviors into small, achievable steps for both dog and owner—a proven way of keeping both of you engaged in and enjoying training as well as moving steadily toward your goals.

I train people. I want you to know how to communicate with your dog and how to problem-solve after I leave.  

For more about how I teach, please check out my blog and my index of training publications for other outlets.