Frequently Asked Questions

What's the alphabet soup after your name?

There is no regulation or licensure in the field of dog training, so unfortunately anyone can call themselves a "dog trainer."  Reputable, qualified trainers earn credentials through certifying organizations while working directly with clients.  Each credential has a recognized abbreviation that follows the trainer's name.  I hold the following credentials:

  • The KPA-CTP credential is granted by the distinguished Karen Pryor Academy upon successful completion of the Dog Trainer Professional program of study, as well as passing scores on rigorous assessments that measure the candidate's skills in dog training and client coaching.

  • The CPDT-KA credential is granted by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, an independent organization that seeks to improve the quality of dog training services available to the public through the examination of professional trainers.

  • The ACDBC credential is granted by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. The evaluation measures a candidate’s expertise in using behavior modification to resolve species-specific behavioral challenges, as opposed to the training of operant skills.

  • The CHES credential is earned through an online learning program for humane educators, originally offered through the Humane Society of the United States and now offered through the Academy of Prosocial Learning.

How do I choose a professional trainer?

It is truly alarming that anyone can do anything to your dog in the name of “training.”  When choosing someone to work with your dog, first ensure that the individual is a professional with their own legitimate business, rather than someone who engages in training as a hobby.  You want to work with someone who carries liability insurance, and who has the knowledge and experience necessary to achieve results while treating your pet with kindness.  Reputable individuals have earned one or more certifications, and are affiliated with organizations that maintain high standards for quality dog training and customer service.  If an individual does not hold a recognized certification, does not adhere to the Standards of Practice, and/or does not follow the Least Invasive Minimally Aversive and Humane Hierarchy protocols, they are not qualified to work with your dog.  Check out the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers for tips on choosing a great trainer.  The APDT, CCPDT, PPG, and Karen Pryor Clicker Training all have trainer search features on their sites.

What are the advantages of in-home training?

Convenient in-home training is highly effective and saves you time and hassle.  A group class format is not a good fit for dogs who are easily distracted, fearful, reactive, hyperaroused, or struggle with impulse control.  Most unwanted behaviors, such as door dashing or counter surfing, are best resolved in the environment where they actually occur.  Additionally, dogs don't generalize well, which means that if you teach your dog to sit in one location, he may be confused when you ask him to sit in a different location.  Owners are often disappointed when their dog sits, comes, and walks nicely on leash at a training facility, but struggles with the same behaviors when at home or in public. I work with dogs in their own homes to minimize distractions and ensure they are comfortable during the acquisition phase of learning.  Once your dog can easily demonstrate desired behaviors at home, you can hit the road to ensure they respond reliably to cues while in your backyard, neighborhood, and public locations. 

What if I don't have time for training?

Training your dog requires a commitment of time and energy.  That's why I provide everything you need to know in a format that is easy to understand and implement.  My Latchkey Canines packages are designed specifically for owners who want a well-trained dog but can't make time for coaching sessions in their busy schedules.  In a format known as day training, I do the heavy lifting while you're at work, and pass your dog's skills on to you in a transfer session.  This option is more expensive, but extremely effective due to lots of one-on-one time between trainer and dog. I also offer a Walk n’ Train service that incorporates the physical exercise of a leash walk with the mental stimulation of basic training.

What is the cost involved in training my dog?

Plucky Paws training sessions are bundled in packages of six or nine sessions.  All packages include an initial assessment session.  Six-session coaching packages total $490.00, and nine-session coaching packages total $700.00. For puppy and Foundation Skills packages, I usually recommend six sessions.  For behavior modification, particularly involving potentially dangerous behavioral symptoms, I offer packages of nine sessions to ensure that we have enough time to cover all the bases and improve your dog's behavior.  Payment is due in full at the time of the assessment, or you can take advantage of a credit card payment plan.  Clients located outside Plucky Paws service areas may still be eligible for in-home training, with the inclusion of a standard travel fee.  Check out the great discounts I offer to animal welfare employees, students, new puppy parents, and adopters!

Do you offer single hour-long training sessions?

Trainers sell sessions in packages because we simply can't accomplish enough in one or two hours for the training to stick.  Training is cumulative, and teaching any new behavior requires time, practice, and a series of repeated, hands-on sessions.  For new clients who are interested in training but would like to learn more before deciding to purchase a package, I offer the initial diagnostic assessment as a stand-alone session for the rate of $75.00.  For clients who have completed a full training package, I am available for individual follow-up sessions at the rate of $75.00 per session, at the client's request.

Why are your training methods effective?

My philosophy and methods are based in behavior science, not the mythology of dominance.  I use modern, progressive, compassionate techniques.  Animals associate actions, events, places, people, and objects with pleasant or unpleasant consequences.  Dogs trained with compassionate relationship-based methods expect good things during a training session.  As a result, they behave with purpose and have the courage to try new behaviors.  They remember behaviors better because they were aware and engaged during the learning process. 

What is a clicker, and why do you use treats?

A clicker is a plastic and metal device that makes a clicking sound, which trainers use to mark the instant the dog performs a desired behavior.  Humans are very verbal, but our dogs are not!  The clicker is a far more effective behavior marker than spoken words like "good dog," because it cuts through all the noise that dogs are used to hearing from us.  After we mark the behavior with a click, we pair the sound with a treat, which is a primary reinforcer.  The dog therefore associates the clicker with food, and pretty soon the clicker itself becomes reinforcing!  Secondary reinforcers, also called functional or life rewards, include play, petting, praise, a walk, a car ride, or permission to go through a doorway.  Once the dog has reliably acquired a behavior, the clicker and treats are faded out so that most behaviors are maintained principally with functional rewards.

What's the difference between a command and a cue?

Traditional force-based trainers issue an intimidating or threatening command, which means "do this or else," before the dog even understands the meaning of the word.  Until the dog knows how to physically perform the behavior you want, attaching a word to it is meaningless!  I work on a behavior until it is readily understood and fluently demonstrated by the dog.  When the dog has achieved at least 80% fluency for the behavior, he is ready to learn the name of the behavior.  I then attach a hand signal or verbal cue, which serves as an invitation to the dog to perform the behavior.

What if the dog doesn't do what you asked?

As a relationship-based trainer, I refrain from attaching moral meaning to a dog's lack of response, such as the dog is "stubborn" or "disobedient."  Often, although the dog does not find a task particularly difficult, it may be frustrated by the learning conditions or distracted by something in the environment.  In these situations, I check for signs that the reward is sufficiently motivating for the dog, that the dog feels safe in the learning environment, that the dog truly knows the meaning of the cue, and that my training is clear and consistent.  When necessary, I revise the training plan or return to the last place the dog was successful, and build again from there.  We don't need to use a word like "No!" or "Oops!" when a dog makes a mistake, because the absence of the click automatically informs the dog that they didn't meet criteria and need to try again.

How do you get rid of unwanted behavior?

As one of only two certified canine behavior consultants in the state of Iowa, I am uniquely prepared to diagnose and address unwanted behaviors. Essentially, I reward the behaviors I like and ignore the behaviors I don't.  In cases where a behavior cannot be ignored because it is dangerous or self-reinforcing, I use management strategies to prevent the dog from rehearsing the behavior, and use operant conditioning to teach the dog to perform a healthier alternative behavior.  I also use behavior modification strategies called counterconditioning and desensitization to change the dog's emotional response to something that worries or frightens them, which is often the root cause of many behavioral challenges.  It’s important to note that dogs experiencing behavior challenges must be provided with constructive opportunities to appropriately express natural canine behaviors. It is unethical to try to “train away'‘ or suppress problematic behaviors without attending to the dog’s essential needs for exercise, enrichment, affection, proper nutrition, and medical care. My Behavior Solutions package is customized to address each dog's specific needs.

Why don't you use punishment?

Training is the teaching of learned behavior.  Punishment doesn't produce learning, so it doesn't qualify as training.  Although punishment may decrease the frequency of an unwanted behavior in the short term by suppressing the behavior, it also damages the dog-owner relationship and produces a variety of harmful side effects that are difficult to predict and control.  Punishment almost always occurs long after the offending event.  Therefore, in the mind of the animal the punishment is random and meaningless.  The "sad-eyed look" on your dog's face when you reprimand him does not indicate that he is "guilty" and knows he "did wrong."  The dog does not know what he did wrong or why he is being punished, only that he is afraid of you, no longer trusts you, and will now perform the unwanted behavior in your absence!  There is a huge difference in the temperament and ultimate success of an animal who works to earn rewards versus an animal who works to avoid fear, pain, or intimidation.