Julia Hamilton, KPA CTP, of Julia Hamilton Dog Training, focuses on creating family harmony when the family unit includes, or is about to include, pets. Her own family includes young children and a dog (and a husband!) who encourage Julia to keep learning and growing as a trainer. In addition to her family-pet work, Julia has expertise with dogs that have serious behaviour challenges, including aggression, reactivity, and fear. Julia is also a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and enjoys teaching a variety of classes with Love 2 Play Dog Training.
It was Julia’s professional mentor, Jeanne Shaw, KPA CTP, who recommended the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program to Julia. According to Julia, Jeanne “always raved about the program.” In the end, Julia completed a KPA DTP course that was hosted at Jeanne’s own training facility! Her program was held in Crescent Valley, BC, Canada, in 2013. “It was an outstanding opportunity for me. I felt lucky not only to be able to attend the program close to home, but to have the support of such an amazing clicker trainer!” says Julia.
Looking back to her experience during the DTP course, Julia remembers many “light-bulb moments.”
Although she had what she refers to as “a good knowledge base” from working with Jeanne Shaw, Julia knew she had gaps in her understanding. “The course really helped fill in the blanks,” she says. One of the concepts Julia most enjoyed learning about was behavior chains. Before her KPA experience, Julia thought of behavior chains as intentionally taught behavior, but the DTP program provided another perspective. “I started to think more about, and understand further, all the unintentional behaviour chains our dogs (and our clients’ dogs!) learn.” This understanding has helped Julia “problem-solve better with clients, when their dogs have unintentionally learned a chain the clients don't like!” reports Julia.
As a Family Paws licensed presenter, alot of Julia’s training work is done with families that are expanding with new children and/or pets. “There are unique challenges preparing families with dogs for life with children. The challenge that always stands out for me is that of time and energy; there is probably nothing that new parents have less of than time and energy!” Julia explains that “while one training plan may work wonderfully for a retired couple, or for a young couple without children, that plan may not work at all for clients with a new baby or young children.” Her quest to find creative ways to train and manage the behavior of animals for clients with very little time has been a great learning experience for Julia. “It has been quite useful as I find my own way with two little ones.”
“Another major challenge of working with new families is the assumption that dogs see children the way humans do,” Julia says. In reality, dogs may react very differently to a child as both the child and the dog progress through different developmental stages. “A child that develops from a newborn who barely moves, to the crawling stage, to the walking stage can catch dogs off guard,” says Julia. “By the time the baby is mobile, most parents assume that the dog is fine with their child, but to the dog the mobile baby may seem like a totally new animal!”
Julia credits the KPA DTP program for exposing her to TAGteaching, something she really enjoyed learning about. After she had her first child in 2014, Julia began to incorporate some TAGteach tenets in her parenting. When she was 6 months pregnant with her second baby, Julia was able to use TAGteach successfully in an anxiety-provoking incident. “My older daughter (age 2 at the time) woke up from a nap and told me that she had a raisin in her nose!” Estimating that the raisin had been there for several hours, Julia saw that it was fairly plump and obstructing her daughter Paige’s breathing. Julia recalls that her daughter had recent upsetting experience with medical personnel and “was scared of anyone examining her or trying to perform procedures.”
The “clicker game” that Julia had introduced to Paige previously came to the rescue! “I had her hold the clicker and click for many tiny increments of me touching my own face with tweezers, then to touching her face with tweezers. Slowly, with Paige marking for each correct repetition, I brought the tweezers closer and closer to her nose, and into the nostril. Finally, I got close enough to grab and pull out the raisin!” recounts Julia. Paige was having so much fun with the clicker that she forgot the raisin was in her nose and was surprised when it came out. Julia remembers feeling happy and successful after this incident. “Instead of it being a long, challenging, and potentially traumatizing event, the raisin retrieval via the clicker game was really empowering for both of us,” she says.
Since completing the KPA DTP program, Julia has had two children; her life has become much busier! However, Julia has managed to expand her knowledge by becoming a Family Paws parent educator, a Certified Behaviour Adjustment Training Instructor, and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. She has also been able to attend two ClickerExpo conferences. Looking ahead, Julia says “I have a list of courses I want to complete, including Susan Friedman's Living and Learn with Animals and more TAGteach. It is always hard to decide what to do next!”
Julia believes that clicker training (specifically, understanding how to use antecedent arrangements and reinforcement strategically) impacts all areas of her life. “Among my goals are to find ways to incorporate these principles into my parenting more extensively and to improve my ability to provide meaningful reinforcement for my family, clients, and students.” Julia also hopes to “continue to expand the types of classes I offer, find new ways to support families with dogs, and continue to spread the word about fun and humane training.”