October 2017 KPA CTP of the Month: Claudia Barbuto

Claudia Barbuto, KPA CTP, provides individualized in-home training to families and pets through her business, Naturally Pawsitive. In addition to her private training, Claudia is the director of the reactive-dog program and a family-dog instructor at a local facility. She adds volunteer work, including rescue evaluations and therapy-dog training and visits, to her dog-full schedule. All of Claudia’s training is positive, force-free, humane, and effective.

At the suggestion of a friend from Fidelco Guide Dogs, Claudia attended ClickerExpo Stamford in 2013. Experiencing the positivity of Expo for the first time, Claudia says, “I appreciated the emphasis on being positive to all animals, including our human learners.” She met Karen Pryor and was able to observe other KPA faculty members “in action.” Claudia liked Emma Parsons' style, in particular. These experiences and impressions led Claudia to complete the KPA Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) program in February 2014, with Emma Parsons in Franklin, Massachusetts. She completed the program with distinction.

Claudia found the DTP program final exam her biggest challenge of the course. “Teaching ten behaviors to fluency and working through transitions were both illuminating,” reports Claudia. “My training really improved after thinking through the ten-part behavior chain.” 

Since completing her course, Claudia has seen the many benefits of KPA’s positive, force-free approach. “This philosophy makes training a much happier experience for everyone involved.” She cites “plenty of positive feedback from both group-class participants and private clients” as additional evidence to her own experience.

Another lesson from KPA that Claudia has been able to employ in her training is the value of the clicker. “When done properly, using a clicker as an event marker is such an important means of communication with a dog,” she says. Claudia had been using a clicker for many years, but the DTP course helped hone her skills. Learning more about the clicker “made it possible for me to train humans and dogs more effectively, achieving better results more quickly.” She especially values the clicker in the reactive-dog classes that she teaches. Claudia says that “the clicker allows us to tell the dog the exact behavior we want under specific circumstances, such as when another dog is walking by.”

Claudia partners with her dog Zackary, a Bichon Frise, in therapy work. Zackary is a Therapy Dogs International Certified Advanced therapy dog. “He just earned his Active Outstanding Volunteer designation from Therapy Dog International for our completion of 150 therapy visits to assisted living facilities,” adds Claudia with pride. The facilities that Claudia and Zackary visit are often convalescent care facilities, and the team specializes in working with the Dementia units. While the places they visit are well-maintained and clean, Claudia says that there’s always an opportunity for something to go awry, and her training with Zackary must take that into account. “We train extensively with a clicker on behaviors such as ‘leave it,’ where Zack has the power to choose whether or not to take an item.” Claudia rewards Zackary for making the correct choice, and then Zackary takes that learned behavior and applies it in their therapy work. A perfect example that Claudia offers is “when he points out to me a pill or something else interesting on the floor. Making the choice to look at me instead of ingesting what he found has been heavily reinforced, so I don't worry that he'll get into something that could impact his health negatively.” In addition to her own therapy visits with partner Zackary, Claudia is a mentor to new therapy-dog/handler teams.

Relying more on the positive training emphasized by KPA, Claudia finds it easier now to think differently about what she and her clients are trying to achieve with the dogs. Claudia also strives to “understand what would motivate the human to keep trying.” With students who are training their dogs to be service or emotional-support dogs, Claudia has worked to “develop empathy for my students and their situations.” This growth and learning has led Claudia to think differently about people in all areas of her life. 

Claudia continues to learn about positive training. “Every day I’m either reading books or articles, listening to podcasts, watching DVDs, meeting with other trainers, engaging in dialogue, or sharing ideas [about training],” she says. Claudia has attended the most recent Clicker Expo conferences (2016 and 2017). In 2016, she acquired CPDT-KA certification; more recently she became an AKC CGC Evaluator. “My next goal is to become a therapy-dog evaluator,” Claudia shares.

Other future plans include working with Zackary as he trains to compete in Rally-O. “The clicker marks the exact moment Zack is performing the correct behavior. We're looking forward to trialing later this year!”

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