December 2013 CTP of the Month: Laura Sharkey

Laura Sharkey, PhD, KPA CTP, CPDT-KSA, OSCT, is excited about every part of her training life. And there are many parts to that life! Scientist, trainer, business-owner, ClickerExpo speaker, and the wearer of many other hats, Laura uses positive training skills in all of her interactions. As she works with aggressive puppies and other needy animals and humans, Laura continues to work on her own skills, too, and looks ahead to many other extensions of the science-based training she believes in and has applied across many disciplines.

Laura first heard about the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Dog Trainer Professional Program from her friend and fellow KPA Certified Training Partner (CTP) Ariana Kincaid. They enrolled in the program together! Laura and Ariana have worked together both at Laura’s business, WOOFS! Dog Training Center, and at Operation Socialization, an organization that facilitates safe, early, and effective puppy socialization. Laura was impressed with the high-level education the Dog Trainer Professional Program offered. She says, “I enrolled because it is the most advanced trainer program available. I have been a clicker trainer for many years, but the chance to break it down, work on all the elements, and put it back together—correctly this time—was impossible to pass up.”

For Laura, the most demanding aspects of the Dog Trainer Professional Program were the training challenges, not-so-coincidentally where she learned the most. Laura calls the training challenges “illuminating, because they were so difficult.” To start, Laura would tell herself that a challenge would be easy to train, but then find herself in an almost-impossible bind. Watching her dog struggle was difficult for Laura, particularly when she realized that the reason for the struggle was her own lack of skills. That realization pushed Laura to figure out how to improve her communication skills. Her canine partner in the program benefited, but since then so have many others.

Since graduating from KPA, Laura is seeing more training clients than ever before. Known as a pioneer in the areas of puppy training and development (one of the first to offer weekly puppy socialization opportunities for the public, as well as open-enrollment puppy classes), she now feels even more prepared to help with some of the larger issues, like aggression. Laura says, “I feel more certain than ever about the methods I am using, especially about using clicker training with my new aggressive puppy program.” Laura actively seeks out aggressive puppies to determine what can be done to help them, an outreach that is very quickly turning into “the non-profit arm of WOOFS!” She is finding that when puppies that bite, for example, are treated in a more “clickerly” manner and taught, rather than challenged and reprimanded, their behavior significantly improves. Laura’s hope is that the odds for adoption for many of these puppies will be increased through her training. While the program is ongoing, “…completely removing any sort of aversive behavior toward them seems to be helping the puppies.”

TAGteach-certified, and scheduled to speak at a Session called Shh! Tagging, Targeting & Tranquil Training at ClickerExpo 2014 in Norfolk, VA, Laura has been trying to use more TAGteaching in her personal interactions. She is proud of figuring out tandem kayaking with her significant other (TAGteaching saved the day!), and of helping other loved ones with individual struggles. Laura says, “The real-life power is amazing. However, it’s still where I need the most practice. With people, you could say that I'm still crossing over.”

Laura is looking for TAGteach to explode. She can envision so much value from TAGteach parenting classes, relationship classes, boss classes, teacher classes, and so on. “Talking about other animal species or just the human animal, improved communication is what can make a difference.”

For several years Laura has been a ClickerExpo attendee. Last year she delivered a “short” presentation. She claims that she is having a hard time believing she will be a full speaker this year. (In addition to her Shh! Tagging, Targeting & Tranquil Training Session, Laura will lead another Session, this one entitled Give Pups a Chance: Working with Aggressive Puppies.) “There is nothing I like more than sitting around and talking dog, but I have always considered the pet-dog owner my audience. Having enough to say that other trainers will find valuable makes my stomach hurt!” Laura admits.

Laura would definitely be interested in continuing to advance her skills through more KPA courses, despite (maybe because of?) the challenges she overcame in the Dog Trainer Professional Program. In the meantime, she is working on her nerves for ClickerExpo, aiding more and more owners of socially-challenged puppies, encouraging clients to work with their dogs beyond basic obedience, perhaps into agility, and exploring parrot training, her new interest. “I would love to get more involved in using clickers to help parrot owners.”

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