Celine Yang‘s, KPA CTP, interest in dog training was triggered when she and her brand-new husband added Severus Snape, a shiba inu puppy, to their family. Celine and Severus attended two puppy kindergarten schools (both positive-reinforcement training businesses!) to create a solid foundation of behaviors and communication that has allowed them to continue their dog-training education as well as participate in a variety of dog sports.
Even before Celine became an assistant trainer at The Pet Republic, where she is now part of a staff that offers group and private puppy socialization, basic manners, tricks, scent detection, and agility lessons, she was studying animal behavior on her own. Karen Pryor’s book Reaching the Animal Mind captivated Celine and led her to explore the Karen Pryor Academy website. She completed the KPA Dog Trainer Foundations course when “dog training was more of a hobby rather than a potential career.” Working at The Pet Republic inspired Celine to enroll in the KPA Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) course along with two friends and, of course, with Severus. “It was so much fun attending the workshops together, training for our assessments together, and being able to fully empathize and support each other through the entire process,” remembers Celine. She completed the KPA DTP program in November 2016 with Emma Parsons in Franklin, Massachusetts.
Celine found the DTP program training assessment, creating a 10-part behavior chain, challenging. The assignment “necessitated that I carefully examine my cues and determine which movements and/or words acted as functional cues to my dog. It challenged me to clean up my cues,” she says. Figuring out functional cues for both dog behaviors and human behaviors still occupies Celine today! Another DTP program lesson that Celine appreciates and continues to employ is the value of creative training. “Working on the same 10 behaviors can get stale if you let it.” Practicing her behavior chain at the park and at other training facilities helped Celine perfect her performance. As another means of preparing for her DTP assessment, Celine wrote behaviors on index cards and shuffled them, practicing for the “4 behaviors in random order” component of the testing. “I still use these little games today to maintain established behaviors,” she says.
What she learned through her KPA courses impacts Celine’s interactions with every single student she trains. At The Pet Republic, clicker training is discussed with all clients at the very first class. “Sometimes dog owners are skeptical, but that [feeling] changes when they see how swiftly their dogs learn new behaviors with the clicker,” reports Celine. A hand touch is one of the first behaviors taught to new student dogs/owners, partly to reinforce that message. “It’s exciting for me to watch owners beaming with pride when their puppies begin to offer hand touches at varying angles and distances. It gives the owners a boost of confidence and helps them realize that their dogs are capable of problem-solving and offering desirable behaviors in an environment set up for success.”
Positive lessons from KPA are incorporated into Celine’s personal life, too—on a macro and on a micro level. “Since I started clicker training, I’m more aware of the power of positive reinforcement with people.” Celine believes that her husband, Pierre-Guy, benefits most from this philosophy of living. “Whenever he does something helpful around the house, I make sure to thank him for that. He finds words of affirmation very reinforcing.” She shares the flip side of the reinforcement coin as well:
“I am also conscious of when I shouldn’t reinforce! When I’m working on my computer and my husband is engaging in ‘attention-getting behaviors’ (like dancing around the living room, singing a song he made up, and being purposely annoying), I do my best to ignore him. When he finally gets tired of his circus act, he always asks, ‘Why didn’t you yell at me to stop? Why aren’t you looking at my silly dance?’ I always respond, ‘I’m not going to reinforce that behavior!’”
While her husband’s silliness does continue, Celine figures it is self-reinforcing to a certain extent. The dogs are entertained, so “my husband’s crazy dancing/singing is probably being reinforced by them, too!”
Celine and Severus enjoy trick-dog training. Celine believes it to be one of the most versatile ways to keep a dog mentally engaged on a budget. “You don’t need a lot of space or special equipment, and there is no limit to what does or does not count as a trick!” In all of her work with Severus, but most especially during this “fun” time together, Celine focuses on Severus’s comfort with what they are doing. She is not afraid to look for workarounds to training steps that annoy or frustrate her dog. “It’s important not to get stuck on someone else’s strategy for training a particular trick,” Celine says. “I don’t want to shape frustration into a behavior.” One challenge of trick-dog training that Celine and Severus face is adding finesse through smooth transitions and chains. “I draw a lot of inspiration from musical freestyle competitors in this area.”
The pair is just beginning to learn about and participate in obedience exercises. “For us, the main challenge in obedience will be thinning out reinforcement, since primary reinforcers are not allowed in the ring,” reports Celine. But, Severus and Celine find challenges extremely motivating. “Things that are easy are not as satisfying to accomplish. Challenges make it that much better when you and your dog finally ‘get it!’” So, Celine will work to develop alternative reinforcers for Severus and help Severus, a very food-motivated dog, learn not to vocalize during obedience behaviors. “I would not be surprised if we struggle with the fine line between drive and over-arousal,” predicts Celine.
While Severus and Celine have been working together for three years, Celine is just starting activities with her newer dog, Whizbee. “I have high hopes for her. I plan to start her with scent detection in December 2017!”
In addition to her professional training lessons and athletic challenges with Severus (and now Whizbee), Celine maintains an online blog, “a casual outlet to express all of my dog-related opinions and experiences.” She posts product reviews (calling herself one of many dog trainers with an expensive fetish for well-made dog equipment) and archives her own dogs’ training and behavior journeys. “The two dogs that live with me are still works in progress. I do not see behavior problems as something to conceal or be ashamed of. I hope that being honest about the things I struggle with will inspire others to open up about their own dogs’ challenges and to seek help if they want to make a positive change. There are kind and effective ways to make things better!” Celine also shares photos and short videos of her dogs on Instagram, and has been a guest on the Pawprint Animal Rescue podcast.
Celine continues her canine-related education that was launched by Karen Pryor’s book; she has attended ClickerExpo and completed some online classes. “I hope to take Dr. Susan Friedman’s Living and Learning with Animals (LLA) course someday. I also want to make it out to The Ranch!”