Long Overdue: Giving Thanks to PPaws Interns 4

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged I’m almost embarrassed to start up again. I have friends e-mailing me asking if I’m still alive – and Jim Croce’s song lyric, “You never seem to have enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them…” is making endless loops in my brain. So… my apologies for the long absence.

Fall sunset at Peaceable Paws

So here it is, almost November already. Where does the time go? It’s been a very busy couple of months. For some reason this fall seemed more jammed than usual – perhaps because of the addition of our first-ever Level 3 Academy. Next week, our last trainer academy for the year (Level 1). Then I am scheduled to give a seminar in Chicago, Illinois on 11/13-14 (coming right up!) and another in State College, Pennsylvania on 12/4-5, before the much-anticipated year-end break. The two seminars are organized by Puppyworks – if you’re in the area, come see me!

So, I’ve been dying to blog about the Level 3 Academy ever since we wrapped it up on September 24th. Since it was our very first one I anticipated some road bumps, and there certainly were some, but it was great to spend a week with some of my very best trainer protégées. By the time they enroll in the Level 3 Academy they have attended Level 1 (Basic Dog Training and Behavior) and at least one Level 2 (Behavior Modification), and preferably our Level 2 Instructors Course as well. Many are CPDTs (Certified Professional Dog Trainers) through the CCPDT and some are CDBCs (certified Dog Behavior Consultants) through the IAABC. Some have also completed the Level 2 Multi-Species Academy that we offer from time to time. These are trainers who are truly committed to their ongoing education. You can find all our Interns listed here on our website.

My vision for the Level 3 Academy was a heavy emphasis on behavior study; gaining a better understanding of how the research process works, in order to better understand the studies that are increasingly exploring the canine mind and the behavior of our favorite companion species. We sent discs to the 8 Academy Interns well in advance, loaded with studies and articles that we would discuss during the week.

Our scheduled curriculum included two training session per day with the dogs that attendees brought with them. We would practice principles of training and behavior that they often employ with clients and sometimes don’t have the time to experiment with on their own dogs absent the distractions of real life. We also had sessions planned each day to discuss the assigned studies and articles. The first two days of the schedule looked like this:


9:00 – Greeting; introductions of canine and human students; discussion of program for the week, first working project with dogs


Key Questions to Ask About Research Studies

False Research Findings

10:00 – Training & Behavior Session #1: Jean Donaldson’s canine IQ test

11-11:15 – BREAK

11:15-Noon – Discuss session results, impressions, opinions, validity

Noon-1:00 – Discuss Studies

1. Dog Training Study

2. U of P Aversive Methods

1:00-2:30 – LUNCH

2:30-3:30 – T&B Session #2 – Shaping

Chris Danker’s Lucy enjoys the hiking!

3:30-3:45 – Discuss session results

3:30-4:30 – Discuss Articles

1. Carrot Approach

2. Intelligence

3. Ratios

4:30-4:45 – BREAK

4:45-5:30 – Discuss “Oh, Behave,” C&S project assignment

6:30 – Class Dinner (Optional) – Next Dimensions



9:00-9:45 – Hike with dogs – practice distance downs

Academy morning group hike. Note Jolanta Benal’s infamous previously-reactive Juni on the right, acting pretty darn normal!

9:45-10:45 – Business Track

10:45-11:00 – BREAK

11:00-Noon – T&B Session  #3 – Premack

Noon-12:15 – Session Results

12:15-1:45 – LUNCH


1:45-2:45 – T&B Session  #4 – Behavior Chain – 3 Behaviors

2:45-3:00 – Session Results

3:00-4:15 – Discuss Studies

3. Training Frequency

4. Does Dog Training Make You Smarter?

4:15-4:30 – BREAK

Lisa Waggoner works with Gibson

4:30-5:00 – Discuss Articles

4. Insect Brains

5. Brain Connections-Learning

5:00-5:30 – Discuss “Carrots & Sticks”

My bubble was a little burst on Day 2 when some of the attendees let it be known they felt there was too much emphasis on the studies and articles; that they would prefer to shorten those discussion times and include more training time as well as more discussion of real-life client consultations. I resisted at first. There are huge issues surrounding professionalism in our field, with probably what is a preponderance of trainers, even still, who aren’t as informed as they could/should be about the science behind the practice of training and behavior modification. With that in mind I had deliberately created the Level 3 emphasis on behavior study.

Nancy Fitzgerald conditions a husbandry procedure with Man Ray

Clearly, however, not all my students were as excited about the study part as I was, and although some were very supportive, I succumbed to the pressure and rearranged the schedule somewhat, to try to meet the needs and expectations of everyone attending.

Despite the slightly rough start, it was a very good week. We experimented with Jean Donaldson’s canine IQ test from her excellent book “Oh Behave,” and determined that two of eight dogs attending were “above average.” Not a scientific test, but interesting – and fun.

After a hike on the farm each morning, students practiced a Premack exercise; taught their dogs a behavior chain; shaped a behavior; played nose games; operantly conditioned a behavior – and then extinguished the response by teaching an incompatible behavior to the same cue; and classically conditioned a positive response to a husbandry procedure. We changed all the “Business Track” scheduled sessions to “Behavior Consults” to satisfy those who wanted more work in that arena, and shortened the study discussion times to allow for a third training session each day – although some of the dogs were pretty toasted by the time we got to the third training session.

Everyone worked hard and learned lots, and as usual, we were all exhausted when the final test was written, the practicals were presented, and each Intern had their final one-on-one meeting with me before hitting the road for home. While they all headed home, I headed back to the drawing board to tweak the curriculum for our 2011 Level 3 Academy, September 19-24.

I treasure these opportunities to work with other trainers who are committed to their professional development. I deliberately keep the academies small and do all the training and teaching myself so that I can build personal relationships with the Interns. I value the friendships we develop over these academy weeks, and take great pride in watching our students go back to their homes and businesses to share the joy of positive training with their dogs, and their clients.

When I left the Marin Humane Society in 1996, after 20 years as an animal protection professional in an organization that had national influence, I was worried that, as a dog trainer, my sphere of influence would be much smaller, only impacting dogs and their humans in my own community. I am eternally grateful that the fates have allowed me to create a sphere of influence that goes far beyond my own community here in Washington County, Maryland. As the holiday season approaches, I give thanks to the more than 200 trainers who have attend our academies since their inception in 1998, for the important part they play in that ever-growing sphere. One trainer at a time, one dog at a time, one dog owner at a time, we all make a difference.

Warm Woofs and Happy Training!

Pat Miller

Level 3 Graduating Class of 2010, l to r: Jolanta Benal, Chris Danker, Viviane Arzoumanian, me, Nancy Fitzgerald, ,Karol Kennedy, Susan Kaminsky, Lisa Waggoner, Trish Castelucci

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4 thoughts on “Long Overdue: Giving Thanks to PPaws Interns

  • Barb

    The dogs are also thankful for these positive trainers!! Don’t tweak the curriculum too much though, I love that you tell your students what they need to hear, not what they may want, or like, to hear! (from a student, non-intern)

  • Lisa Waggoner

    Thanks for a great week, Pat. I’m looking at research studies with new eyes now and so enjoy working with my own boy, Gibson. So great being with you and in the midst of all the other talented trainers! And…just yesterday…another stink bug appeared. LOL!

  • Lisa Waggoner

    Thanks for such a great week, Pat! I’m now looking at research studies with new eyes. It was so fabulous with you and in the midst of all those talented trainers. And…just yesterday….another stink bug appeared. LOL!