It is essential that you know your audience.  I wrote about this in an earlier blog posting.  (Check the June 2007 entries.) You have to tailor your approach to suit your audience.  For dog trainers, there are two primary audiences:  (1) Experienced dog trainers and those who want to become experienced dog trainers, and (2) pet owners.


If your audience is experienced trainers, they already know a lot about dog training, whether or not you agree with what they know.  What they are often working toward now is improving their records of wins with a favorite dog or gaining greater respect in the field.  If you want to be their trainer, you must always remember that they most of all want to be respected as professionals.  They will respond better to compliments and reverence to their expertise and educations than they will to your attempts to teach them new skills.

Be humble and learn to get your reinforcers from your students’ successes.  You are going to be their coach, not their teacher.  And by coach, I mean “life coach”, not “professional sports coach”.  Your job is to help them excel and to lift them up high while keeping your profile modest.  Sound counter-intuitive?  Keep reading! 

Your job in working with the advanced audience is to support them in what they are already doing, to offer feedback on the things they request feedback on, to offer new information that perhaps they haven’t had a chance to access.  Anything you do to change their behavior must be done delicately and subtly. Reinforce what they do that works by praising their expertise and professionalism.  Ignore what they are not doing well at the same time.  Before long you’ll probably find that the reinforcement for the good performances builds those skills to the point that they overwhelm the undesirable stuff and it fades away. 

And if you want to be successful, you must not try to take credit for the change.  Brag about your student to others, in front of the student whenever possible.  Does this sound like I’m telling you to eschew all your own glory?  Does that sound counter to the idea of promoting your training business?  Think about overhearing some trainer at an agility trial saying this:

“I’ve got to tell you about my student, Louise Tate!  She just won her MACH title with her dog, Spider! I am so excited for her! She has worked hard and it has really paid off.” 

Is that not the teacher YOU would want to work with?  By bragging about your students’ successes you are promoting yourself in the best possible way.  You’re showing that not only are you a good instructor- after all, look at what your student accomplished!  You’re also saying that you are willing to not just share but freely give away the glory. 

Everyone knows the old dog world saying, “The only thing two trainers can agree on is that the third one is wrong.”  I urge you to create a new one. 

The only thing that trainer talks about is how great her students are.”  Work on praising your students until you start hearing this from other people.  Your students will love you.  Then they will talk about you to all their friends.  And the best marketing engine in the world will be off and running. Word-of-mouth.

What about the student who isn’t doing so well?  There are a few different things to consider.  First, remind her about the successes she’s had, no matter how small.   Remember her big successes forever. And point out small successes immediately as they occur, while minimizing responses to problems. One of the biggest problems she may be having is paying too much attention to mistakes.  Don’t you join in with her on that!  Help her focus on successes and goals. 

Mistakes are just starting places.  They’re not failures.  

Do not think you’re going to win their hearts by knowing something they don’t know. You may NOT know anything they know.  What will set you apart from all the rest is being proud of your students even when they surpass you.  The way to their hearts is to let them know you believe to the bottom of your heart and to the depths of your soul that They are great trainers, and that you will freely announce that to the world.  Then do it! 

Copyright 2007, Kellie Snider

Don’t forget to order your copy of our new DVD:  The Constructional Aggression Treatment:  Shaping Your Way Out Of Aggression.  It’s a complete seminar in a 5 disc set. Save yourself some travel expenses and attend your next seminar at home! 

“…your seminar has been the best received of any I have ever produced.” 

Alta Tawzer of Tawzer Dog Videos.


Ken Ramirez, Marine Animal Trainer

The Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals

In the Department of Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas

Announces ORCA’s Annual Lecture Series

(Open to the public!)

Professional Animal Trainer

 Ken Ramirez

“The Practical Side of Science”

For Animal Trainers, Handlers, Pet Owners & Professionals

October 20, 20073:00-6:00pm

UNT Campus ENV Bldg., Room 130

Public Admission:  $45

UNT Employees and Students:  Free 

3 CEUs Approved by CCPDT 

Profits after expenses will benefit ORCA.

·         Ken Ramirez has been a professional trainer for more than 30 years.

·  He is currently the VP of Animal Collections and Animal Training at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.

·         Ken is a regular speaker at Karen Pryor’s ClickerExpos. 

·         Ken’s experience includes work with guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, standard pet training and many exotic animals.

·         He is also the author of the book Animal Training: Successful Animal Management through Positive Reinforcement

Pay at the door or….

Mail payment to: 

ORCA Department of Behavior Analysis
410 Ave. C, Suite 360
P.O. Box 310919
University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203-0919

pan2a.gifHere’s a fictionalized compilation of stories I’ve heard from people about their aggressive dogs.  Most people who work with aggressive dogs will recognize this story from their work.

Josie Q. Owner will say, “We adopted our dog from the shelter.  He was fine for a few weeks but after he’d been here a while he started barking and growling at any man that came over to visit.  When our friend lifted his hand one day our dog lunged at him then hid behind me.  We are sure he was abused by a man before we got him.”

People commonly assume that if their dog behaves either fearfully or aggressively that he or she was the victim of abuse.   To my surprise, while surfing the web about this subject,  I noticed that even some experts have presented the “he was abused” assessment as part of their response to owners asking about aggression in their dogs.  While certainly being abused may be the start down the slippery slope toward aggressive behavior, assuming that abuse actually occured is often stretching it.  If we didn’t see the abuse happening, it’s best not to assume it occured.  That assumption may lead us off on a path that doesn’t help us make progress in dealing with the aggression.  The good news is that we don’t need to know how behavior got started to change behavior. 

Aggression is situation-specific, and aggression toward a specific kind of person or in a specific situation does not necessarily mean that the dog was abused at any point in his life.  I’ve worked with quite a few dogs that were adopted into good homes as puppies, who were never hit or mistreated, and who still show up with aggressive behaviors at some point down the road.  Dogs, like all animals and humans, behave in ways that pay off for them.  Unfortunately, aggression sometimes pays off quite neatly for them. 

The 2 imporant questions to ask when trying to understand a given dog’s aggression is, “In what situations does this behavior happen?” and “What happens after the dog behaves aggressively?”  It is also helpful to understand situations in which the dog is not aggressive so that you can appreciate that your dog can behave in desirable ways. 

In most cases of problem aggression the dog has learned that his aggressive behavior makes people or animals go away.  The most common answer to, “What happens after he behaves aggressively?” is, “People or animals back off.”  The behavior puts distance between him and something or someone else.  The more experience the dog has in getting people or animals he doesn’t want around to back off by being aggressive, the more aggressively he will behave.

What if his aggression involves chasing prey (which may include small dogs or cats, squirrels, even children)?  It depends.  I once had a dog who eagerly chased squirrels throughout her life, and never once caught one. It appears that she was just as happy getting them to go away as she might have been catching one. Since she never caught one we might be right to assume that her behavior was reinforced by getting the squirrel to run away. For other dogs who actually catch some of the prey they chase, we might be looking at something a little different.  These dogs don’t get rid of the thing they behave aggresively toward- they kill and possibly eat it.  

From time to time we come across a dog that has been taught to play roughly and in order to initiate play they begin to act roughly.  This can accelerate to the point that they begin to growl, bark, and even bite at people they want to play with. 

The other question, “In what situations does this behavior happen?” includes all the stuff in the environment at the time the aggression occurs.  Often it will be something like, “A stranger approached him” or “another dog came into view.”  Sometimes it will be quite specific, like, “She’s only aggressive toward my sister, and only when my husband is gone.”  (Seriously!) Other times the dog may be aggressive only in one place, but not in others (e.g. He’s aggressive toward dogs in the park, but fine with dogs in our back yard), or only toward a type of person (men or children, for example).  There can even be very subtle situations like the time of day or how cold it is. 

The aggressive behaviors described here indicate that the dog has been successful in chasing men away by behaving aggressively.  We may not know why the dog wants to chase the guy away, but we can change the behavior by teaching the man to go away only when the dog is behaving nicely and stay put when he is behaving aggressively.  Clearly this may involve some training.  (The procedure is described in detail in the DVD mentioned at the end of this blog. 

The outcome of the procedure described in the DVD is that the dog will learn that his aggression doesn’t pay off, but being nice does.  Over time he will most likely stop wanting the guy to go away because he’ll learn that he is not a threat. 

The good news is that we don’t have to know why a behavior got started in order to treat it. This is especially good news because with dogs adopted in adulthood from shelters we rarely know anything about his life before the shelter.

Constructional Aggression Treatment:Shaping Away Canine Aggression                         Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, PhD & Kellie Snider                                                                                      A 10.5 hour seminar on videotape                                                                                      Produced by Tawzer Dog Videos Copyright, 2007


Constructional Aggression Treatment:Shaping Away Canine Aggression 

Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, PhD & Kellie Snider 

A 10.5 hour seminar on videotape withProduced by Tawzer Dog Videos 

Copyright, 2007 

Is available now! 

Current consensus in behavioral science labels aggression as a classical conditioning problem, and the treatment, accordingly, is desensitization and counter conditioning. But that might all change in the future. Research done at the University of North Texas suggests that classical treatments for aggression may have us all barking up the wrong tree. Kellie and Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz have devised a shaping-based, operant approach to treating aggression in clients’ homes that is producing stronger and much faster results than classical treatments.This seminar introduces the UNT research and Kellie and Jesus’ training procedure. Demo video and live demonstration is used to see their training in action. Other topics covered include cue poisoning, functional analyses of aggressive behaviors, and stimulus control.

Contains videos, demonstrations, powerpoint animations, lecture and Q&A.  


What’s in it for me?  

If you are interested in the emotional lives of animals, this DVD will be of interest to you.  This DVD is the culmination of several years of research by Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and his students on emotions in animals.  If you work with aggressive dogs this work may, as one DVD participant put it, “rock your world”. We will be talking about canine aggression in a completely different way from what you’ve learned at all the other aggression DVDs you have attended.  We explore the genetic, dominance and instinct-based theories of the nature of aggression and replace them with our research which reveals aggression as an operant… in other words we explain that aggression is learned behavior, and that by changing the consequences for the behavior using the Constructional Approach we can change the aggressive dog into a friendly dog.  We will present a training procedure that will provide trainers and pet owners to make significant differences in dogs’ behavior.


What will I take away from this DVD?  What will I be able to use? 

This DVD will provide you with the tools to replace the aggressive behaviors in dogs with peaceful, friendly behaviors.  Many people who have attended a weekend seminar have written to us that they have successfully used the procedure on their own and are now changing how they approach aggression issues.  Some are working with aggressive dogs for the first time because finally they have a tool they can use to make a significant change. In addition this work can be used with fearful animals, including feral cats and fearful hoofstock such as llamas and cattle.  Feral cats slated for euthanasia are being not only tamed but made into loving pets through the use of a version of this procedure. 


In addition, we have a Yahoo Group that is exclusively for the support of those who have attended a seminar or viewed the DVD and who are interested in actively using the procedure.  These people help us develop the procedure and provide us with data, and we, in return support them by providing additional information and helping them brainstorm their ideas.  We have learned much from these field testers and would love to have you join this body of trainers.  We are currently working on additional materials to answer frequently asked questions and to expand on points made in the DVD and seminars.  These will be made available to those who attend a weekend seminar or purchase a video to answer your questions.  We will do as much as we can to support you in your progress.  Beyond that, we will listen to your ideas and experiences and use them to develop the procedure.  We are delighted to credit all of the people working with us in the development of the procedure.


Why should I buy this DVD?

In addition to the points made above, if you have been to seminar after seminar hearing the same old things, this is a DVD you won’t want to miss. This is a completely new and proven effective approach to the treatment and understanding of aggression. Rather than relying exclusively upon generalized information from old published research or the work of other trainers we have examined the specifics of the lives of aggressive dogs and addressed them as the subject matter for our research.  The research was conducted in the dogs’ real lives, not in a laboratory.  Pet owners and dog trainers are now taking it and using it with their real dogs in their real worlds with real success


Bravo                   Photo & Photo Editing by Kellie Snider 

In my first marketing article for dog trainers I wrote about how many trainers make the mistake of spending all their public relations oomph on impressing fellow trainers, especially trainers that are already more successful than they are.  Lest you think that I was suggesting that you never communicate with other trainers, let me assure you that is not what I was getting at.

Keep the client front and center in your business plans. 

Many trainers expend a lot of energy rubbing shoulders with… or at least listening to… name-brand trainers at many seminars each year, but they do it to the neglect of reaching and convincing paying clients that they should hire them.  As a result they never get to quit the day job.  One trainer-wanna-be told me she had spent… hold onto your mouse… over $10,ooo during the previous year on seminars!  She works full time in a job she doesn’t love, trains in the evenings and weekends and goes to several seminars around the country annually “working towards doing this full time”.  How much money did she make doing dog training last year?  She wasn’t quite sure.  I have to assume that she didn’t come close to breaking even.  When I asked her how much she spends on promoting her business she had to think about it.  After several minutes of calculations in her head she came up with, “Probably about $500.”  How was that $500 spent?  Business cards and brochures to hand out at seminars, and she has a one-page website.  (Wait a minute… who should she be giving those marketing materials to?  Other trainers or potential clients?)  Considering that her web host cost about $240 a year and she spent a couple hundred bucks on a basic home page design for her website, and she got her brochures and business cards on Vista Print (a great way to go, by the way), all she had left to do was promote her business.  But she didn’t have time.  She was always either at work or at seminars! 

This is a misappropriation of funds and time sufficient to make the US Government blush.  That trainer would be better off reversing those numbers, but it’s not necessary to spend that much money and time on seminars, and it’s counterproductive to do so.  She could make a commitment to attend a max of two seminars a year.  Only attend a seminar if there is a pretty good possibility of something you don’t already know being taught.  

A complaint I hear with increasing frequency is how many trainers go to seminars to earn their APDT CEUs but the seminar didn’t teach them anything new.  How many different ways do you need to hear seminar leaders say, “Follow a behavior with a reinforcer and you’ll get more of it”? If you’re ready to start a business, you better know what a reinforcer is.  If you don’t, you’re not ready to be hanging out your shingle just yet. 

Ask questions about the content before putting cash on the line.  If the speaker has a new book or new research out you’re more likely to learn something new.  If there’s no new material out, contact the speaker or the organizer to find out what’s on the agenda.  If it’s nothing new to you, look for a different speaker.  Even if you love this speaker and think her seminars are really fun, spread your education dollar around so that you have the broadest education possible. 

On a side note, how many of the top trainers do you see sitting in the audience at seminars soaking up new info? It is common at ClickerEXPO and APDT, but that’s about it.  One reason is professional courtesy.  What speaker wants to walk up to the front of the room and see Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson or Patricia McConnell in the audience?  Talk about stage fright!  But a big part of it is that they are good business people.  They don’t spend money on stuff they already know.  Their weekends are booked with their own work.  Why?  Because they spend their energy reaching clients.  Follow their examples!  [Since I lead seminars that probably sounds like pretty self-destructive advice, but I stand by it.  If you attended the aggression workshop with me (and/or) Jesus Rosales-Ruiz in 2006 you don’t really need to attend it again in 2007  We would love to have you, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of your business dollar to repeat it.  Wait until we revise the work, improve upon it or offer something new.]

Some of you worry that you’re not able to afford to attend a lot of seminars every year.  Don’t.  It is valuable to attend them when you can, but as long as your education is solid and you read voraciously, you will be better positioned to spend you money in other ways.

More on that in an upcoming installment!


I’d like to let you know about a blog being written by a Click-L_ABAT list member, Melissa Pierson, who is writing a book about “the long & winding path [she] took to get to the positive reinforcement worldview.”  Check it out here:

Supportively,  Kellie

Red Skimmer Dragonfly (Male)

Photo by Kellie Snider, Copyright 2007

My regular readers know that I am in the dreadful red tape throes of completing the Master of Science in Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas. 

And that I turned 50 this year.

Schooling with 23-year-old whiz kids who can smoke pot all weekend, sleep two hours and still comprehend research articles well enough to twist my head in knots during class discussions has been a cruel reminder that I am not a kid any more.  It doesn’t help that their toned abdomens are always exposed.  At least I can rest assured that in a few years they will regret the tattoo.

Nevertheless it’s been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life to return to school, to figure out how to get everything done, to stop watching TV for a few years… that is, until my spouse got me hooked on Lost.  My age-peers sometimes resist the idea, but I urge you to make the chance to go back to school. 

It’s never too late.  Nola Ochs has earned her bachelor’s degree at the age of 95 and is able to tell first hand stories to her class mates about the lessons being taught in class.  She’s even being entered into the Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest college graduate on record.  Way to go, Nola!!  

Here’s the piece that appeared in Encarta:>1=10092

The photo has nothing to do with the article- I got some awesome pictures of dragonflies mating and laying eggs two days ago.  See the rest of them here: