Karen Pryor Academy: The Most Efficient Path to Becoming an Animal Trainer

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Veterinarians, technicians and other dog enthusiasts often ask me about the most efficient way to learn about animal training or to become a trainer. Currently, my best recommendation is the Karen Pryor Academy and others agree. Just ask veterinary technician Debbie Martin, a KPA graduate and co-author of Puppy Start Right: Foundation Training for the Companion Dog.

Martin was no beginner when she took the KPA trainer course in 2008. She had been teaching puppy socialization classes in the veterinary hospital where she was employed starting in 1997 and, for three years, she had been the animal behavior technician for Veterinary Behavior Consultations, LLC, a mobile veterinary clinic with practice limited to animal behavior where she assists Dr. Kenneth Martin, her husband, during in-home behavior consultations

Says Martin, “The KPA program helped take me from being a good trainer to one that can tackle nearly any training challenge. It filled in all the gaps in my training knowledge, making me a more efficient and deliberate trainer.”  In November of 2009, Debbie became a KPA faculty member. She now provides workshops for the KPA Dog Trainer Program in Texas and Ohio.

In 2010, Debbie was among the first veterinary technicians to qualify for and pass the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians certifying exam for specialty in animal behavior.  She is one of only 12 Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS) in Behavior.  Currently, Debbie is the president for the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians and a member of the SVBT (Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians). Debbie is a member of APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA).

Wondering what the KP Academy is all about? Here are some of Martin’s answers to common questions about the program.

Q. What is the Karen Pryor Academy? 

A. Karen Pryor Academy was founded by Karen Pryor Clicker Training and launched nationally in 2007 with training centers throughout North America.
Karen Pryor Academy was born of the many requests the company received from dog trainers to help set standards for good training and teaching practices, and to help trainers become more financially successful.

Q. What's the KPA philosophy? Do you have a mission statement or vision statement?

A. Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior is an educational institution that teaches modern animal training through innovative programs designed for both experienced and aspiring teachers. They advance the field of force-free training through community and peer collaboration, and they help their faculty and alumni become more successful through close business partnerships.

Q. Karen Pryor Academy Mission statement:

A. The KP Academy mission is to create excellent teachers and trainers, provide a better vehicle for spreading clicker training among professionals and pet owners, create processes for increased professional collaboration and ongoing learning and advancement in the field, and create better economic opportunities for professional trainers.

Q. Why was the Academy starated? Aren't there a lot of dog training schools out there?

A. As a group of clicker trainers, we had a common body of knowledge. After ClickerExpo conferences, attendees who came for this knowledge wanted to go out and teach, and Karen Pryor Clicker Training wanted to encourage that. So, the company sought to empower trainers by providing them with excellent skills and concepts delivered by a top-notch faculty.
I and many Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional Program graduates have said we appreciate having “everything all in one place.” Even though I was an experienced trainer before enrolling, I felt that I was “missing some of the pieces” in modern operant-based training.  Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Program became the glue that held everything together for me and helps makes even the experienced trainer a better trainer.

Q. What makes KPA's curriculum different from other dog training schools?

A. We teach our students to be skilled trainers and excellent teachers using force-free methods. We believe that great teachers possess both a solid knowledge of the science that governs learning, and honed practical abilities in both training animals and teaching other people to train animals. The Academy builds on decades of scientific research and practical development by behavior analysts, ethologists, clicker trainers, and TAGteachers around the world, culminating in a curriculum that is unlike anything else out there.

The program focuses on teaching foundation skills and concepts rather than just following recipes for training specific behaviors. Right from the earliest lessons, students are tasked with creating training plans that describe in detail how to reach a goal – whether that’s training a specific behavior or solving a training “problem.” Furthermore, through TAGteach methodologies, we teach students how to employ the same positive training principles to people as well as animals.

The Dog Trainer Program combines the best of both worlds by incorporating distance learning with hands-on workshops. It employs different teaching modalities and allows us to reach people who thrive in a variety of learning styles. Our assignments, exercises, and feedback are designed to reinforce the students as they learn, so that they are encouraged to delve even deeper into the skills and concepts.

The program also provides smart business advice and marketing support to ensure that our graduates are as successful as they can be. The business curriculum is focused on teaching dog trainers how to understand the economics of a training business, how to analyze the marketplace, and how to manage growth. Karen Pryor Academy helps graduates leverage their marketing efforts with their corporate marketing programs, so that we work together. KPA also include a fully developed beginner dog training curriculum that graduates can use to teach classes to pet owners. Karen Pryor Academy has reached out to the veterinary community to help veterinarians locate certified trainers they can be assured will provide a positive and professional experience in learning with the pet owner and the pet.

Q. How does KPA ensure quality?

A. The course provides some guiding principles to draw from, such as setting learners up for success, looking for opportunities to reinforce behaviors you like, and proactively managing and modifying undesirable behaviors. There are many written, hands-on, and online assessments throughout the course to ensure that a student stays on track.

The strict graduation requirements ensure that only students who receive a 90% or better on their teaching and training assessments will pass. KPA graduates all sign a pledge to teach using only force-free principles. After graduation, the Assurance, Commitment and Education (ACE) program ensures that participating certified graduates continue their education and teach in accordance with the KPA high standards through annual client surveys and continuing education credits.

Q. What's the cost, and the time investment?

A. Tuition is $5,300 and scholarships are often available. Substantial scholarships are available for Veterinary Technicians that are members of the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (http://www.svbt.org) and aspiring to become eligible to sit for the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technician examination to become a Veterinary Technician Specialists in Behavior (http://www.avbt.net).
The entire course takes approximately six months to complete. Students spend an average of 10 hours per week on course work and training exercises, and then attend a series of four two-day intensive workshops, one every six to eight weeks.
The course is challenging and is a commitment in time and money, but our graduates feel that the investment is well worth it. Our students from related fields, such as veterinary medicine and zoo behavior management, concur that the science, skills, and principles they acquire are immensely valuable in their areas of expertise.  One graduate calls the program, “The best investment in money and time I've spent for my dog training career and education.”

Karen Pryor Academy also offers entry level courses such as the Dog Trainer Foundations and Puppy Start Right Instructors courses which are online only courses.  My husband, Dr. Kenneth Martin, and I are the authors of the Puppy Start Right for Instructors course.  Prior to acquiring my veterinary technician degree, I was a preschool teacher.  I was naturally drawn to the idea of puppy socialization and development early in my technician career.  In fact, teaching puppy socialization classes was where my interest in specializing in veterinary behavior began.  The need for excellent preventive programs to help construct the best foundation possible for all dogs is what prompted us to develop the Puppy Start Right Instructors course.  The course prepares veterinary staff members or dog trainers to teach puppy socialization classes including a complete curriculum with supplemental materials to assist with teaching a puppy preschool class.

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9 responses to “Karen Pryor Academy: The Most Efficient Path to Becoming an Animal Trainer

  1. Great article. KPA is the best in North America, for sure. The next step we need is to make animal training a regulated profession.

    1. KPA is a ripoff. Read her books, as the information and ideas are fabulous. The course however fails miserably on how to teach, which is ironic because it’s supposed to enlighten you on how people and animals learn. The way the course is designed is awful, too simple yet also confusing. Its a time-waster. Better off reading, fostering, getting a mentor, caring for animals and practicing.

  2. Hello Mr Yin, i would like to become a dog trainer, but i have only less money. Do You think there could be a chance anywhere? I would even change my country and work hard for it.
    Regards, Simone, aged 41 years old.

    1. To anyone wanting to become a trainer or behavior analysis:

      Google “So you want to become a dog behaviorist? by Julie Hecht or go here: https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/sites/default/files/So%20You%20Want%20to%20Become%20a%20Behaviorist%20Nov%202014%3F.pdf

      But I was once struggling with this question, too. Like, where do I begin? Where do I get my Masters in Dog Behavior? Short answer: There is no B-Line education route to becoming a trainer and even more so, a behavior consultant. I wanted the same thing – a school I could go to to learn everything and become accredited, knowledgeable and confident in my skills. Get a degree, then bam!, start my career. Doesn’t work like that.

      As the article describes. There are three ways:
      You can go the Veterinary Route, the Academic Route (getting a terminal degree in Behavior Analysis or Animal Behavior, but even this does not entirely focus on ACTUAL training of dogs), and then you can go the Hard Knocks Route (reading your butt off, practicing, being hungry for it and earning it through experience that you create via starting a business, getting mentored, volunteering your time,etc). Thing is, EITHER WAY you still end up doing most of your practical learning in the field, i.e. reading, absorbing, consulting with others, practicing actual training, networking, creativity (in all those areas and especially when training) and putting yourself out there. It takes being brave to take on cases that may be out of your league and then having the humility to refer to others when you know it is beyond your current understanding or scope. As Hecht says, You have to know what you do not know and take cases where you can act with integrity and grace. It takes being full of integrity, honesty, self awareness, altruism, and conscious confidence. Animals lives depend on it.

      Hard Knocks Route: Put yourself through your own grad school. The tests present themselves in real life. Read every dog behavior and human behavior analysis book out there. Learn learning theory backwards and forwards. Learn to trust your intuition (if you’re good 😉 Apply these theories onto subjects that need help. Learn it so well you can teach the class to others. Then do so. Find people in the community that can afford a trainer and offer services to them.

      Work in shelters, volunteer for animal rights activism, understand the plights of puppy mills and selling dogs, the trickle down effects of backyard breeding on the millions of homeless dogs and resulting euthanasias each year. Learn about dog health, nutrition, their basic needs, the differences in breeds and genetics, the importance of spaying and neutering, the history of domestication, and the studies that relate to all of these subjects.

      The thing about training is you are not just a trainer…. any effective trainer is a behavior analyst, interpreter, communicator, educator, instructor, therapist, dog psychologist AND human counselor! One must be able to read the dynamics within two species and understand where BOTH are them are coming from, understand how to modify thought, emotion and behavior (in BOTH species!), communicate well with both of them and teach them how to communicate with EACH OTHER. This is no small suit! It takes years of dedicating yourself to this work. There is no shortcut. There is no 2 year degree.

      We humans domesticated dogs, in yes, even though it was in partnership with them tens of thousands of years ago, I believe it is our duty to protect them and do right by them. The history is rich. Our understanding is just catching up. Dogs are angels, doing their best to read us, and understand what we are wanting from them. We are only just beginning to return that favor. So if you decide to go forth and be a trainer or behavior consultant, do it with compassion. Do it with the understanding that you are their ambassadors. You interpret and translate their behavior into words that humans can hear. Do your work, be humble, be smart, be courageous, be INFECTIOUS in your love and understanding of them. Then, Help humans UNDERSTAND dogs in a deeper way so that they can be heard, cared for and respected like they deserve.

      Oh and please — Don’t watch Cesar Milan, for God’s sake. He uses aversive techniques that can “work” for some dogs, but aversive punishment is proven to have unpredictable side effects. Instead Read Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, Turid Rugaas, Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Kim Brophey and any of those that do NOT engage in anything aversive. No shock collars, no chaining, no pops of the leash, no alpha rolling, no intimidation, shaming, yelling, scaring or scolding…. none of this is good for ANYONE’s emotional health. Training should stem from the pursuit of building loving, trusting relationships where both humans and dogs are honored, taught and respected.

      1. This is the most thoughtful, useful, articulate post I have ever read. Thank you, Zoe, for sharing your expertise and passion for dogs, your enthusiasm is infectious.

  3. HI,
    I’m trying to find out what it takes to become a dog trainer. I live in Dallas, Tx and have noticed a few job openings at Petco for Dog Trainer / Apprentice but it recommends this training program. I have no experience except from my own personal dogs. Any info would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance!!!

  4. I attended KPA and was extremely disappointed in the professional dog training course. It is not worth the money by ANY means. Read the books, get a mentor, practice. Don’t waste your money on the course. Its a ripoff.

  5. There are many reasons why I cannot support The Karen Pryor Academy. It was subpar education for these reasons:

    It’s impersonal. It was hard to get feedback from my instructor, sometimes taking her over a week to get back to me, and when learning online, feedback is crucial to moving forward in learning.

    They tout that the education is structured to suit all learning styles. It does not. 90% of the material is offered in PowerPoint (which is not able to be printed appropriately) and associated videos and recordings. MOST of the videos are of poor quality and do little to further understanding. The recordings were from seminars and were over simplistic and the sound was distorted. REALLY REALLY poor presentation. Shocking, really.

    It’s poorly organized. And shallow in its scope of information.

    There are no books, no ways to dogear or go back to points (you literally have to click through the 1000s of PP frames and dig for it), no way to highlight or use the material as a reference.

    The quizzes were incredibly easy – absolutely no challenge.

    The workshops were the most helpful but didn’t give much time for one on one instruction, which is where I assumed most of my real-life, in person training would occur. Again, it only scratched the surface.

    In one of the last cohorts ZERO out of 9 students passed to get their certification. That speaks to the caliber of instruction, not of the students.

    There was no information given in the classes that can’t be found in affordable, easily accessible books.

    It does not adequately go over learning theory.

    It gives a kindergarten level of dog behavior analysis.

    It’s quite obvious that it is all about money to them. They do not go over your credentials to get in (I have proof they do not look at it), and I guarantee they accept ANYONE into your program. Because they can just let whomever fail, blame the student and pocket the $5900+. If you get sick, like many of the KPA students have, there is no mercy. You are required to pay another $1000-$5900 again to try. It’s beyond egregious.

    This Academy exploits the Karen Pryor name and does not back it up with a solid education. It does not educate people to become better trainers. It does not set you up for success. They do not apply operant conditioning to their students, which is ironic since “all species” learn this way and that is what they are supposed to be teaching.

    To boot – no client nor hiring manager cares if you have the Karen Pryor Partner certification. Organizations respect the CCPDT one because each trainer has to pass a third party test. Not a test set up internally from the organization that’s granting them. KPA is self governed – there is no outside source condoning its worth or level of instruction.

    It’s like Trump saying he’s the best President ever in the world because his self-appointed board “tested him” and guarantees the statement to be true..

    There are MANY people out there like me. I found 10 who were deeply disappointed without digging to far. But KPA scares people into keeping quiet for fear of them being sued. The verbiage in their contract is severe and they use it to protect themselves in every situation.

    They do not hold themselves accountable for their failures not to the resulting disappointed (and poor) students they leave in their path.

    I’m happy to give many more reasons why this school is a sham.

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