March’s Delight: Dog Training by Kiki Yablon

Schedule A Meet & Greet

Many months ago Mark Barks made mention of her. This month we feature her as Rover-Time’s Delight. Meet Kiki Yablon: Chauncey’s favorite trainer and one of my favorite people. Learn more about Dog Training by Kiki Yablon in this pretty fun Q&A session.

Q. Tell us about your background- your education, work experience, and how your got started in this business.
A. I have a degree in journalism from Northwestern, and had a pretty full career as an editor before I jumped to dog training. I worked for Outside magazine, Chicago magazine, and then for the Chicago Reader, where I went from music editor to managing editor and, briefly, editor in chief.

Between those first two jobs, I freelanced and also did the publicity for the opening of the Empty Bottle, the rock club in Ukrainian Village. Then I stayed on there for about a year to publicize the weekly lineup and help around the office. During that time, I taught myself guitar and started playing in bands, which I only stopped doing a few years ago. I think learning how to play an instrument as an adult made me realize I there were lots of other things I could still learn.

When I got interested in pursuing dog training seriously, I began volunteering at PAWS Chicago, and did that almost weekly for about three years. Toward the end of that period I volunteered at Chicago Animal Care and Control, where they get most of their dogs and cats.

In 2008 I began bugging the trainer I most wanted to work with, Laura Monaco Torelli at Animal Behavior Training Concepts, to let me intern, and in 2009, she finally did. I began observing, then helping with classes, and after I graduated from the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior in early 2011, I came on as a senior trainer. I’m now also the training manager there. I like being part of a team, and I’m really thrilled to be part of the fantastic group Laura has assembled.

I also continue to take courses and seminars. A particularly great one, last fall, was the eight-week Living and Learning With Animals course taught annually by Dr. Susan Friedman, a psychology professor at Utah State who specializes in companion and captive animal behavior.

What did I miss? When I left the Reader, I also took a job as the assistant manager at the Kriser’s on Belmont, and worked there for about a year while training on my days off. They were very supportive, and still are. Oh, and in high school, I was a soda jerk.

Q. What was your motivation behind becoming a dog trainer?
A. When I was born, my parents had an Irish setter named Sean. They took their new puppy to the vet, who told them not to bother training him because Irish Setters were so dumb. He was never completely house trained or leash trained, and pretty much ran wild through the neighborhood. When I was 5, and Sean was 10, he tripped my mom while she was pregnant, and my parents decided to give him to a lady with a farm. (My mom asks that I emphasize that there really was a lady, and a farm.) I asked for a dog at every holiday after that until I was about 16, but we never got another one.

After my husband and I bought a house and settled into it, I finally got my dog. I wanted to learn how to train her, and my next door neighbor at the time was a trainer at the Shedd Aquarium, where they essentially use clicker training to work with the animals. She gave me a brief demo with her dog, and then she gave me the clicker. I went looking for a trainer who could teach me how to use it properly, and that’s how I found Laura.

Once I started, I just never stopped. I would come home after work and train every night, for at least a few minutes. I ordered books and actually read them. One day I looked around and realized I hadn’t read a book about anything else in a couple years. That was when I thought maybe I should look at changing jobs.

Q. Tell us about Pigeon.
A. Pigeon is an 8-year-old, medium-size, pointy brown dog with huge ears. I like to call her a “Malinhuahua.” We adopted her at 7 months from Save-a-Pet up in Grayslake. She’s named for the many pigeons in the comic book series Sof’ Boy by Archer Prewitt.

Pigeon is easy to train, but harder to persuade that everything will be OK. (My husband has written a song about it.) But her challenges with fear and aggression are really what cemented my interest in training, and my respect for the power of positive reinforcement.

Q. Why did you choose to practice clicker training as your preferred teaching method?
A. Because it worked. The reason all animals choose to repeat behavior!

But also, I always want know why I should do something. And then I have to investigate all the reasons you gave me. Clicker training made the most sense, and the more I learn about behavior, the more sense it makes. I don’t think of it so much as a “training method” as an application of behavior science.

Q. What are the most common problems owners face with their dogs?
A. Hmmm. In the city, at least, I think you see a lot of barking and lunging at other dogs on leash. And, heartbreakingly, separation anxiety is thought to affect about a quarter of pet dogs.

Q. If you could pick one or two of your most favorite books to recommend to a new dog owner, what would they be? 

  • Karen Pryor’s Reaching the Animal Mind, though I hate to recommend that at the expense of her classic, Don’t Shoot the Dog.
  • Jean Donaldson’s The Culture Clash, which early on made me look at my dog’s behavior in a new light. She’s funny, too.
  • On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas, is a very short guide to the dog body language that every dog owner should be familiar with.

Q. What’s to come for you and your business?
A. Mostly I just I feel very fortunate to get to do what I do, and hope to do more of it.

After a period of not wanting much to do with writing or editing, I’ve recently come back around and written a couple of training articles for I’d like to push myself to do more of that.

And personally, I’d like to take more classes with Pigeon. We’ve been taking nosework lessons at Chicago Dog Nose, which she loves, and it’s been fun and enlightening to be in the shoes of a student again.

Connect with Kiki on her brand new website or through Facebook.


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