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San Clemente Journal

Clickstart Dog Training Academy Force-Free Clicker Training

Mar 17, 2020 10:47AM ● By Rebecca Parsons

Cassie Pestana, teaching her old dog new tricks.

 by Rebecca Parsons

Dogs are man’s best friends and the folks at Clickstart Dog Training Academy believe they should be treated as such.  

Clickstart Dog Training Academy was born in 2019, when longtime friends and occasional co-workers Cassie Pestana and Olivia Healy-Mirkovich decided to merge forces and open up a force-free training business. Both women strongly believe in force-free training and are constantly researching new methods and techniques to provide the best training experience for both the dogs and their owners. 

Healy-Mirkovich handles the creative side of the business while Pestana is in charge of the numbers, making them perfect business partners. Here, Pestana shares how the pair first became interested in animal training, the company’s philosophy for training dogs, and the benefits of force-free clicker training. 

What made you decide on a career in animal training?
While studying Biology and Animal Behavior at Brown University, I participated in a canine olfactory communication research project. At the time, I planned on pursuing my PhD in canine learning and communication. However, during my senior year at Brown I met many amazing behaviorists and business owners and decided that was the route for me! 
Olivia has worked with dogs since 2009 as a groomer, dog walker, daycare handler, and trainer. She completed her MFA in painting with an education focus in 2017 at Laguna College of Art & Design and had originally planned on pursuing a career in academia. While working through graduate school as a dog trainer, she fell in love with the field of behavior. She decided animal training was the perfect combination of education and behavior and hasn’t looked back!

What services do you offer? 
We service Orange County, from San Clemente to Anaheim and offer puppy kindergarten classes, basic level classes, trick classes, CGC classes, free bi-monthly pack walks, in-home private training, day training, and in-home pet sitting and dog walking. At this time we mostly work with dogs, but Olivia is also a cat trainer, has taught Kitten Kindergarten classes and does remote sessions for cat behavior issues. The amazing thing about clicker training is that it works for all species!

What is your philosophy for training/working with dogs?
We believe in force-free methodology. This means we never use pain, fear, or intimidation in our training. Of the four quadrants of operant conditioning, we use primarily positive reinforcement with occasional negative punishment. Clicker training, or mark and reward training, is how we train new behaviors. We focus on building behaviors we do want to limit and prevent behaviors we don’t want.

What exactly is clicker training? 
Clicker training just means that we use a word or a sound to mark the exact second a dog does something correctly. This clicker sound acts as a secondary reinforcer and lets the dog know that they are about to receive a treat or something they want because they successfully completed the task. Clicker training speeds up learning because the dog knows exactly why they are receiving reinforcement. It allows us to easily capture behaviors our dogs already do (sit, lay down, look at us, etc.) and get them on cue so we can ask for them when needed. This technology also allows us to accurately shape more complex behaviors, such as getting in their crate, pushing a crosswalk button, putting their toys away, etc. Lastly, this method of positive reinforcement is a language that allows us to teach our dogs new behaviors for a lifetime. 
What sets you apart from other dog trainers?

The dog training industry is unregulated, meaning anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. Many trainers out there are uncertified and uneducated, running on pure instincts and dog-owning experience. If you’re looking to hire a trainer, check for certifications (CPDT, KPA, ABCDT, CTC, etc.) and continuing education. A good trainer will frequently update their methodology and techniques as new information from research scientists and behavior analysts arise. Education is one of our top priorities here at Clickstart and we want to make sure our clients are receiving the most cutting-edge information about behavior and training.

What are the biggest rewards and challenges of working with dogs?
This profession is incredibly rewarding. Every day there is a new milestone to celebrate, a new conquered fear, a new accomplishment, a changed mind. Dogs are fast learners and so impressive with their ability to change their behavior when clear information and instruction is provided. The biggest challenges are often the owners. Not everyone has the time, patience, or discipline needed to train or even have their animals. Sometimes all we can do is educate families as much as possible on what their dogs need and brainstorm the easiest possible way to provide it. 

What are you plans/hopes for the future of the company?
Our ultimate goal with Clickstart Dog Training Academy is to open a brick and mortar facility that offers a variety of group classes. Group classes allow for cost-effective training and fun ways to interact with your dog and keep their life enriching. Since we opened we’ve already hired two full-time employees and two part-time. We’ve expanded farther North and we’ve offered new classes such as AKC Canine Good Citizen and Tricks Classes, Pack Walks, and we have plans for more. We’ve also expanded the business to include full-service pet sitting. We’re excited for the changes and growth 2020 will bring as well!

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