Lisa Desatnik is a certified professional dog trainer (and certified parrot behavior consultant). She specializes in helping people bring out the best in their pets. Lisa focuses on positive strategies for training manners and solving pet behavior problems. She is based in Cincinnati, OH, and works with pets and their families all over the region. She recently sat down for a conversation with Pet Allergy Hacks.
PET ALLERGY HACKS’ INTERVIEW WITH LISA DESATNIK
Can you tell us a bit about your business?
I am a certified professional dog trainer – knowledge assessed through the internationally recognized Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Additionally, through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, I am a certified parrot behavior consultant. While I occasionally help someone with a bird issue, much of my work is focused on individualized one-on-one training of dogs/puppies and training coaching of their owners.
I help new puppy owners to get off to the right start in raising a puppy to its fullest potential, teaching people how to help themselves and their puppy succeed with management, enrichment, socialization, and training. Additionally, I help people to be better, more effective trainers to their dogs whether for manners behaviors or for specific behavior issues. I am also available to do the dog training for owners for specific behavior skills.
How did you get involved working with animals?
I have always been a non-human lover. As a child, I was the one who was continually coming home with animals I found outside. Our home has included a crayfish, turtle, frogs, a baby raccoon, rabbits, gerbils, fish, a cat, and probably more. We also have always had a dog in our family. I was on the introverted side growing up and our family dog was my best friend. Remembering that relationship is one of the reasons I so enjoy helping kids to have stronger relationships with their family pet.
So, my home has always included a non-human animal. I have an allergy to cats, which is why, when I moved into my first apartment, I got a bird. At one point, I shared my home with three parrots (I lost Chester to tumors about 5 or 6 years ago and have two parrots currently).
I began studying Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the science of behavior over 16 years ago when I did not know how to solve a screaming issue with my then newly adopted African Grey, Barnaby. Not only did the information I had read online not help, the techniques were aversive and I didn’t feel good about using them. That is when I met my first teacher/mentor, Dr. Susan Friedman, who has pioneered the use of ABA with captive and companion animals worldwide. She helped me solve my issue and inspired me to want to keep learning. I began looking for educational opportunities in training dogs with positive strategies. I became passionate about spreading this information to others so that they too could learn positive ways for preventing and solving their pet behavior issues and started writing columns for Hyde Park Living and Indian Hill Living.
Over time, this gradually evolved into doing dog training professionally. I continue to take classes and study to be able to help people both prevent and solve pet behavior issues as best as I can.
What is your philosophy about training animals?
I really am passionate about teaching and solving pet behavior issues in the most positive way. I believe when you do this, that it is not only about teaching wanted and stopping unwanted behaviors, it is about improving the quality of life for our pets, and about strengthening that bond between pets and their families.
When there is a pet behavior issue, my ABA studies have taught me to look beyond the training to the impact of the environment on the behavior. What are the setting events for the behavior to occur? What are the consequences of the behavior? What is the function of that behavior for the dog? By looking at the observable behavior more closely, we can come up with a more effective, least intrusive modification plan.
My goal for in-home dog and puppy training is to help you not only solve your current dog behavior problems, but to also help you prevent future problems with a commitment to using the most positive strategies possible. As a training coach, I see my role as a teacher whose job it is to strengthen and inspire my clients’ knowledge, skills, and problem-solving abilities. That goes for both my human and non-human students!
What pets do you have?
Currently, I share my home with Barnaby, an African Grey, and Dreyfuss, a maximillum pionus. We also have a family dog, Sam, who is a hound mix.
Are there any dog training cases that really stand out to you?
There are so many. Being able to see an animal’s quality of life and its relationship with its family improve is so very fulfilling for me. And it happens often whether I am helping a family of a little puppy or a family who has a dog with a behavioral issue.
I smile every time I time I am reminded of a dachshund and his human mom I worked with earlier this year. I was called because when he was outside, he would bark, run toward, and even show his teeth at people or dogs moving by their property. And when guests came over, he would bark and lunge at them if he sensed fear or if they moved quickly. His mom did a wonderful job following the behavior modification plan and by my third visit I was already seeing a dramatically different dog. With relaxed body muscles he was following me around, wagging his tail. And when outside, a dog who he had previously reacted to walked by, he simply looked and turned his attention back to us. After we worked together, his owner has told me how beautiful it is to see the change. In our last conversation she told me how neat it is that people respond to him being relaxed now because of his body language, which further gives him reason to feel good about interactions with them. I was really moved when I heard that.
He and others make this work so gratifying to me.
Favorite animal movie?
I have many. I tend to like either true stories or stories with underlying lessons of humanity. Of animated films, I love Finding Nemo for its beautiful message of friendship learning to accept and appreciate each other’s differences and the classic, Charlotte’s Web, also for its message of friendship.
I really liked Free Willie. I highly recommend watching the documentary (you can find it in full length on YouTube) of the true story telling the extraordinary efforts to save Keiko.
Seabiscuit and Benji are also on my list. And of course, Santa Pups as a friend of mine acted in it.
Favorite animal book?
Again, there are so many to choose from. Alex & Me is a beautifully told true story of the famous African Grey and his relationship with Dr. Irene M. Pepperberg. Dr. Pepperberg’s research with Alex into the intelligence of African Greys inspired my fondness for that species, and ultimately bringing Barnaby into my life.
There are many dog books that are wonderful too.
What are some basic tips for helping people to rethink solving their pet’s bad habits?
Absolutely! Number one – Stop labeling your pet and instead focus on the observable behaviors. Describing your dog as stubborn, jealous, or dominant does not help to solve the problem. It does not describe the specific behaviors you want to solve and it can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.
I encourage people to stop putting the blame on their pets. Every behavior their pet does has a purpose for their pet. It gets the dog something of value. Instead of focusing on simply stopping that behavior, focus on what you’d like your pet to do instead – and teach that with high value reinforcement because those behaviors with the greatest history of reinforcement are the ones you will see more of.
Know your dog’s Awesome List of motivation. Only the learner gets to decide what is of value to that specific animal and it is a fluid list, changing from moment to moment. Consequences drive the future rate of a behavior; and when given a choice, animals will choose to do a behavior that gets that animal the highest value reinforcer. Therefore, knowing what your pet values is really important when it comes to behavior motivation.
Teach behaviors in environments with minimal distractions and only progress as your learner can continue to focus. Additionally, teach your lessons with consistency and clarity, and break lessons down to a level that your dog can process. Always ask yourself – in this moment, am I helping my pet and me to succeed or fail. It will help you a lot as a teacher!
Outside of training, offer your dog plenty of enrichment activities. Be creative. Enrichment is about more than a long walk. Engage your dog in using its senses, in learning and thinking, and having fun.
Thoughts on health and wellness, and behavior?
When it comes to solving pet behavior problems in the most humane and least intrusive way, addressing distant antecedents, with nutrition and medical issues among them, is the most socially acceptable option (Level One) on Dr. Susan Friedman’s Humane Hierarchy of Behavior Change Strategies.
Absolutely health and wellness can affect a dog’s behavior – with allergies included. If a dog is exhibiting a sudden change in behavior, a thorough veterinary exam should be a priority. A sample of some health issues that can affect a dog’s behavior include thyroid problems, digestive issues, yeast infections, cancer, hearing or vision loss, ear infection or injury, arthritis, hip dysplasia, sore teeth, luxating patella, and allergies.
There are many potential behavioral symptoms. A sample of those could be lethargy, excessive scratching, licking or biting of body parts, sensitivity to touching, heightened sensitivity to the environment, aggressive tendencies (growling, lunging, barking or even biting).
ABOUT LISA DESATNIK
Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, is a certified professional dog trainer – knowledge assessed; a designation earned by having trained more than 300 hours, being recommended by clients, colleagues and veterinarians, and by passing an extensive four-hour exam. Additionally, she is a certified parrot
behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).
An animal lover her entire life. she has studied Applied Behavior Analysis and how it relates to setting people and their pets up for success since meeting and being inspired by her first teacher and mentor, Dr. Susan Friedman, Ph.D., professor emeritus, Psychology Dept. at Utah State University, more than 16 years ago. Dr. Friedman pioneered the use of ABA with companion and captive animals worldwide.
Over the years, Lisa has taken courses and attended classes and conferences from some of the world’s leading positive trainers and behaviorists including Dr. Friedman, Barbara Heidenreich, Steve Martin, Susan Garrett, Dr. Ian Dunbar, Suzanne Clothier, Dave Kroyer, and Karen Pryor Academy’s Clicker Expo. She sees education as an ongoing process and is continually looking for opportunities where she can learn and grow, passing her knowledge on to help others.
Lisa offers individualized dog (and parrot) training and behavior consultations, using and teaching the most positive strategies for training manners behaviors as well as solving and preventing pet problem behaviors.
With a big heart for children, Lisa offers a unique class beginner dog training class for kids called My Dog’s Super Hero that teaches participants (and their parents) how dogs communicate, as well as how to be a positive teacher and a safe and fun dog friend. It is all about dog bite prevention and strengthening relationships. She applies these lessons too when working with families that include children.
Additionally, Lisa shares her knowledge through her popular Hyde Park Living pet behavior column, her blog, and speaking engagements.
Lisa is a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.