Tisha Knickerbocker, KPA CTP, offers a range of dog-training services, from basic family manners to training for the fun, games, and competition of trick-dog events to very serious and valuable work with service animals and wounded soldiers through the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation and Clear Path for Veterans.
Tisha’s training career was born from her experience in the US Marine Corps and her subsequent recovery from life-altering injuries that occurred during that service. She encountered therapy, service, and emotional-support dogs in various therapy programs as she worked toward recovery. Ultimately, a partnership with a service dog of her own from the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation boosted Tisha’s recuperation the most. Tisha’s dog Cuse helps her navigate around the limitations of her disability. Together they have won AKC Trick Dog titles visited schools to teach students about service animals, participated in the Warrior Games, and been selected for the US Team for the Invictus Games, a Paralympic sports event for injured or ill service members.
Her training experience with Cuse and their success together led Tisha to enter the training field herself. Using the special skill set she honed training with Cuse, Tisha now works with other disabled veterans and their potential canine partners. She also offers family and companion dog training, including Canine Good Citizen prep, in the Syracuse, NY, area.
Having made the decision to work in dog training professionally, Tisha researched different trainer certifications and teaching style. “I enrolled in the KPA Dog Trainer Professional (DTP) course because it would develop a wider range of teaching techniques for me. I was excited about it!” Tisha explains. She completed the DTP program in Tennessee with Hannah Branigan. Tisha was able to attend the course thanks to support from the Semper Fi Fund, which covered the tuition.
Chained behaviors are what Tisha remembers most from the KPA program. At first, Tisha had difficulty with chained behaviors, particularly longer ones of 10 steps. “I was totally overthinking it, which made it very challenging.” Then something clicked. “I realized that I was already using chain behaviors while I was training service dogs.” She completed the KPA DTP happily, continuing to “just let the training flow.”
Tisha reports that KPA has “given me more tools in my bag.” These tools allow her to take on a wider range of clients. Tisha points specifically to the work she does in shelters. “In the shelter, working with a dog with no known history, a dog that you may not be able to touch or even talk to without an adverse reaction,” is challenging. “With the techniques I learned from the DTP program, I have been able to work with shelter dogs successfully and teach other volunteers how to interact with them as well.”
Training service dogs is Tisha’s true passion. She says, “I love being able to help anyone, but especially veterans who begin to believe that they can get back to life with the use of a service dog.” There is a spectrum of behaviors that assistance dog can be taught, depending on the needs of the human partner. Tisha has trained “dogs for tasks related to mobility issues, PTSD, and anxiety,” among other circumstances facing a canine/human team. “The most special part of this training is being able to see changes in the person through the training process.”
"The most special part of this training is being able to see changes in the person through the training process."
Tisha explains that she is always learning herself, even as she trains others. “I love watching the way other trainers work. I don't always like everything they do, but I can almost always find something I like, something that I can find a place for in my training,” she reports. Tisha has completed online courses but finds that “nothing is as good as real-world experience.” Tisha’s mentor, Tom Tackett of the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, has supported her “through my entire dog training career. He is always there for me even when I'm on the other side of the country.”
Looking ahead, Tisha is considering getting involved in Rally Obedience. “The service-dog training I do translates well into that type of activity.” Tisha knows that “clicker training will always be a part of my dog training.” Her current goal is to help as many people as possible meet their dog-training goals. “That is enough for me!”