Peta Clarke lives and breaths the animals she works with. With over twenty years experience working as a professional animal trainer in a variety of settings both in Australia and America, she has engulfed herself during that time in the practical and theoretical application of reinforcement training in the training and care of literally thousands of animals. While Peta’s first love is working with dogs, her experiences in the field of animal training range from elephants to goldfish. As a trainer and presenter of animal shows in zoos on several continents, she has had the opportunity to work with many exotic animals, but has focused her work in this area on working with free-flighted birds and marine mammals.
Whether it is a seal or a seagull, Peta has found that every interaction with different species taught her more about being a good dog trainer. She believes working with free-flighted birds was a real turning point in her understanding of the power of reinforcement training. “I thought I was using positive reinforcement well when I would work with dogs, but after I started training birds – animals that can just fly away if they are not interested in you, and later seals – animals that could kill you if they wanted to, I realised that being a good animal trainer isn’t just about results, but treating animals with respect and empathy. Thing is when you treat animals in this way your training results improve dramatically. “I have learned that if an animal does not feel safe and secure with you they can never give you their best”.
As well as a career as an exotic animal trainer, Peta also works extensively in the Film and Theatre Industry. Her credits include “Babe II”, “Superman Returns”, “Wolverine”, “Hacksaw Ridge”, “The Square”, “Top End Wedding” (2019) and many other local films and literally hundreds of television commercials.
Some of her favourite memories working animals on set have come from working the
Kleenex Labrador puppies for ad campaigns from around the world. Hard work, she says, but always amazing how quickly an 8-week old puppy can learn when there is no threat or fear.
One of the biggest challenges of her career has been training and working the dogs for the Australian production of Legally Blonde the Musical. “Training and working Chihuahuas and bulldogs for live theatre, performing in eight shows a week in front of two thousand people is a sure way to humble yourself as a trainer,” she says.
The job of raising and training the two chihuahua brothers Quinn and Sparrow for the role of Bruiser Woods in the musical is another step away from her comfort zone of her beloved breed, the boxer. She has found two kilogram dogs a little different to work and handle than the thirty plus kilogram dogs she is used to. They are warier and less trusting naturally – “Much more like training a wild bird than the dogs I am used to”, she says.
While we all have our favourite breeds, she urges other trainers to step outside their comfort zone and push themselves into working other breeds and indeed other species. Only when you train animals that push you past your boundaries will you really continue to learn and grow as a trainer.
Peta also runs her own animal training and consultancy business, Animal Training Solutions based out of Sydney, Australia. Peta consults on both pet dog and parrot behaviour and training issues for companion owners and consults extensively with wildlife parks and zoos worldwide on improved training practices and show development.
Peta Clarke is a Nationally Accredited Trainer, holding her Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and is a sought-after lecturer in Australia, teaching Certificate level animal training and behaviour courses for aspiring animal trainers and an invited lecturer for many dog training clubs, zoos, and other private organisations.