Progressively, over the last couple of months, I have seen my client contact change dramatically. Classes, in-person 1-to-1 training sessions, day training, board and train etc…all of this physical, hands-on work has had to end due to COVID-19. Of course, the social aspect for us and our dogs has also come to an abrupt stop. No longer do we have access to that unique rapport with clients and no longer do our dogs have that option to form friendships, bond and learn about social interaction at training classes. For those of us engaging in behavior modification, the last couple of months has also been pretty tough. We don’t have the ability to observe dogs first-hand and can’t physically be there to offer emotional support and guidance to our clients. And of course, the whole process of conducting face-to-face behavior modification sessions has ceased.
COVID-19 has forced a radical change in the way we, as professional pet training and behavior consultants, have to work, if work in our industry is to continue in the interim. It also poses the wider question as to whether the way in which we work will change post COVID-19. The use of virtual/online training methods has suddenly come to the fore. Granted, many have used distance training methods prior to this period, but now more than ever the benefits of virtual services for clients are being examined. I am going to look at some of these here.
What Does ‘Online’ Involve?
There are many online platforms available. Personally, my preference is Zoom, simply for its ease of use for both behavior consultant and client. All that’s required is a decent camera and microphone either integrated into your computer or separate.
The first and probably most obvious advantage. Time is a precious resource. If we have to drive to classes, private sessions etc., it involves a considerable amount of scheduling that we have to account for within our day. We also have to build in out and back drive time, traffic delays, finding the location, gas consumption and how we can fit the time slot into our schedule. This can mean delays in booking a training slot because professional trainers and behavior consultants often have waiting times for new clients. With online consults, you’re simply ready and available within your home. Just find a quiet (ish!) room and off you go. Chances are that you will be able to book your slot much more quickly too and thus get help quickly before any behavior issues get worse.
You might think, okay, I get a longer session of, say, one hour with a face-to-face session and maybe only 30 minutes via an online consult, but are you and your dog really able to concentrate fully ‘on point’ for a whole hour? Shorter sessions may be better because you can have a more condensed, concentrated conversation, a back and forth of ideas, exchange of how things are going, feedback etc. and keep on track.
Yes, you will most likely receive a written handout of what’s covered during your face-to-face sessions, but, often, receiving a recording of the entire interaction can be very useful. Recordings ensure that absolutely everything covered from the session is included.
Dogs can be observed in their home setting which can have advantages over seeing them in clinic or other environment. Virtually, we can actually observe them with you and your family and see exactly how you all interact. This is extremely useful when helping with behavior issues. If we are observing dogs at home, we observe them at baseline level, a level which can sometimes be incredibly difficult to find with dogs who have high levels of arousal when a stranger or visitor is present.
If we’re not there, your dog behaves like himself! Sometimes, for instance, if your dog is very nervous and we’re trying to help him with anxiety related issues, the presence of the trainer or behavior consultant can be the first problem to overcome. If we’re not there, we can immediately start at base one and work upwards. Similarly, if you’ve got a very excited dog, he may become extremely wound up by the presence of the trainer when you’re trying to work through techniques they’re showing you which are designed to overcome over-exuberance. By physically removing the trainer and working through the techniques remotely helps avoid these types of situation.
For dogs that initially struggle with distractions during training, you can begin working with no distractions at all, i.e. no unfamiliar person present and no unfamiliar environment.
Anyone with a very young puppy can get assistance really early.
Online training methods allow for a much easier transference of feedback, especially between sessions. It’s great to receive an email or maybe a detailed analysis at the next face-to-face session about how the week’s gone, but if your client can send you a video mid-week, then feedback can be given on that prior to next week’s session and things can move forward in a more productive way.
Goals and Homework
Online methods also allow goals, objective and homework to be set much more easily. Building on the above, if the client can send updates mid-week, these can be adjusted where necessary, thus allowing a tailored program for the dog and structured success.
We all need it! Sometimes, if you’re not seeing a client for a week or two if their scheduling doesn’t allow for it, that’s a big gap, especially if things haven’t been going so well. Training and behavior issues can be demoralizing and confidence sapping. The ability to quickly check in for a little reassurance is often greatly appreciated.
And don’t forget……you can always sit on the other side of the screen in your pajamas if you want!