Behaviour ProblemsLiving with dogsPuppiesUncategorised

Lessons of a Pandemic

online dog training, remote dog training

As a dog trainer/behaviour consultant, I’ve offered remote/online sessions for some time, and I have been attempting to move my business more online for a while due to health issues, but I have always been met with scepticism that it could work like this. Until now, most of my work was usually done in person, whilst some of it took place online.

There are certainly benefits to working in person with people and their dogs, but online sessions have their own advantages as well.
With advancements in technology there’s a lot more opportunity for successful remote sessions and I do think that a lot of the scepticism comes from misunderstanding and how limited this option was before the technology we have now.

Previously, remote sessions took place by phone or sometimes only the written word online, the consultant couldn’t see the dog and had to take the owner’s word for what was happening. Some owners misinterpreted behaviour and it’s hard to expect an owner to provide a detailed observation of behaviour when that is something that dog trainers and behaviourists train to do!
Video calls were not as common, and there was always a lag when speaking with someone via a video call. Additionally, the quality of cameras meant you couldn’t really see much of what was going on when looking for detail.

Nowadays, cameras have improved, we have pet cams to watch the dog when you’re not even in the room, video calls are much faster and better quality, screen shares allow you to share videos and pictures and written documents whilst in the session and dog training/behaviour consultations can work really well this way.

Some dogs actually benefit more from remote consultations. These may include dogs that react very badly to people entering the house, dogs that will behave entirely differently with another person in the house, dogs that suffer separation anxiety require programmes that include frequent checking in and tweaking so sessions are frequent and short, and coming to the home to do this each time would mean extra time and cost.

After care and support is an absolute must whether you are working in person or online, and for a long time, I’ve offered a mix, so that people I have worked with in person will then receive ongoing support online.

Benefits of remote consultations:

  • No need for a new person to enter the home, therefore keeping the dog under threshold*
  • No travel costs for the consultant and therefore not passed onto the client
  • Frequent and short sessions are much easier to achieve online
  • Aftercare and ongoing support can easily be offered online
  • I’ve found that focus during the session seems to be better when working online
  • The client is not restricted to local professionals but can instead choose anyone who will work remotely with them
  • You don’t have to worry about having a person come to your house!

*Dogs that have a lot of anxiety about people entering the home or react badly do not benefit from having someone entering their home before they’ve even started. When I say there is no need for us to enter the home, it is not to avoid the problem, but rather to start the programme with the dog under threshold – meaning, not overly stressed and still in a place where he can cope.

Benefits of in person consultations:

  • Where the client needs physical help with the dog (this really shouldn’t be a common issue)
  • It is easier for the consultant to observe the dog (but not necessarily more effective)
  • Better for those clients who struggle with processing video calls or struggle with/lack technology
  • Some people find it harder to form a working relationship online. However, this is not the case for everyone.

Myth Busting:

  • Not being able to put our hands on the dog means we can’t help – a good trainer’s job is to give the owner the tools to work with their dog. We should be able to verbally explain (and if needed demonstrate with our own dog on camera/share a video) to a degree that the owner can then carry the training out themselves.
  • We cannot observe the dog if we’re not there with them – I can ask my clients for videos of certain things, to point their webcam at their dog during any point of their consultation, and even advise setting up a couple of cameras and logging into a video conference with both of them. I also ask for diagrams of the house when necessary. Written diaries also help us to ‘observe’ the dog without even seeing it.

It is undeniably easier to observe the dog when you’re there with it. However, it does not necessarily mean that it is more effective. Me finding the work easier is not my priority, effectiveness (and making things as easy as possible for my clients) is.
When I enter a home I often hear ‘oh he’s never this calm!’ or ‘he doesn’t normally behave like this’ and the owner still has to attempt to describe the behaviour so just because I am there in person doesn’t mean I am getting a real account of the dog’s usual behaviour and body language.

The pandemic and resulting lockdown restrictions have meant that lots of trainers who previously insisted it is not possible to work effectively on a remote basis have had to embrace remote training in an attempt to keep their business going. Some of these will be aiming to go back to how they were before, whilst others, I’m sure, will have found they enjoy the remote basis and keep it as at least an element of their business model.

For me, I have been given the opportunity to show clients that remote, online consultations and programmes work, and I will be continuing with my original plan of moving lots of my work online but, when things are better, I will still be doing some of my work in person for as long as my health allows because I would miss the contact with the dogs!

I won’t be reopening in person as quickly as some others due to my underlying health problems, but I am grateful for the lessons and the opportunities that the pandemic has offered me, and other trainers/behaviourists, to improve our skills at running online consultations and classes, and to show that dog training and behaviour really can be a flexible industry.

If you are still unsure about whether a remote session would work for you, and want to discuss the possibilities or just want to book, you can contact me.

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