Have you attended dog training classes with your dog or hired a dog trainer to work with you and your dog at your home? Do you wonder how dog owners attend classes or work one-on-one with dog trainers during the coronavirus lockdown? Easy answer: they are not!
Instead, dog trainers have gone to great lengths to offer behavioral training and counseling in a way that is definitely not “in person” unless you mean virtually! It was not easy, but for many trainers it is a challenge that they have taken on and taken up: lessons, behavior advice, puppy training are all available – online.
I asked dog trainers what long term changes in training they expect from COVID-19.
Ben bennink (New York) I have gone completely virtual, but that’s not entirely a change because I’ve always offered this option. As long as I am able to observe and communicate with the client interacting with the dog, I am able to do my job effectively. The most important thing for me is that my clients are safe and healthy. I have seen a slight slowdown in total activity – not sure if it’s due to economic hardships, an aversion to remote working, both or the like – but I’m happy to be able to provide a good service to people so as to protect everyone.
My biggest fear would be to go back to home counseling and act as a vector, infecting one of my clients. This to me is horrible beyond imagination.
My biggest hope is that people believe that we can still provide quality advice from a distance (I’ve only seen slight reactions on this subject personally, but not bad).
Good saratoga dog
Meira Frankl (Quebec) My sessions have been virtual Zoom meetings until now. Starting Monday, I will see clients in person in their backyards with security measures in place (masks, social distancing). Backyards are fine for summer and fall, but I’m worried about winter when it’s -20 degrees. I am grateful that I can do virtual sessions, but sometimes I find it difficult to convert clients to virtual sessions from in-person sessions. On the bright side, this pandemic prompted me to finally start virtual training and consultations, which I had been thinking about for some time. However, I had to take a part-time job, which will become my new reality. I just hope customers have confidence that they can still meet their needs.
Stacy Braslau-Schneck (California) Since I teach by video appointment now, I really like knowing that I am doing a more conscientious job transferring some of my mechanical knowledge and skills to the owners / clients, so that they can be a better problem -solvers and trainers themselves. This will make their dogs listen to them more and improve their bond. Dogs’ behaviors improve about as quickly as if I had done a practical ‘jumpstart’, and I think the behaviors will eventually be stronger and more consistent at home. There is an advantage in the fact that I have been able to work with families outside my immediate area. However, I miss being able to touch the dogs!
Alisha ardiana (California) Until further notice, all views will be via Zoom / FaceTime. I will not go into customers. I will do any dog training outside.
I will ask the customer to have a headset and a phone when working outside in case I need more distance. I am actually surprised that the consultations are easier than expected. I am able to show people what the layout of my house looks like, I am able to show my massive collection of toys – I have my dog do a demonstration. I mainly do puppy consultations at the moment. But I’m also grateful that I can run my own business and decide on my own parameters. When I worked at the San Francisco SPCA, the fires caused air quality that made me very uncomfortable. It was painful for me to teach and I felt it was not safe for my students and my dogs. Despite my best intentions, I was never allowed to cancel my classes.
I also had to reject more clients, so the initial emails were difficult. I often have clients who think their dog is a problem. They’ve gone through several trainers, and it’s more about changing their perception of their own animal. I live in San Francisco and get a lot of fearful and responsive dogs on a leash. Positive reinforcement can be a hard sell for some people. I have found that I am very successful when I demonstrate in person what the dog is capable of. But I don’t know how I can make this jump via Zoom.
Photo by April Shoe
Trish mcmillan (North Carolina) I’m surprised how well I can teach the concepts through Zoom, demonstrating with one of my dogs or a stuffed dog. The hard part is selling the concept of distance learning to clients. It’s actually better in some ways with my cat clients because cats don’t hide!
Michael Shikashio and I have also moved our seminars to Zoom livestream, which saves people on travel and accommodation costs. A die-hard coach from Singapore stayed up all night two nights in a row to attend our last!
I also do puppy socialization on the farm, where I can expose the puppies to my dog friends, as well as chickens, goats, horses, and a cranky old cat. We also do daily excursions to discover the world and meet my friends and their dogs, with me from a distance.
Trish McMillan – Certified Animal Behavior Consultant
Helene Saint-Pierre (New Hampshire) I think there will be some big long term changes for many of us who train dogs, some good and some bad. And frankly some trainers are going to seriously struggle with the adjustments, but a lot of us who have been training humans more than dogs for a while are going to change quickly. Some of the things I do now are to organize all the group classes outside. Each station for customers is a drive-in – they park, work their dogs, then leave. I have a 3600 square foot facility that I will only use if it is too hot or raining, but not all fixtures, chairs, etc. will be present. As a result, more bodywork exercises will need to be done and it will be fun for people to learn.
I’ll be keeping this setup for at least six months, and I’m debating whether to hold winter classes in person or online now. It’s huge, though – in the past if it snowed, we just canceled classes. Now, because we have learned to teach groups virtually, we can continue to teach dogs consistently and there is no excuse. I have been able to work with clients in California, Italy, etc. and help them. I also added inexpensive monthly Zoom workshops on all kinds of topics and use my own dog to demonstrate – people love it! And it’s also great for bored kids.
Long Term Changes: I won’t be able to just go further and take a client’s leash to help them – this change will last. My verbal coaching will need to become even more precise, but honestly, I’ve been doing it for a long time. I think other more punitive trainers will struggle with this and I hope it potentially forces them to change their coaching style – it could be a good thing for the dogs.
Training on greetings – like walking and shaking hands with clients to practice the dog not to jump – is now definitely discontinued, I think. At least until there is a vaccine. Again, however, this will benefit the dogs – learning that not everyone they meet can come and say hello – and it will greatly reduce conditioned arousal.
Puppy socialization will always be at the forefront for me. Whether we are hosting hands-free play groups or providing resources for safe ways to socialize young dogs with the world and other animals, I will modify and adjust this as needed to ensure that my clients’ puppies benefit from this exposure. However, I will no longer be doing large reading groups (present by the owner). I have puppies come and play at my house for the day for extra help, and with the setup I have, I can do it without any contact. Super awesome for everyone involved.
As far as B-Mod and private work go, I can and have done the majority of this online and through Zoom, with occasional in-person meetings outside. I intend to continue this for a long time. I explain to clients that I don’t need to get my hands on an aggressive dog to help them. Seeing their surroundings through Zoom is actually MORE useful than coming to my office. Reactive dogs are happy about it. I will continue to do my shelter assessments at safe and masked distances, of course.
For dog training, I think the long-term impact of COVID-19 isn’t as big as we think it is, aside from the economy which affects people’s opinion of it (more like a luxury than a necessity) and declining demand – although time has yet to say about that. The idea that we need to touch dogs, touch people and greet everyone had to change long before COVID-19. The virus just implemented it faster and gave us a boost. But over time, we’ll adjust!
No monkey business dog training
Next week: More information from dog trainers on the long-term changes they expect in dog training.