When the pandemic first hit, the less tech-savvy behavior consultants such as myself were a little lost. I did my work with clients in-person exclusively before that, so I wasn’t sure how best to help people once it was no longer an option. I was happy to stay home, and wanted to help keep everyone safe, but I worried about a lack of help for those who needed it, especially since adoptions from shelters and rescues were happening in droves. I wanted an efficient way to be able to help my current and future clients.
Even though we were working for different businesses at the time, Emily and I began looking into what our options were. In fact, we started our free Facebook group Cookies & Catnip to help upload content on basic training as well as answer questions for people who may need it. Looking back now, the videos we made were a bit rough around the edges because we were not well versed in video editing or online learning (some of them have some very entertaining intros though so they will remain a silly nostalgia). I also reached out to a few colleagues who were already working with clients remotely before the pandemic to get advice on how to continue to do my job efficiently. I was worried I was going to be offering a service that would be lacking in some key areas, but I quickly learned that it would be anything but.
Now that things have calmed down with the pandemic enough that in-person services have been more of a common option as of late, I have to admit that I’m not as excited as I expected myself to be for more in-person work. No, it’s not because I didn’t want to get out of my pajama pants. It’s not because I don’t want to be around people as I do enjoy meeting the dogs and their humans. It’s because working remotely has proven to not only be just as effective, but in a great many cases, has a ton of added benefits and advantages for actual progress. I genuinely believe we get better results working with people virtually and I want to talk about it so that people know it is a viable and credible option if the opportunity presents itself. While I have experienced how wonderful it is, some may have reservations. I’ve broken down some common questions our potential clients or anyone considering a virtual training experience might have.
Don’t you need to see my dog misbehaving?
This is a question we got well before the pandemic, especially when we set our first sessions up and asked that people manage the animal so they wouldn’t be capable of practicing the undesirable behavior when we arrived. One of the main cornerstones of our job is to prevent, as practice of behaviors we don’t want to see means further solidifying them. In order to truly change behavior, we need to ensure rehearsal doesn’t happen because if we wait until a behavior has happened and try to correct it after the fact, the behavior has still already been practiced. Fortunately, we do not need to see your companion behaving poorly in order to know how to address it. I could write an entire book on this topic alone, but instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll share with you an extremely well written blog "Your pet is not like your car" by our colleagues that will help you understand just why this is true. It’s a genuinely great read.
Don’t you need to be here to show me what to do?
We understand that some people have a learning style that is best served by being able to see what we want them to do. Because we are all about catering our service to the learners in front of us as individuals, training and behavior modification done virtually still allows us to meet this need for our clients. Not only are we going to walk them through what we want them to do with verbal instruction, we’re also going to practice together so that we can make sure that they feel confident with the instructions and that they are knocking it out of the park before our session is over. On top of that, we’re capable of offering live demonstration and recorded video demos for anything you may want extra help with. Doing all of this at a distance has an incredible benefit as well.
When we were doing all in-person training we often found ourselves or the client crutching on us (taking the leash so to speak) when things weren't going well or they were struggling. This feels good the moment it’s happening, but it doesn’t help create better handling skills in the humans who need it most. Constantly doing it ourselves means we are doing a disservice for those who need to know how to do these things. After all, after training is done, it’s our clients who need to know how to maintain what’s been learned. The companion also needs to learn that their owner(s) are the ones to pay attention to. Virtual training means that your companion learns that you are the one to connect with, focus on, and be enthusiastic to work with.
Can you work with any behavior hurdle virtually?
I can confidently give you an enthusiastic yes! Anything we would have taken on for in-person work is something we can take on virtually. Whether we are addressing basic manners and life skills, or working through an unhealthy behavior such as reactivity or aggressive displays to a trigger, we can help you learn what you can utilize to get your companion on the right path. It doesn’t matter whether you have a dog, cat, or bird, this is about helping you create the relationship and communication you need. In fact, there are some things that virtual is more efficient for. Whenever we enter someone’s home to work with them and their pet, we know that we are changing the picture for that animal. Some are overstimulated by our presence, some are stressed by it, but each animal’s behavior will be influenced away from its baseline because we are there. Being able to work with the animal in a more organic environment means a better outcome. It means we aren’t making it more challenging for them to learn while we’re there and they're stressed or overstimulated, or after we leave when things aren’t as exciting.
An example of this is our initial consultations. When we did them in-person, it was always a bit disjointed because the owner is hyper aware of their animal’s behavior in front of us. While they’re trying to get their pet to behave politely, we’re trying to get the owner’s attention (which is the first thing that needs to happen before the pet can learn to behave). Doing a consultation remotely means a more focused and fluid conversation where we know the owner(s) are able to truly soak in what we’re saying without the worry of their pet embarrassing them or doing things they feel the need to correct. Everyone has a much less stressful and distracting experience.
Does virtual training have the same success rate?
I would comfortably argue that it has for my cases, in fact I’ve found that my success rates have gone up when working virtually. Not every behavior consultant may share that experience, and that's perfectly okay. Without my physical presence as a distraction or a crutch but instead getting to act as a teacher and source of support, I find that my clients end up with better instincts, solid timing, more confidence, and a stronger connection to and focus from their companion. The bottom line is, if the guardians have the time, motivation to follow through, their success will be as good, if not better. In fact, that motivation and consistency would be required of in-person work just the same. It is a larger influence on the outcome than whether I’m physically there or not and that's because true lasting behavior change takes time and effort regardless.
Are there any other benefits to choosing a package that’s done virtually?
Not only is it an effective way to help your pet, it’s more cost effective. It’s the cheaper option since there isn’t travel involved, but it also offers a more flexible schedule as well as allows us to truly use the package time as is needed, which will get you more bang for your buck. When we travel for an in-person session, we tend to spend more time per session in your home. It’s not always pure training during that session, as there’s something about the physical meetup that makes humans linger (if you’re from the Midwest, you know what this can look like). Even if your dog only needs a 10 minute session to go over the next steps of what they are learning, a 10 minute session feels unreasonably short and lackluster to clients since we’ve traveled to them and scheduling for that isn’t quite as flexible.
This means we use up more of your paid for time when it could be saved for additional lessons. While taking up more time than we may need isn’t deliberate on either party's end, there are many factors other than a midwestern goodbye that play a role. When we arrive, we are likely going to have to take time to calm and obtain focus from an excitable companion, or we’re going to have to warm them up to us if they’re stressed by strangers.
Virtual work means we can use 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, or anything in between for each session. It’s all about using whatever you need at that moment based on where you’re at and what questions you have. My remote clients end up seeing me more frequently and get many more sessions for the number of hours they sign up for than my in-person clients with the same size of package.
On top of all of this, working virtually means we can help you no matter where you are or live. All you need is a phone, laptop, or other device and an internet connection!
While virtual training or behavior modification is not going to be for everyone, we want our clients to know that choosing this kind of package will not be detrimental to their progress or success. If you have further questions about it or how we operate, please feel free to contact us!