I took a deep breath, opened up my laptop computer, and pulled up my Gmail inbox. I already knew what would be there…the same thing as the day before and the day before that. Even though I had prepared myself to see the list of cancellation emails and requests for refunds, it just didn’t get any easier. This was the start of the Covid pandemic and the looming cloud that began to envelop my (and so many other) small businesses. While there is no doubt that Covid took it’s toll in so many ways, there was one way that I might be able to flip adversity into opportunity for the dogs and people we work with.
Now that we had all been forced into a world of virtual meetings and social distancing, this seemed like the perfect time to assemble virtual training programs that would provide the convenience of connecting with a skilled trainer from home. But could we do it and do it well? There are 2 ethical standards that the team here at Tug Dogs strictly adheres to: 1) We want to offer the very best training services and 2) We always provide transparent communication. If we couldn’t meet both of those standards, we couldn’t offer virtual training.
So began many months of researching the world of virtual education. I snuck into virtual life coaching groups, sat in on a healthcare webinar focused on seeing virtual patients, networked with other trainers offering zoom training, read blogs from fitness trainers going virtual, and used my social distancing time to immerse myself in understanding this new world.
What I learned during those months of research didn’t just assure me that virtual training could meet Tug Dogs ethical standards, it opened up new and exciting possibilities that we could offer BETTER training services in many types of cases. If you’re like me when I started this journey, you’re probably thinking…how could meeting virtually with a trainer possibly be better than meeting in person? Here’s how:
- More of us: You know what one of the biggest predictors of success is in most training cases? How much follow through there is in the training. Exploring this new world of zoom learning, I had a huge Eureka moment! I was no longer confined to the normal 60-90 minute, weekly meet up with a client because anything beyond that would be inconvenient for both of us. Instead, now I could break sessions into smaller parts and review and expand them throughout the week using virtual meetings. You’re a lot more successful when you meet with your fitness coach a few times a week because they help motivate you and hold you accountable. Now we can do that too. Meeting a few times instead of just once per week also means I get eyes on what you and your dog are up to so I can make adjustments, give you the next steps if you’re ready (rather than waiting a whole week) and be available to answer questions easily. Scheduling 3 in person sessions with us per week would be next to impossible, except virtually.
- Less of us: I used to joke that as a side business I would sell a cardboard cutout of myself for training clients because I was so often hearing, “when you’re here she listens and is great! When you leave she acts totally differently.” I call this the “teacher effect.” Many dogs figure out when to behave well and when they can get away with their normal doggy antics. This can make in person training a challenge as we don’t have the ability to coach you through your pup’s problem behaviors if they aren’t engaging in them while we’re present. Unless we’re training virtually that is.
- A stranger is here: At its core, dog training is about teaching dogs skills and behaviors while things are easy (non distracting) and then adding more difficulty as they are ready. We don’t try to teach kids math in the middle of an arcade because it would be impossible to keep their attention. For some dogs, having a new human in their presence can either be stressful or so exciting that it’s hard for them to focus. Sure we want them to be able to work on this skill but teaching them in a non challenging environment first is key. Another win for virtual…
- Staying on a roll: I once heard a quote that said, “adulting is sending emails/texts back and forth about how busy you are.” It’s true, most of us are pretty busy people. Rather than having to carve out 90 minutes for training plus drive time and homework time outside of the session, what if you could just schedule 20 minutes here or there and get the same (if not better) training results?? That’s what virtual has to offer. Neither of us will be adding to our training time by having to drive all over and that in turn gives you more time to apply to actually meeting your training goals. That’s a serious, virtual score.
- Getting ready: We work a lot with problem behavior cases where dogs are having issues with fear, aggression or anxiety. To even meet a dog who struggles with a serious behavior issue and keep ourselves safe and make the experience as positive as possible for the dog, having some basic skills in place is hugely helpful. Virtual training allows us to help your dog get conditioned to a muzzle (if needed) so we can handle them safely, get you used to the handling you’ll need to have to navigate your dog around us when we do meet in person, and start the process of teaching you how to refocus your dog when they begin to get stressed/reactive. These are tools that we can teach your dog virtually so that we have them ready to use in real life training. This allows us to move faster through the training once we’re working in person together.
- We have lives: After 2020 our trainers, like most everybody else, are ready to travel. But we don’t want to lose momentum when we’re in the middle of training programs with our clients. Virtual gives us the best of both worlds as we can continue your dog’s training program while also getting our beach trip fix. In reality, virtual treatment programs have given us the ability to offer longer programs than we have been able to offer before. For example, treating serious separation anxiety is no quick undertaking! To be able to really tackle the behavior, we need to be able to coach you and your dog over a period of months to see success. For example in our Separation Anxiety Ultra Program, clients meet with our coaches DAILY for at least the first week and get ongoing support for 185 days! There’s zero possibility of us being able to offer that same level of frequency and support for in person training (unless you want us as a roommate lol). Virtual lets us offer more since we can still have lives.
- Revisit your training: Ever wish you could remember something your trainer said about how to handle your dog? Want a reminder of your homework? Would you like your partner to see how to work with your dog even though they couldn’t attend a session? I am no tech wizard but a simple google search lets me know that you can easily download zoom sessions so that you can revisit them in the future. A customized, online class you can revisit anytime about your dog’s training? Yes please!
- Early start: Since the dawn of time vets and trainers have battled about whether to keep puppies isolated until vaccinated or start their training early. Ok maybe not the dawn of time but it’s a debate that’s been around quite a while. You shouldn’t have to risk your puppy’s mental or physical health by choosing between keeping their brain learning or body disease free. Virtual helps solve this problem. From the comfort of your own (parvo free) house and yard, you can get started right away in learning the most important puppy basics to help your new family member get into good dog habits. Virtual takes the compromise out of when to start puppy training.
- No time like the present: Finally you decide it’s time to take the plunge and get your dog trained. His pulling, barking, or other problem behaviors are driving you crazy and you need it to stop now! But much to your dismay, the trainers you have reached out to report back that there is a lengthy waiting list to get your dog trained. It’s frustrating, we know. Even more annoying for us is that we have a trainer skilled and ready to go in helping your dog meet your goals but unfortunately they just don’t happen to live near you. Virtual training means you’ll get faster access to qualified help whether it’s from our Bay Area, Sacramento, Truckee/Tahoe, or Portland area trainers.
- Here, there, and everywhere: Of course the most obvious benefit of virtual is for those who don’t live in our service area, you can still get access to an experienced and knowledgeable trainer no matter where you are (so long as you have reliable internet access).). Tug Dogs selected trainers are highly skilled and educated dog professionals that have met rigorous standards. If you don’t have a trainer in your area or just need a canine professional that is focused on problem behaviors instead of just traditional obedience training, our virtual programs deliver a top quality trainer right to your living room.
Sounds pretty good right? There’s a whole lot we can do virtually to help your dog overcome their problem behaviors, learn better manners, stop rehearsing bad habits, learn to listen even when distractions are around, and become easier companions to live and adventure with. We can even help you learn how to support your dog’s training education all from the comfort of home. But there are some cases that need help that goes beyond virtual training. For this reason we offer a hybrid learning approach where you start virtually to build up your dog’s skills and then meet in person to practice in real world training scenarios. Cases where your dog needs to work around strangers, our role model dogs, or venture out into the community are best left for in person training. Rest assured that once you start the training process with us, we’ll be advising you on the best options moving forward as no matter which format we use to train, our goals are always the same….getting you and your dog the best training possible.
These days when I flip open my computer, rather than cancellations I’m seeing updates from happy dog owners who are thrilled with what they have been accomplishing with the help of our virtual training. If you need help with you dog (when in person or virtually,) get in touch today to schedule a free consultation so we can learn more.