Surprisingly it works!
When the pandemic began in March of 2020, my clients canceled all in person sessions. Of course, I didn’t blame them, but I was daunted. How would I manage to keep my business afloat? I had just expanded my services, adding Board and Training which increased my expenses. Needless to say, I was a tad concerned.
As I was brooding on my limited options, I was contacted by a client who had just adopted a new dog. I explained that I was no longer doing person training. She was in the entertainment industry and explained that all of her support people were offering their services virtually. Couldn’t I adopt a virtual dog training practice?
I was leery, but I agreed to try. We began working virtually from our homes both in our versions of pandemic comfort wear. To my surprise the sessions went just the same as if I were in her home speaking to her face to face. In the first session she gave me a complete history of the dog, as well as a basic health assessment, and I answered her questions. We developed a list of her new dog’s undesired behaviors needing modification and the behaviors she wanted to strengthen. By the next session, I had prepared a treatment plan to extinguish the unwanted behaviors and build the new behaviors that were preferred by the family. After I described the training games, I could demonstrate with one of my dogs, or simply send her a reference video of me demonstrating the game with one of the dogs I had previously boarded and trained. The sessions continued weekly, and we were both amused and excited by the results.
I had always been the type of trainer who didn’t handle other people’s dogs. I believe that there is more value in explaining how the client should proceed with a desired training game while maintaining control of his own dog. This way, there is less likelihood that the dog will experience transference issues when the client becomes the sole trainer. Most dogs exhibit stress when the leash is suddenly held by a stranger while the owner is observing a few feet away, which I also wanted to avoid.
As I continued to offer this service to other clients, I quickly realized there were added benefits to working virtually. The first is cost! I was happy to offer my services and know-how at a reduced rate, both because people were worried about their economic futures and suddenly there was a boom in dog adoptions. Since my commute was from my breakfast table to my desk, and my outfit was the latest clean combination of yoga pants and a t-shirt, I had no work expenses. The second was I had no location restrictions. Suddenly I was working with people in Las Vegas, The Bay Area, and New York. Lastly, it quickly became apparent that I could be “a fly on the wall” during training. For years clients were annoyed when I walked into their houses and the dog wouldn’t display the problem behavior, they were hoping I would fix. While I don’t need to see the problem to believe it exists and I never “correct” a dog in the middle of a behavior, they always remained frustrated by this. People enjoy the fact that my virtual presence doesn’t influence their dog’s behavior. Instead, I get to observe her in her natural state.
The most exciting thing about virtual dog training, is that IT WORKS! People are, thrilled with their results and have taken to Yelp and Google to review this surprising new service I offer. Needless to say, I will continue this side of my business, long after the pandemic is resolved.