Ep13: Online Dog Training

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In this episode, we’re talking about how remote or online dog training works. Kayla runs JourneyDogTraining.com, where she works exclusively with people online and remotely. Marissa is also launching some online classes, so we’re discussing the pros and cons of this approach.

Journey Dog Training currently offers four main types of online dog training services:

  1. Video or phone calls that are one-on-one.
  2. Text and email support, which is offered on a subscription basis.
  3. Group classes that are conducted using private Facebook groups and email.
  4. Pre-recorded classes that you can work through at your own pace.

Journey Dog Training also offers some e-books. Marissa, similarly, offers books and group classes that meet once per week through video chat.

Meanwhile, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and Dunbar Academy also offer some online dog training services that are slightly different.

What Sort of Problems Are Well-Suited to Online Dog Training?

Video and phone calls are best for people who have specific questions or who like live demos of what we’re working on. For example, Kayla works with a lot of overly excited dogs this way. It’s also well-suited for brainstorming and troubleshooting because we can go back and forth a bunch. Kayla has had good success with this for resource guarding, phobias, and reactivity.

Email and text support is actually Kayla’s favorite service to offer. Here, people can purchase a comprehensive pass to her inbox for a month or a year. Then they can ask her as many questions as they like! She finds this is really good for slow, ongoing training processes where there’s lots of “Ok, what’s next?” sort of questions. She’s currently working with dog/cat introductions, separation anxiety, cat litterbox problems, a hyperactive puppy, and some potty training clients this way.

Courses are only good for you if you’ve got a problem that’s being covered in a given course – you can’t sign up for my separation anxiety course if you’re struggling with potty training.

The courses are probably the best bang for your buck. While you get the live interactions in the group classes, the pre-recorded classes are a bit cheaper and they’re always available.

Pros and Cons of Online Dog Training

Advantages:

  • Cheaper (because no space, no gas)
  • You can get a great trainer anywhere in the world
  • No transit time
  • Allows different formats for different problems or learning styles.

Disadvantages:

  • Easier for things to fall through the cracks
  • Easier to misinterpret
  • Trainer can’t intervene to help/demo as effectively
  • Harder to get the whole training picture.
  • Obviously board-and-train isn’t possible – which is a disadvantage, as discussed in this Animal Training Academy episode.
  • The owner has to be able to do it all.
  • And technology can be a pain!

What Sort of Problems Can You Address With Online Training?

Kayla will take any client online if she think that’s their only or best option. She vastly prefers to work with things like fears, separation anxiety, puppy stuff, dog/cat introductions, and cat litterbox problems online. She’s had some surprising successes with arousal problems, too – dogs that just seem hyperactive and unable to settle in the home. But she’s also worked through aggression towards kids, reactivity, and just about everything else online as well.

Generally, Kayla’s process for those more dangerous clients involves trying her VERY best to get them to go see someone in-person. She often have aggression clients start out with a 15-minute call where we discuss what’s going on and get safety measures in place. But if they’re super remote, she’ll take them on anyway. She’s had clients in Japan, Belgium, Alaska, and Guatemala so far. They all really needed help and had no other options. While she’s not as effective online for those clients as she might be in-person, she can still make things better.

Where Did Kayla Learn to Do Remote Training?

Kayla started working on remote training when she worked at Denver Dumb Friends League. DFL offers a free behavior helpline that anyone can use.

So the BHLs, as we call them, are totally free calls that are offered to the public by Denver Dumb Friends League. The behavior team schedules the call with you and will help work through problems.

The Dumb Friends League Behavior Helpline is unable to work with aggression issues. We also don’t do email followup, video, or recurring calls. It’s really meant to be more of a triage call. We often get calls from people who are trying one last thing before they give up their pet to a shelter. Those calls are really hard.

How Do You Get to Know Your Clients and Their Problems When Working Remotely?

Asking the client what the animal looks like when they are behaving a certain way is crucial. Also getting footage of the behavior could be important.

However: A word of caution, we don’t want to set any dog up to fail. For example, if the dog is barking and lunging at people coming to the house. We do not need to set up that situation in order to get footage since that would require purposefully putting the dog over emotional threshold and that is not fair to the dog.

Describe the context in which your dog is exhibiting the behavior. This is a good time to ask more detailed questions as the client explains the environment. It’s also a great time to explain to the client why the environment matters and how it may be cueing your dog to react in a certain way.

Other questions may include:

  • What have you tried in the past?
  • What was the success of that technique?
  • Has the dog been to see a vet?
  • When did this behavior start showing up?
  • How do you generally respond?
  • What behaviors does your dog know on cue?
  • What do other people in the home think about this behavior?

Kayla has a whole checklist that she uses for aggression cases that she’s shared publicly. Check that out here.

After Intake, What Are Next Steps for Online Dog Training Clients?

That depends on their presenting complaint and which form of help they purchased.

If they’re doing a video call, Kayla gets right into talking about management techniques like muzzles and basic training skills like SMART x 50, mat training, hand targets, and engage/disengage games. Kayla often ends up discussing the ins and outs of counterconditioning and desensitization here as well.

Kayla lets people book calls with her using YouCanBook.me to help avoid back-and-forth conversations about scheduling.

Whenever possible, she tries to address the dog’s behavioral wellness (like what we mentioned in our episode with Sarah Stremming) as well. That shouldn’t be a “cherry on top” for us, but Kayla might not get to it in a 15-minute call.

For the courses, students are just following the course outline. All of the stuff above is usually covered, but in its own due time. Again, Kayla almost always covering basic outlines of body language, learning theory, and behavioral wellness.

The text/email clients, again, can be quite variable. Kayla starts with a long intake form. Once she’s read that, she responds to tackle any obvious safety concerns or other glaring must-dos right away. She tries to keep her suggestions shorter via email/text, because she have more time and she don’t want to overwhelm people with walls of text.

Kayla also uses MailChimp to automatically email people reminders to check in with her, so she doesn’t have to do anything!

Kayla really encourages her clients to keep journals (see her training journal template here), text her after every single walk, and/or send her videos. Both Kayla and Marissa love having clients send me cellphone videos of training.

And you know what? Not only have they found that clients generally respect their time, they find those clients have the best success rates.

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