You Can't Train a Dog On a Computer!
Updated: Jul 1
I am getting lots of messages these days insisting upon in-home training or they aren't interested. Some folks are polite, many are not. People even tell me they will buy me N95 masks or face shields (that won't freak dogs out at all!) Sometimes they tell me no one in their household is high-risk as if that makes a difference to my household. Many of them tell me dogs can't learn on a computer. I find it fascinating that people who have never tried it have such strong opinions about how training will and won't work since I have been doing this training day after day for nearly 3 months, now, and can describe in detail the advantages as I see them.
As of the day this post goes live, Maryland has the third-highest rate of new infections in the country and it's 84 degrees outside and climbing to 90 degrees in the next 2 hours. Family members and clients of mine are very, very high-risk - elderly, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders - and you cannot persuade me to potentially compromise their health by traveling from house to house to train dogs. (How would that work? I'd be in your house and we'd both wearing cloth masks for an hour. Our voices are muffled, masks get warm, and I'll be wearing one for hours if I am training all day. Some dogs think they look scary, too. What about my shoes, would I need booties or leave my shoes outside? You hopefully will have sterilized every surface in the training area in case you are presymptomatic so I don't accidentally touch something and then touch my face, right? You'd have to do that again after I left in case I touched something and was pre-symptomatic, too.) And what about my health? If I get sick, there's no back up trainer since Laurie has a full schedule of her own. There are no paid sick days for a small business owner. Many people in Maryland are still waiting for unemployment checks weeks after filing. How would my business stay afloat if I were out sick for weeks?
So what about the yard or park? It's cool enough to work outside until about 8:30/9:00 am unless we have lots of shade which usually requires working at a specific time of day when the sun angles just so. It's tough to coordinate that with absence of rain, your schedule, and mine. Some people tell me they feel fine in the heat but I would be out there for several hours in a row and no bathroom access, by the way, so forget drinking lots of water I need in the heat while talking constantly. Your dog would be wearing a fur coat and walking in paw pads on surfaces that may be hot, like asphalt. We probably aren't fine, even if you are. Now, I am still catching up with one client per day who paid for in-person training prior to quarantine at 8:00 am or converting some puppies to a last outdoor lesson with an extra travel fee. These lessons are with people whose dogs are ready to work amid distractions outdoors and who I know from working via computer for weeks or from working prior to quarantine will follow my instructions the best they can. Are people still touching my leash and coming closer than 6' without a mask by mistake? You bet! Are there people who have just gone back and forth to Arizona or Florida or the beach and hung out in crowded places and then want to see me the next day without a mask? Sure are! And if it rains, the lesson is canceled altogether and I probably don't have an opening for 2 more weeks.
Here's the way I see it: we don't actually train the dog, we train you, and you definitely can learn over the computer with live, online coaching.
We can see your home and your body moving, we can hear your voice, and we can see your dog's responses.
We will watch videos of your dog's behavior taken at other times as needed.
We can teach about body language, timing, rewards, adding cues, and changing criteria.
Your dog might even learn more efficiently without the distraction of a trainer in the room who may be exciting ("She smells like other dogs and chicken!") or scary ("Strangers in my house are scary!")
We provide follow up videos and articles to support learners who want to watch a demo or read the words instead of just learning by listening.
When we coach, we tell you what you are doing right and we help fix what's going wrong.
We suggest changes as needed to routines, exercise, play, feeding, and environmental setup.
It's less expensive for you since there's no travel charge.
We aren't at the mercy of weather changes.
More of your family members can attend since you can be in two different places and both log in to the lesson.
The times we can offer are much more flexible than usual since we aren't commuting back and forth across town.
I can do almost double the sessions on video in a day than I can in-person, so I have cut the wait to see me from 3-4 weeks to 1 week.
You don't have to wear a mask but you can wear pajamas and not clean your house, we don't care!
It's all upside from here. If you still aren't convinced, we can provide client references, but if not, you can request a referral and maybe one of our colleagues can assist you if they are ready to work inside again. My suggestion, though, is not to knock it before you try it.