We all know that family dog trainers don’t train dogs, they train people. As I tease my veterinarian friends, our job is harder, because we have to train our clients to do the equivalent of the surgery themselves. And we all know that we, as a species, can be a bit challenging to train. Not because we’re bad people, but because we inherently aren’t consistent (ie, the downfall of synonyms), have a hugely variable repertoire, and focus on word content often more than inflection and visual signals.
And now dog trainers all over the world are coping with social distancing rules that make in-person classes impossible. My heart breaks for all of those who are struggling right now, as are so many millions of people in so many different types of jobs.
But the silver lining here is that so many trainers are stepping up to the plate and offering all kinds of help online. One of them is dear to my heart, Dog’s Best Friend Training in Madison, WI, who is now offering several online classes, including Puppy Classes, Beginning Family Dog Training Classes and “Get Focused” classes. My friend and colleague, Karen London, PhD, who writes the Behavior column now for Bark Magazine, just posted an article about the classes, and the benefits of online training. (Full disclosure, I began Dog’s Best Friend in 1988, and sold it to my kick-ass Training Director, Aimee Jarosz, where she and her trainers and behavior consultants are doing great work (I’m talking about you Chelse, Julie and Shannon!)
Some of the benefits include being able to go at your own pace, watching as an entire family, fewer distractions from other dogs, and most importantly in my mind, being able to repeat the class over and over again. There’s nothing like repetition to help you see things you might have missed . . . a dog’s subtle response, or an important aspect of the trainer’s posture. You can watch in short segments, which is actually how most of us trainers wish we could do a class. We need to train our dogs in short segments ideally too, so in some ways online classes are superior to in person ones. At least in that sense. I’m sure you will agree though that it will be a wonderful day indeed when normal classes can resume.
Here’s another spot of sunlight: Suzanne Hetts and Daniel Estep have recorded an On Demand three-part course, How To Conduct Telephone and On-Line Video Consults and Lessons. You can watch any time for the drastically reduced price of $35. There will be a live Q & A based on the information on this Friday, April 10th, at 3 pm CDT, which will be added to the course after it’s recorded.
As someone who did in-person consultations about serious behavioral problems, I can tell you that this kind of information is invaluable. It takes some experience and planning to be able to truly help people over the phone, so I hope this will be helpful to those of you who have clients who need your help, but who can’t come to your office or have you do a house call.
Look for more offerings from Dr. Hetts and Dr. Estep in the near future, including ones that they plan to offer for free to struggling trainers who need CEU’s or simply more ways to help their clients.
Last but by no means least, I wanted to remind all of us that, in the wise words of dog trainer Melissa McCue-McGrath, we are all doing the best we can with the tools we have. (You might remember Dr. Chris Pachel also saying that in the Come, Sit, Stay podcast we did with some wonderful people a few weeks ago.) I don’t think those wise words can be said often enough right now.
Melissa teaches with the New England Dog Training Club, (and at Massachusetts SPCA) and is learning as she goes how to create a series of online training classes to help their students. That is familiar to so many of us now, learning new skills to cope with our world, which seems to change every day.
Melissa has established her own Youtube channel in hopes of offering as much help as she can for no cost to anyone for the broadest of all possible audiences. I say Here Here to that.
What I love especially about these videos is that Melissa doesn’t edit out anything. If “stuff” happens, (like it does to all of us when actually training or dogs rather than making carefully edited training videos), she shows how she deals with it. We all need to do this at home, right? Pretty much every day, when our session is interrupted by the cat, or our kid. When the high-value treats lose out to the unexpected knock at the door, or whatever you’re doing JUST ISN’T WORKING and you need to stop for a moment and take a breath.
Here’s one of my favorite lessons, in which her dog Captain bops her in the butt for not paying him enough attention while talking to the camera. Yup, been there.
“We’re all doing the best we can with the tools we have” are wise words for us all, and not just for these challenging times. Dog trainers everywhere have been doing the best they can working with dogs in challenging environments in group classes. Owners, with whatever skills they may have, have been doing the best they can with their new Silky Terrier puppy or adopted bully breed mix from time immemorial. And now everyone is doing it with added challenges. My hat is off to everyone doing the best they can with the tools they have.
What about you? Are you teaching dog training online? Taking classes online? Tired of being online and happy to just get outside with your dog? Tell us what is going on, we’d all love to connect.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Good friend Lisa N brought her young teenage Golden pup, Ruby, for a romp with Maggie in our safely fenced pastures. Lisa and I stayed over 6 ft apart, while catching up on life and watching the dogs play.
Here’s Maggie with her usual cautious face when meeting a new dog:
Once greetings were accomplished, Maggie asked Ruby to play “race horse”:
Wanna learn to play “cutting horse” too?
Ruby is no shrinking violet:
Until she met Nellie, who insists on going on walks with us, even with unfamiliar dogs.
Ruby thought it’d be fun to play by slapping her paw on top of Nellie’s shoulders. Nellie did not agree:
There’s not much color in the fields now, but there are islands of it in the gardens:
I hope there is some lovely color in your life right now too, either literally or metaphorically.