Many behaviour professionals have been offering online/virtual consulting options for years, but with the current pandemic, the vast majority of consultants are abiding by physical distancing safety recommendations, and are not seeing clients or their dogs in person at all. This has resulted in a huge increase in online class and behaviour modification options offered by businesses all over the world.  Despite the assumption that a hands-on service like training must be done in person, behaviour modification from a distance can be a wonderful option for you and your pet with a number of advantages and benefits – not to mention it’s highly effective!

How does it work?

 In general, a relationship with a consultant will begin with a consult/assessment session. This can easily be done online, via video chat or phone call. Most consultants will have you fill out an online history form before meeting anyways, and then you will go over it together. You may be asked to provide video of your pet to your consultant beforehand, although most consultants will ask you not to put your pet into a situation to deliberately provoke aggression for safety and ethical reasons. Your consultant will also talk with you about what may be causing your pet’s behaviour issues, and what a treatment plan may look like. They may want to see the layout of your home (if the problem occurs in your house) or yard, or walk you through some basics to get started, such as introducing a marker signal or evaluating the equipment you’re using. Your consultant will also provide you with materials after the session, such as instructions on safety and management and how to get started on some training skills, with video examples or handouts.

Follow up sessions are usually where the majority of hands-on training and direct feedback from your consultant happens, and this can be more challenging to navigate remotely.  Nevertheless, there are a variety of options available. You may choose to meet for a set amount of time online or by the phone, or you may communicate by email/text. Your consultant may ask for videos of your practice sessions, and they can comment on these and send them back, or you might review them together. Sometimes your consultant may use their own dog in their home to demo a skill, or do a screen share with you to show a skill or concept via video. If you have the ability and the tech materials needed, your consultant may watch you train your dog and provide feedback as you go. This can even be done outside, for an issue like dog/dog reactivity, if you have an additional person to film as you go!

Why is it good for pets?

Some behaviour issues are very well suited to meeting online – these include highly fearful dogs, dogs who are very reactive to guests to the home, or separation anxiety, as well as most cat behaviour issues.  However, other projects such as basic manners, puppy integration, resource guarding and dog-dog reactivity can also be addressed through virtual consulting.  Highly excitable and over-stimulated pets can also be helped, as there isn’t another very interesting person present during sessions to distract them from learning new behaviours.

Why is it good for people?

Scheduling is often flexible, as consultants don’t have to consider where else they will be traveling.  Some clients are nervous about having people come to their home due to their dog’s behaviour, or need some time to work their way up to taking their reactive/aggressive dog out and about. Online training allows you to work at your own speed and make progress you’re comfortable with. Scheduling how often and how long you meet for can also be more customized with virtual formats. Perhaps you only need a half hour check in rather than a full hour meeting – if your consultant has no travel time, that’s easier to arrange. 

While most consultants will charge the same fees for their time for virtual services (you are still accessing the same knowledge and expertise after all), you may save on travel fees or take advantage of shorter sessions, which can help with budgeting. 

And finally, because of all the ways we have to communicate virtually, your consultant can be available to you at short notice via chat, email or text message, without meeting in person, to help you feel motivated, supported and encouraged while you work!

Why wait? Get started now!

Many of us put behaviour change projects on hold when the pandemic began, waiting until “things got back to normal” to continue training. As it becomes increasingly obvious that no one knows when that will be or what it will look like, I want to encourage pet guardians to reach out to their local professional – chances are they are offering virtual services and they will be more than happy to get started with you. A better behaved pet and happier family is within your grasp, just an email away!