Online Dog Training – Your First and Best Choice

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA CSAT

It wasn’t that long ago that folks thought of online dog training (live video coaching) as a second choice. We considered it a good-enough option when in-person training wasn’t available. There are some reasons for that. Dog trainers weren’t as good at remote training as we are today. Fair enough. The other reason, though, is that we just didn’t know what we didn’t know. The pandemic, quite frankly, forced us to immerse ourselves in online learning experiences. Little-by-little it became a welcome part of our comfort zones. We got good at it and we learned how good it could be for us.

Dog training and behavior coaching has some key elements in every case:

  • Setting goals
  • Charting a training plan
  • The trainer modeling specific skills and exercises
  • The client practicing those skills hands-on and getting feedback
  • Review and Follow up

The truth is, not only are all of those things able to be accomplished live on a video connection, some of them are actually better accomplished that way. I take notes for my clients and can often send clients a written training plan the very same day if we are working online. I also record demonstrations and practice sessions and can send a link for those to the client within minutes after our consultation.

And, believe it or not, there are real disadvantages to seeing a client and their dog in-person. For dogs with aggression issues, having a stranger in the home can be very stressful. Half of a training session or more can be wasted just getting the dog to calm down. We don’t have that problem with live video coaching. The client can work with their dog in a calm stress-free environment, skill-building and preparing the dog for real-life encounters later in the process. Dog separation anxiety training is done entirely online. The idea is to help the dog learn how to be calm when left alone. You don’t invite someone over and then leave the dog alone, right? It’s essential that the trainer not be there so that he can monitor your dog’s behavior when left on his own.

It’s normal to have some hesitation around online training. I get it. Many of our clients did at first too. Then the reviews started coming in:

Michael is Very professional and helpful. We were worried about the training being performed virtually at first but found that the training was just as helpful as in person training if not better. – Mary C

I was worried how training might translate over Zoom since we began at the height of COVID, but everything went so smoothly and I think the distance helped Finn to be a bit more natural at home during training sessions. – Corrine B

Even through remote training due to covid, Michael’s professional assessment and training skills shone through and worked wonders. He gave us a customized plan to help her build trust and positive engagement with my husband. – Mabry Family

We met with Michael through Zoom meetings and he helped us immensely with positive training techniques that helped our pup become a loving part of our family. – Pat V

We’ve learned there are other real advantages to live video dog training sessions online, as well.

  • Expert help when you need it. There are still too few dog behaviorists and dog behavior consultants who handle difficult behavior cases. With online coaching you can access experts more easily with less wait time for an appointment.
  • Convenience of scheduling. With no worries about service area or travel time, we can make more evening and weekend time slots available.
  • Expert care and instruction no matter where you are. Online dog behavior coaching is not bound by geography or service area boundaries.
  • Safety. Online coaching is stress-free for dogs with aggression issues.
  • Less stressful for the humans, too. There’s no fuss or worry about having a stranger in your home.
  • Online training costs less.

I’m a watcher of trends. It’s one of my passions. One of the things we are noticing from the pandemic is that we will probably continue to do more work with each other remotely from our own homes. Certainly we crave social interaction in-person. At the same time we are realizing we don’t need that (or want it) for all interactions. If we can get expert help that’s better, quicker, and less expensive, that really should be our first option. Experience has shown me so far it’s likely to be our best option, too.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He’s also able to help people around the world with live video coaching online.

 

 

Dog Training – It’s About the Relationship, Silly

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA CSAT

We’ve come full circle. The truth is good dog trainers have always known that teaching is about relationships. It’s not so much “leadership,” (Do it or else). It’s more about cooperation (Let’s work on this together). We’ve known this even though for a while it looked like we forgot.

To some extent or another too many of us became fix-it trainers. Dogs became a list of problems to solve. Our business coaches told us that’s what clients wanted – results, nothing more. We knew they were wrong, but we changed our business plans and turned our web sites over to them (at no small cost). And, fix-it we did. We stopped the crummy behavior from happening and taught the shiny new behavior instead. We packaged it up as solutions and modifications like we were tricking out cars. All the while, we still knew. This is about the relationship, silly. The human, the dog, the team.

It’s all come full circle. Relationships are the thing again, and rightly so. Maybe it was Covid. I learned a whole new way of living with my dogs, as you probably did too. It drew us closer. It taught us new lessons. Deeper ones, I think.

Take notice. The world slowed down, at least a little bit, at least for a little while. I could (and did) spend hours just watching my dogs. I watched them sleep. I watched what they paid attention to. I noticed what they did more often and in greater detail. And here’s the other thing. I noticed them noticing me. They watch us, follow us, and listen to us far more than we give them credit for.

Communicate. That’s the beginning of communication, this shared noticing. There have been a number of studies that suggest dogs understand our meaning far better than we understand theirs. They read our facial expressions, our voices, and even our casual gestures and accurately interpret our intent. We know this, if we are paying attention, because of how they respond. They have their own gestures and expressions. It’s been called a language of sorts, and we can learn it. This is the bedrock of training, mastering the give and take, the quid pro quo, the rap-and-riff of our interactions with dogs. It’s like good improv. A little something from me a little something from you. A conversation.

Turn towards, not away. All we have to do is to lean into this truth. Dog training is not a top-down endeavor. It’s a back-and-forth. Our dogs have intention. They are thinking and feeling.  Psychologist John Gottman taught this concept in the context of marriage. When our partner reaches out (Gottman calls this a “bid”), the more we turn toward them to engage and exchange, the richer our marriage will become. There is a parallel here for all relationships, including the learning relationship we have with our non-human friends. Your dog, I guarantee it, is always bidding. He’s exploring his agency in the world, gambling, engaging, experimenting. Turn towards that behavior, towards your dog, not away from it. Connect. Collaborate. Build shared understanding. Add fluidity to learning. Create trust.

This is not etherial pie-in-the-sky thinking. It’s foundational. There is certainly a time and a place for fixing problem behaviors. There’s a place for teaching cool skills and even tricks (tricking out your dog). If you’re focused on the results alone, though, you will struggle. In fact, often the struggle is all you will see. I wonder sometimes why it all feels so difficult. What if we chose to see our dog instead, this other life in the room? What if we were open to the conversation? I see you and I smile and I know you know what that means. I see your bid – for attention, for engagement, for a chance to choose this or that. How could I miss it? You’re here, breathing and thinking and real.

I see you. I see your bid. And I turn toward you. How could I not, you delightful, crazy, adorable, sometimes problematic, dog.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training and behavior in Houston, TX. He specializes in aggressive dog behavior and dog separation anxiety.

 

Covid Pets and the Unexpected Fallout

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Nineteen months ago, none of us really knew what was coming. Dog behaviorists and trainers predicted and increase in behavior problems from dog separation anxiety to puppy socialization issues to increased resource guarding. We got some of that right. We trainers also braced ourselves for a collapse in business. I had one other trainer working for me in April 2020. At the time I didn’t know whether or not we’d survive financially. In an interview with KTRH Radio in Houston I talked about how we were rebuilding our business model, just so we could make it. Some of our worries and associated predictions were well-founded. There were some increased (and interesting) behavior problems that cropped up. But we got another part completely wrong. Business was going to boom. In fact, we were about to be in over our heads with an increased demand for help.

By some estimates pet ownership increased during the pandemic by more than 40-percent. People who had never had dogs before got dogs or puppies. People who had one or more dogs got a second or a third. By mid 2021 the trend was so apparent it became a meme (apparently air fryers sales did well too). At first glance this may look like great news. We all want to see more cats and dogs adopted – and that was happening. But as with many good things in life, there was a flip side.

As early as Fall 2020 veterinary practices were becoming overwhelmed. All of these new dogs and cats needed medical care. Scheduling a standard vaccination appointment for tomorrow or the next day was off the table. The wait time became a week or two or more. Wait times for emergency care (unless your pet was critical) increased to as much as 8 hours. Even in normal times veterinary medicine is considered an at-risk profession with a higher-than-typical suicide rate (physicians and other caring professions are similarly at risk). Now, with the added cases and little time in the day to catch their breath, veterinarians are burning out. Many are leaving the profession or shifting specialties. Others are dying. Not One More Vet (NOMV) is an organization founded to help keep veterinarians healthy, alive, and in the profession they love. NOMV and your own personal vet will always appreciate your kindness and support.

Dog trainers and behavior consultants were caught in the storm of demand as well. We here at The Behavior Group had to adapt quickly. What started as a two person operation in March 2020 is now a five person operation. (See: Inside Michael’s Dogs – How We Survived 2020). We did well, but one of our trainers got buried under a huge caseload. She had to step away for  break and then eventually left the group. While this person is doing exceptionally well now, other trainers have reportedly left the profession permanently. The ones who remain have full schedules with no openings for 2 to 3 months.

If you’re tempted to roll your eyes at my complaints about being too busy, I get it. Fair enough. The real problem goes beyond just that, though. None of this is happening in a vacuum. Veterinarians and we trainers are all tasked with helping people who, themselves, are under unprecedented pressure. This was literally the subject of my last newsletter. Life is hard right now. The real problem is a toxic blend of more dogs, more demand, and a client base that is hurting more than ever. I’m hearing about the fallout from my friends, fellow trainers, and vets. I’m also seeing it on social media. A well-respected trainer with more than 20-years experience recently posted that they’d considered closing their doors and quitting the profession. But why?

“What people don’t see, or hear, or read,” They wrote, “is what we take on every single day. The hysterical voicemails, the impossible cases that are immediate emergencies, the rude comments, the pressure of social media, the incessant demand for attention right away. The texts at 11pm [demanding]  response or [they will write] a negative review. People truly have no idea. It is not playing with puppies all day.” 

Some people are, frankly, thoughtless and unkind. Another trainer put it in the form of a meme (left). “People are feral since the lockdown, I swear.”

Please do not misinterpret this is a cry for help. It is more of a peek behind the curtain – a look at how the sausage is made – choose your favorite metaphor. Covid puppies. Covid pets. This unexpected fallout. These are all our issues to take on as trainers and behavior consultants and as veterinary professionals. We know self-care. More importantly we know that caring for each other is even more powerful and essential.

I’m not claiming to have figured all this out. But, here is what we are doing in our group. A few months ago we brought on Stephen Kelly as our Client Care Lead. His role is to support our clients and our trainers, both. Stephen can help you with anything from rescheduling an appointment to fixing a typo on your email address in our files. He helps the trainers by assisting you as well, so they can focus on the thing they love – teaching and training. All of us work hard to communicate our process and what we have to offer (I think we set the standard in client learning and support).

We also clearly communicate our boundaries. Boundaries in our group are so important. It’s why we have a clear cancellation polity (this actually helps you plan better, too). We have boundaries around when we accept texts – not just from clients but from each other. This clarity about boundaries lets you know when you will have our full attention. We take days off. These days are do-not-enter zones for recharging our emotional and intellectual batteries. They are so important to us. But, don’t underestimate how important they are to you as well. A rested trainer is smarter, more creative in their teaching and training, and more empathetic.

Empathy. So much of our work is about standing with you as you navigate the path of learning with your dog (it is sometimes a difficult winding path). I’ve been here. I am here with you now. That’s empathy. First Aid Arts posted a Vimeo video with Brené Brown in which she says, “I find Empathy to be infinite. I think it gives back tenfold what you put out. It’s sustaining” There interviewer, named Travis, then jumps in and says, “If you’ve done the work and you have your boundaries you could tread that water forever.” Brown responds, “Okay so, Empathy. I’m quoting Travis here. Empathy. If you’ve done your work and set your boundaries you can tread that water forever. Amen!”

I’ll second that. Amen, indeed.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He leads Michael’s Dogs Behavior Group – and amazingly talented team of people-care professionals.