Virtual Training Can Be Good for Trainers, Owners and Dogs

Clear the Shelters

Jennifer Stile was apprehensive when she found out that training classes for her puppy Josie would be moving online because of the pandemic.

“Initially I said I’d wait till it’s over,” says Stile, who was taking a class at My Fantastic Friend in Ellicott City, Maryland. “But then I realized that it wasn’t going to be over fast enough, and I knew I needed to train my dog and I didn’t have the tools to do that without help.”

So she took the plunge — and she’s glad she did.

“I’d been trying to watch YouTube videos and do it on my own, but I wasn’t getting that instant feedback, knowing if I was doing it correctly,” she says. “Having that feedback from a trainer who was invested in me and my dog and getting to know my dog, it was much more successful than I thought.”

In fact, many trainers are finding that holding classes and private sessions online via videoconference is more than a stopgap: There are advantages for them, for their clients and for dogs.

One plus is that the setting is less distracting than that of the typical in-person group class that takes place in an unfamiliar environment with other dogs around.

“People make progress more quickly, which I think is encouraging for them, and it’s more efficient,” says Kelly Lee of Dog Kind Training in Davis, California. “And many dogs who could never do an in-person class can come to these, because they’re still in their comfort zone.”

Maura Knestout found that to be true for her terrier mix Mia. “An in-person group class wouldn’t have worked out for us, because she wouldn’t have been able to focus,” she says. “Doing the group class online, I was able to see the other dogs, and see how their handlers were working with them, but we were in our own space, so she could focus better.”

It can be less distracting for the people, as well: They can focus on what is being taught without having to worry about wrangling their dog in an overstimulating environment.

For certain behavior issues, online training may be the best way, pandemic or not. Kate LaSala, who specializes in problems like pet fear and aggression, has been offering private sessions online for several years.

“I have found that doing these types of cases remotely is often easier on the dog, because they don’t have a stranger coming into the house,” she says. “It’s less stressful for the dog, and less stressful for the people.”

This makes learning easier, as Knestout discovered with Mia.

“We were actually able to speed up the process because we didn’t have someone coming in our house and making her nervous,” she says. “Once we switched to online, she zoomed through the private lessons.”

The ultimate goal of dog training, LaSala says, is to provide owners with the tools to work with their own dogs, not for the trainer to do it. And although each dog owner’s problems may feel unique, there’s usually no need for her to see the animal in action.

“I know what food guarding looks like. I know what stranger danger looks like,” she says. “I don’t need to instigate the dog to see that behavior to help the person or to help the dog.”

Technology also offers some benefits that would be harder to provide in person. It’s easy to share video to demonstrate a technique, and rewind or slow-mo to focus on details. It’s easy to record class, so some trainers share video to help you review what was covered. And looking at video of yourself working with your dog can let you see more clearly what your trainer is talking about when she gives you feedback.

There are some downsides to online training for puppy classes, where practicing good dog-dog play and providing exposure to strange people and situations is a big part of the curriculum. But experts stress that doing puppy classes at the right age is critical, and online classes are still effective.

“It’s easy to do a video session to address normal puppy behaviors like play biting and jumping and mouthing,” says LaSala. “All that can be done remotely and be very successful.”

In addition, your trainer will give you exercises to socialize your puppy to the environment. Stiles says the advice worked for her.

“She gave us really great ideas, like sit on your front lawn and watch the bikes go by and the garbage truck and the UPS person. Go on walks so they can see other dogs, and give them a treat so they have a positive association with the world around them,” she says. “My dog is so well socialized — she can walk across any surface, she can hear any noise, the doorbell rings and she doesn’t bark, and she’s really great with dogs and humans.”

And as we’re all learning these days, online can give us some of the other things we need as well. “I got to see my dog friends every week and see how they were progressing, and that was fun,” says Stile. “And especially in this weird pandemic time, it gave me something to look forward to, and a goal each week.”

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  • Towels and blankets - Shelters are often cold and animals like to have a blanket to curl up on. Towels are a big help to dry animals off after being bathed or if they come in wet. Towels can also be used to line the bottoms of cages. The towels or blankets don't have to be brand new or in perfect condition. The animals won't mind, as long as they're usable.
  • Canned and Dry Food for Cats and Dogs-Healthy - Healthy pet options for nourishment
  • Kitty litter and cat boxes - Cats go to the bathroom- a lot. Shelters are constantly using bag after bag of litter. Their supply runs out fast.
  • Puppy or kitten formula and nursing bottles - Sometimes there are situations where a young puppy or kitten who is not weaned gets separated from their mother. In these situations they need puppy or kitten formula to survive.
  • Old newspaper - When you're done with your newspapers you usually just throw them away or recycle them, right? You could help animals at no cost to you if you just save up your old newspapers. Newspapers are used in the bottoms of cages. They get soiled quickly, so they're in constant demand.
  • Collars, harnesses, and leashes - Dogs who are taken out on walks need a leash and collar or harness. The shelter loses some because adopted dogs often go home with their leash or harness.
  • Grooming supplies - Grooming supplies can include shampoo, brushes, combs, haircutting scissors, etc. Dogs and cats often come in dirty or end up getting dirty. Grooming supplies can keep them fresh, clean, and adoptable.
  • Toys - You would get bored if you had to lay in a crate alone all day, wouldn't you? Animals in shelters get bored, too. It keeps the animals from being so lonely and bored and allows them to get exercise. You could go out and buy new toys, or you could donate toys your pets or children may have not gotten much use out of. It's as simple as that.
  • Crates and carriers - Animals need to be transported somehow, and the cost of multiple crates and carriers can add up quickly. You can donate ones you stopped using that are still in good condition or you could go buy one for a decent price. This helps the shelter tremendously.
  • Paper towels and cleaning supplies - There are a lot of situations that get messy, so paper towels are a big help.
  • Hand wash and hand sanitizer - People who work at shelters need to keep their hands clean for their and the animals' health.
  • Laundry detergent, fabric softener, and bleach - Towels and blankets get soiled often so the washing machines are being used a lot
  • Dog and cat beds - this can offer the animals a soft place to lay instead of a kennel or cage floor.
  • Heating pads - Many animals come in cold or are young and need warmth. Heating pads can replace a mother's warmth.
  • Copy paper and pens, pencils, post-it notes and staples - You can't forget about all the paperwork that has to be done. Donating these items makes it so the shelter doesn't have to buy them on their own.
  • Garbage bags, mops, brooms, and sponges - The shelter uses these every day and clean up supplies can get expensive.
  • Food bowls - As new animals come in, the shelter needs new places to put food. Having an adequate supply could mean life or death for an animal in a shelter.
  • Rubber and latex gloves - A lot of messy stuff happens and gloves are necessary to lessen the spread of germs.
  • Plastic shopping bags - Plastic bags can be used to clean up dog mess and to store things in.

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