Most of our clients have taken to online training easily, many even if they have had their reservations re technology or online teaching. Some are already comfortable with technology because they already use Zoom or other conferencing platforms for work so are well accustomed to work this way. Others are happy to try a new thing and give it a go. I have recently taken my first online training session with one of my dogs and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.
However, we have had a couple of questions come up that are perfectly understandable, and I thought it would reply to them via our Blog as these questions will continue to come up, both for our own training classes as well as for others in the industry.
Question 1 - Socialisation
I signed my dog up to your classes for socialisation. This is now not possible anymore when training online.
It is of course absolutely right that without being directly in each other's company, meeting other dogs and people isn't possible. However (you knew this was going to come, didn't you), here's what you need to consider...
1. Meeting dogs in class - in other words for 45 minutes per week - is only a very small part of your dog's socialisation requirements, 95% of socialisation needs to happen in your everyday life. So if we do things online, your dog is only missing out on a very small percentage of socialisation! Especially with puppies, but also with older dogs, it is so important to make the effort to go out and about to create all the socialisation that is necessary, whether that's with friend's dogs, dogs on walks that you meet, or in town on lead. So this doesn't change when teaching online.
2. Socialisation isn't just all about meeting as many dogs and people as possible. Socialisation is firstly about creating positive experiences with dogs, people, other animals etc. for your dog as possible, yes, the more the better, but quality is much more important than quantity here. Some of this will happen in class, but most of it will happen in your normal life. It's the positive experience that's the crucial point here. Your dog is much better off in having a few good quality positive experiences rather than loads, but with plenty of scary and unpleasant encounters added in. And secondly it is just as important to teach your dog to be around other dogs and people without the overwhelming need to say hello and play with everyone they come across. So it is about controlling themselves, it is about you keeping control, it is about focusing on you and enjoying your company and it is most of all about being comfortable and socially appropriate in all situations. That's what socialisation is. Again, most of this should happen in your everyday life and is indeed something that can be practiced quite easily even in our current difficult situation of social distancing.
3. Socialisation is also about the owner being able to read your dog's body language and other dogs' body language. This is something we put a big emphasis on in our classes as your ability to assess and pre-empt situations is paramount for your dog's socialisation. This we talk about in our classes, and we do the same in our online sessions. We discuss the various postures and behaviours that dogs use when interacting with each other and their environment which will allow you to understand your dog and other dogs and make encounters beneficial for your dog.
4. Online or off line, we teach skills that are important for your dog's socialisation like coming away from distractions (e.g. other dogs), focusing on you, listen to you around distractions... These are skills we can teach you online just as easily. See the second question below as well.
So yes, although we can't provide physical socialisation, it isn't actually a huge issue as most of your dog's socialisation needs to happen out and about, and the skills you need and your dog needs for that can be taught online.
Question 2 - Listening around Distractions
I signed my dog up to classes so he can learn to listen and comply around distractions, e.g. other dogs and people. How can that be done online when there is no one else near my dog?
Again, an absolutely understandable and important reason to attend classes, and definitely something we teach in our classes. But believe it or not, it's also something we can teach online. Here's how...
1. Being able to focus and comply around distractions is a skill. So yes, training classes can help with that. However (here we go again...LOL), there are two snags with that...
a) Dogs don't generalise well. In other words, their learning happens very situation specific. This is why you will often find dogs that are great in class, but still don't listen outside. Or they are great at home, and still don't do things on walks. We point out again and again in classes, that all the learning we do in class must be taken out and about to many different locations and situations.
b) Being able to comply to your commands/cues around distractions is a skill. And it's a skill that can be transferrable... Let me explain. If you teach your dog to focus on you when there is food on the floor, or someone is waving a toy in their face, or someone is eating dinner next to them for example, then your dog is more likely to be able to comply when there are other distractions nearby such as dogs, strangers etc. or at least they will be able to learn much quicker. So although we can't offer other dogs and people as a distraction with online training, there are plenty of things we can do in the house to teach your dog that focus, that skill to comply around distractions. And although some additional training will need to be done for various types of distractions, it will be much quicker and easier... because you know what you need to do and your dog has already most of that skill in the bag.
2. And of course, again, 95% of your training happens out and about, where you apply what you have learnt in class. We will give you specific exercises to practice to get your dog's attention in distractive situations.
So yes, although classes can provide some distractions to practice that skill, online classes can give YOU the skill to teach your dog at home and out and about. And to be honest, as I always mention in our classes, a class situation with lots of distractions isn't really the ideal place to teach a dog. It is always best to start any teaching indoors where the dog is confident and there are no distractions, and only practice out and about once the dog understands the exercises. So from that aspect, online training is a clear advantage.
SO IN SHORT
Absolutely are there advantages to face-to-face training and we will certainly go back to it when we can (although we will also keep the option for online training), however, there are also advantages to online training and it is a good substitute in these strange times. I understand that it isn't for everyone, for whatever reason, but the above answers might convince one or the other to give our online sessions a try. Most of what we can teach in class, we can teach online and there are actually some distinct advantages to online training too, not least you don't need to battle through the London traffic during rush hour or drive in the dark... ;-)