ore-mug-antolec-dan

The Covid-19 pandemic forced many changes throughout society and hit the dog service industry quite hard. In the blink of an eye, many service providers were required to stop doing what they did best, due to social isolation requirements.

Meanwhile, the needs of dogs and their families continued.

That created a gap between the services which were required and what could actually be provided.

From January 2020, my business was on track for another typical year. In mid-March, I had to inform clients I was suspending in-person services until further notice. Clients were left in the lurch, I had to turn down new applications, and since people were staying home there was no longer any demand for dog walking or pet sitting.

My colleagues collectively began scrambling for creative ways to provide services families still needed. Demand increased as all across the state as folks decided to adopt dogs and shelters emptied. Those who already contracted with breeders were bringing new puppies home only to find that no trainers were available.

As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and I am happy to explain what services dog owners can choose from, and their pros and cons. Those include traditional group classes, day training, walk and train, virtual training, personal training and board and train.

Traditional group classes are available, but with new restrictions. Trainers have reduced class size, require everyone to wear face masks and maintain social distancing.

Some group class instructors permit only one member of each family to attend with their dog. Extra sanitation is also in place.

Because class size is restricted, there might be a waiting list. Trainers who have to pay rent and utility bills for their establishment might have closed for good, as reduced class sizes might not have provided enough income.

Day Training is an option for pet owners who have returned to work. The trainer is given a key to the home and works with the pet while the owners are away, and then follows-up with Zoom or other social media in order to coach the owners.

Because the owner is not present, they do not benefit from direct coaching. The owner also needs to trust the trainer to be alone in their home with the pet.

Walk and train is a variation on that theme and might be helpful to folks who are now working from home. The trainer arrives at a specified time, the owner hands over the pet and the trainer takes the dog into the neighborhood to teach good manners.

I did this recently with a puppy, and we spent one hour walking about the neighborhood where she lives, working on training and socialization. It was a productive session, which gave the owners relief from puppy duties for an hour and polished the training process.

Just like day training, the owners are not getting coaching experience with the trainer.

Virtual Training is an option tech savvy trainers have embraced. They do not see the client or dog in person, but use technology such as Zoom meetings to demonstrate training techniques and to observe the family and coach them remotely.

Some trainers have prepared entire lessons and recorded them, making links to the recordings available to clients and then coaching them.

Some pet owners cannot learn in this way, however, and require the physical act of doing tasks and the feedback of coaching from the trainer.

Personal training is an option in which the trainer comes to your home and teaches your dog and then coaches you and other family members. Prior to the pandemic that was my sole practice, and I still do so with restrictions.

We only work outdoors, everyone wears a mask, we maintain safe distance and I wear gloves and use disinfectant. I also provide written materials and video links, as well as Zoom, telephone and email support.

It is very dependent upon good weather, though, so as winter approaches, this option will be suspended until spring.

Board and train is when the pet is surrendered to the custody of a trainer, away from the owner, for several weeks. The trainer teaches the dog and then returns it to the owner.

This is appealing to folks who want a well trained dog without having to do the work themselves. But it has a very poor reputation in the industry.

I know one trainer who offers this service and is very professional and humane, but I have heard of far too many trainers who use aversive and harmful methods on the dogs, while the owner has no clue what is happening. Too many of my behavioral clients have pets who were severely damaged by this practice.

If you have a pet dog and need some professional help, you now have more choices available to you than before. Please do your due diligence and investigate whomever you consider to train your dog. Dog training is an unregulated industry, so the buyer must beware.

Daniel H. Antolec, CBCC-KA is the owner of Brooklyn-based Happy Buddha Dog Training and is a member of Pet Professional Guild.