Downeast Dog News

Zoom Training

By Sara Sokol | Jan 04, 2021

This year has been one full of change, compromise, and getting creative to find ways of keeping our lives as close to normal as possible. The dog training industry has been no exception to this!

With group gatherings being unsafe due to COVID concerns, many dog trainers, myself included, took their classes online, resulting in clients realizing what dog trainers have known for a long time; dog training classes are for humans, not dogs. Class is where owners receive instruction on how to communicate with and teach their dogs; the work of training takes place between classes, not in class.

When I shifted my group classes to all online classes, I was confident they would still work and that I could continue to give the exact same instruction that I would in my in-person classes to my Zoom students. What I didn’t anticipate was that people would love the online classes so much more than the in-person classes and that they would work even better than in-person classes!

Both the humans and their dogs are more comfortable and relaxed in my online classes. They retain more, are more engaged, and ask more questions than clients in my in-person classes. They are able to learn, focus, and practice in a less distracting environment, so they are retaining more and having more fun instead of worrying about their distracted, overstimulated, or overwhelmed dog in the classroom.

Classes that teach new skills like “sit”, “leash walking”, “recalls” etc. should be as low distraction as possible for both the human and dog to learn these new skills in; no one learns well when distracted. Once these new skills have been taught and engagement has been built in low distraction environments, the team can then start to practice those skills in slightly more distracting environments, building up over time. They then get to go out in the world and practice their awesome new skills in the environments where they frequent and practice with the distractions present there.

What’s even better is that dogs who learn and solidify skills, communication, and engagement with their humans in low distraction environments first will be much less distracted when in more distracting environments because they have such a strong foundation and solid relationship with their human to build on. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a need for in person classes as a controlled environment to strengthen engagement, but when it comes to learning new skills, online classes are a much better option!

After a summer and fall of both in person and online classes, I was thrilled to find that my online students were signing up for more follow-up classes after their initial class series with me than my in-person students were; they were simply more motivated to train!

On average, during my past seven years of teaching in Maine, 25% of clients who have taken an in person “Basic class” with me will continue with additional class sessions. However, 50-75% of my online clients are now signing up for additional class sessions after their initial Basic class!

I do still have new clients contact me about classes who struggle to see how a dog training class could possibly work through Zoom, but after I explain how the class is structured, they are thrilled that they got to learn with their dog from the comfort of their own home.

This past year has changed the way that I run my business, but one thing is certain, no matter what happens in 2021, I know there will be loads more Zoom dog training classes to come!