Is SA training done online?

Is SA training done online?

Since I began working on solving dog behavior problems several years ago, my approach was always in person, visiting dogs and families in their homes.

On one hand, all of the technology options that we have nowadays weren’t available at that time, and on the other, just the idea of being able to build a strong bond with the family working remotely sounded crazy, and putting into practice a thorough behavior modification program with successful results was only imaginable through working beside them.

That’s why for many years I did my best to help dogs who were suffering behavior problems, such as separation related problems, among others, through in-person consultations.

How was my approach back then?

The method of choice was a mixture of techniques learnt from different authors. I would give the family a long list of tasks to do (mix up their routines, don’t say goodbye before leaving nor hello when coming back, leave the tv on, and many others), that even with the best intention were overwhelming, and hard to perform thoroughly. Not only that, but developing a program which included so many different aspects diluted the energy and motivation of the owners, resulting in protocols that were half followed, hence not very successful.

But leaving all of those details aside, something just didn’t feel right. Even following this difficult program step by step and practicing with the family during each of my visits, stepping out the door and coming back, to teach the dog that departures and alone time weren’t a big deal, didn’t work in the way I would have wished.

When the sky lit up

The day I started the program to become a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer), my first and biggest surprise was that using a remote program was the method of choice.

Not only had it turned out to be very successful being put into practice by several specialists along the years, but it also had great benefits compared with an in-person method, when navigating this particular behavior problem.

Part of me was skeptical of what I was hearing. How could we work with a dog without being by his side? How could we send a clear message to the dog’s family without visiting them? How would people realize that the method was effective and embark with me in this journey, trusting that I was going to do the best in my hands to help their dogs? Another part of me though, was jumping in excitement while screaming at me: This finally does make sense! Now there aren’t any loose ends when building an effective program!

This important aspect of treating separation anxiety, the remote approach, along with some other fundamental ones, such as the following, opened my eyes and changed completely my way of seeing things:

  • Not allowing the dog to stay alone, except when rehearsing. Just naming it seems to scare people out, both trainers and owners, which is curious because in other lines of behavioral work sounds pretty obvious. For instance, if we are working with a dog who is reactive towards children, and we are successfully practicing sessions where the approach to children is supervised, gradual and using corresponding techniques to manage the problem in the right manner, we would explain to the family that the dog can’t be near kids without supervision and at the incorrect distance the rest of the time, not only because of the risks, but also because the behavior modification program wouldn’t have any effect. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?
  • Focusing the program on just one main task that is doable and promotes real change, and not to build a protocol that seeks to navigate many aspects at the same time, which don’t attack directly the problem, and end up not being successful or easy to put into practice.

I will share the importance and benefits of these aspects in the future, because they are many, but today I’ll focus on what a remote training approach can accomplish.

Remote training advantages

When you work remotely with a dog and his family to help them solve their dog’s separation anxiety, the protocol doesn’t seek that the dog learns to sit, lay down or look at you. All of those skills are indeed very useful in many contexts of the dog’s life, but are not our priority when navigating this problem.

Our program is based in watching the dog’s body language when he is left alone, in order to learn what  the signs are that tell us he is no longer relaxed and is getting closer to his threshold (point of no return) or to the moment when a panic crisis is starting to arise.

To get an organic, real view of this language, and to learn all of the details regarding it, we must not be in the same place (one of the main reasons why using accessible and simple technology is so beneficial) and we have to look at the dog in real time.

When visiting a dog and his family to work with them, we are adding the presence of a stranger (the trainer), who the owner isn’t usually with when she leaves the house. That stranger also smells like treats and other dogs that she has visited during the day, which alters the environment, making the rehearsals unrealistic and therefore affecting the outcome of the program. Dogs are very good at picking up details by nature, and they will quickly learn the difference between those two scenarios, which won’t allow them to get better.

Technology allows us to be present and guide the family along the complete training process, without altering the environment, teaching the dog progressively to stay alone relaxed and successfully in a “real situation.”

Finally, working remotely gives us the chance, as specialists, to guide the program daily, continually adjusting it upon the dog’s response to each session, prioritizing a proactive approach, and not one that is based in solving things that went wrong one week ago.

Following a remote program not only will allow you to have access to a specialist in the field, no matter where you live, but will offer you daily support, and the chance to practice according to your own available schedule.

Support without comparison

I have to confess that it seemed hard to me to believe it when my colleagues used to tell me: “The families that you help will become very close to you, much more than when you were visiting them in their homes.”

Today, I know how right they were. Working shoulder to shoulder, day by day, supporting them through successes and regressions, being their cheerleader and friend through every step of the way, has been one of the most satisfactory experiencies (and challenges) that I have encountered.

To all who are suffering along with their dogs from this difficult condition, to all of you who don’t know where to start, just know that there is hope and you don’t need more than to connect from the comfort of your home to take the first step.