With the rise in COVID-19 numbers, more and more training is moving online. I personally do outdoor training using social distancing and masks, but as the winter months approach and the possibility of another lockdown looms, I am moving more consultations online too.

Even those people who have been resistant to online training are now realizing that although safety comes first, their dogs still need to be trained: Fido’s potty training can’t wait!

Although moving to online training is a challenging transition for most trainers, I suspect that aversive trainers are going to struggle even more than those of us in the positive reinforcement camp. It’s one thing to have a trainer restrict the airway of your dog if he doesn’t sit right away.. Most people are natural pleasers and will not do much to stop the trainer, in that moment. In fact, this was the experience of many of my clients who switched over from an old-school aversive trainer. 

It is a whole other story being told on Zoom, “Yank the dog harder. No, harder!” I can bet $1000 in this situation, that you would actually think twice before doing this. Most people would not knowingly cause their dog pain.

The snake oil explanation of “energy” or “dominance” won’t work here because the extra layer of physical separation forces a trainer to say exactly what he/she does to your dog. The trainer can’t touch your dog now, so will be obligated to call it what it is. Choking is choking. Forcing your dog onto a vulnerable position on his back, is exactly that. It is not so easy to convince owners to do this via Zoom without the trainer wrangling their dog.

My fellow positive reinforcement trainers from The Academy for Dog Trainers and other reputable training schools are trained to coach people, not just dogs. We have the skills to teach you what to do to train your dog. We have the knowledge, based in good canine science, to explain to you what is going on, troubleshoot with you online, and give you a training plan – all without ever needing to touch your dog. 

“I can do this!” Owners feel empowered when they see that they can actually make things happen without a trainer with mystical whispering powers present.

It’s really not magic. It’s science. And what better way to prove this than by receiving top-notch coaching instructions and a foundation in how dogs learn.

Separation Anxiety and Fear

I have also found that many issues are better handled online. For example, separation anxiety is best done online since the dog is reacting predominantly to the owner leaving. For aggressive dogs who may not do well with a new stranger in the house, a trainer can coach you to teach your dog to wear a muzzle safely before anyone ever has to enter the house.

A New Standard of Care and Education

So how do we harness the competitive advantage that online training has given us? How do we make sure we do not lose momentum, even after COVID-19 is over? I‘ll leave you with one thought: Unite. Let’s come together to support each other. Offer the gift of friendship and a listening ear to help each other avoid burn out. Be kind. There is more than enough business to go around – the pie is huge. Be generous. Share your knowledge. Be compassionate in your interactions.

As members of a positive reinforcement training and dog care (dogwalkers, dogsitters, groomers) community, let’s work together to make sure there is a team to support the efforts of our well-meaning owners. Together we can make positive reinforcement a norm, the industry standard for years to come.


Shelley Leong is the owner of Bright Lights Dog Training, based in San Francisco. Shelley offers private training and virtual training, focusing on puppies, new rescue dogs and separation anxiety. You can follow her on Facebook.