How & Why Remote Consulting Works

 

2020 was the year of Zoom and it looks like at least part of 2021 is going to be the same way. We at Pet Harmony were fortunate that we’d been offering effective remote consulting services for years already; it was an easier transition for us than for many other training and behavior companies. But, just because it was an easy transition for us doesn’t mean that it’s been an easy transition for pet parents to take the leap and try remote consulting services. 

We address concerns every single day– usually multiple times per day– from pet parents who know they need help from a behavior consultant but are skeptical if remote services can help them. And, what pains me is when people choose to hold off on much-needed professional help because they’re skeptical about remote services. 

The hard truth is that I know they’ll likely contact us again, but the next time it will be when the behavior is worse and more difficult to modify. I’ve had a number of clients this year who decided not to take us up on remote services at the beginning of Covid, only to contact us months later in desperate need of our help when their dog had bitten someone again or the family was at the end of their rope. I wish I had gotten to work with them sooner. 

After receiving another response today of, “We’re looking for in-home sessions only. We’ll be in touch when things open back up.” I decided that it’s high time I write a blog post specifically about how and why remote consults work to help struggling pet parents understand that they don’t need to put off seeking much-needed help. Let’s talk about the main concerns folks have with remote consultations and why they’re not as concerning as you may think.

If you’re looking for a quicker answer, check out this video pulled out of one of our recent FB live chats:

 

 

Common Concerns About Remote Sessions

 

“I don’t know how you’ll help me if you can’t see the behavior.”

This is by and large the number one concern we hear from people, especially for pets displaying aggression or reactivity. And, the short answer is, we don’t need to see the behavior to help you. Even if we were doing in-person sessions we still wouldn’t want to see the behavior (especially if the behavior is biting strangers coming into the house.) The longer answer to this is in this blog post about how your pet is not like your car. 

When someone knows enough about behavior (which an evidence-based consultant should), then we don’t need to see a behavior to know how to modify it. Behavior is much more predictable than people think; it follows specific rules. That means that professionals know what questions to ask you to understand your pet’s behavior and even if a behavior seems unpredictable to you, it usually isn’t to us. If something does sound funky or we need additional help aside from asking questions, we’ll ask for a video if it’s safe to get one. 

Again, this is the same for both in-person and remote services. Purposefully stressing out an animal so we can see the behavior in real-time doesn’t help us or the animal and usually means your pet is less capable of learning later on in the session when we’re doing hands-on exercises. Trying to show us the behavior in a session (remote or in-person) usually comes back to bite people in the butt. 

While we don’t need to see a behavior to know what’s going on, watching you work with your pet is a different story. That’s where videos come in! And, to be honest, I find videos more helpful than watching someone in real life (and I know my fellow PH consultants agree). We can watch the video as many times through as we want and focus on different aspects each time: something that’s not possible in real time observation. The other great thing is we can then play through the video for our client (via screen share) so they can see what we’re seeing, too. We’ve seen that videos are a more effective teaching tool in that way as well.  

To sum up this concern, we don’t need to see your pet’s behavior to know how to modify it and what we do need to see we’ll ask you to send us a video of it. 

 

“How can I get hands-on practice in a remote session?”

This is probably the second most asked question we get when someone is skeptical about remote services. The answer is: pretty much in the same way you’d get it in an in-person session! There are a number of ways for us to demonstrate exercises: videos, demonstrating with our own pets, props. We then watch you over the video feed and provide real-time feedback as you practice. The only difference is that we can’t demonstrate exercises using your particular pet. But, if we’re doing our jobs well by providing clear instructions and splitting steps into small enough approximations (I.E. baby steps) so that you and your pet can be successful, hands-on practice is just as effective remotely as it is in-person. 

 

An example of hands-on training in a session (and Oso lounging after his demo work was done!)

 

“I’m not great at training, so I want a professional to do the exercises with my pet.”

We know our clients aren’t professional trainers (usually). If you knew what to do and how to do it you wouldn’t need us! The great news is that you don’t need to be a professional trainer in order to see results with a good behavior modification program because so much of a good behavior modification program is not actually about training. 

Behavior modification techniques can actually be fairly simple at their core and our consultants purposefully choose the simplest exercises we can for our clients. If you can toss some treats on the floor you can already do several of those exercises. The implementation and what to do in different situations is usually the trickier part and where a behavior consultant is vitally important. But, again, the training mechanics are often easier than what you’d see in, for example, a trick-training class. 

The other side of answering this question has to do with how relationships and training for real-life situations play a part in behavior. I frequently tell my clients that it doesn’t matter if I can get their pet to do something, it only matters if they can do the same. I don’t live with them so it doesn’t matter that much if I can do it. I can absolutely help teach the dog foundation skills and then transfer that knowledge to the humans, but over the years I’ve found it more effective in the long run to spend that time helping the human train those foundation skills instead. 

The reason for this is that when we move to a different environment or situation, we often need to reteach those skills to our pets (who don’t generalize very well). If I taught the foundation skills, the pet parent is now stuck. If I taught the pet parent to teach that particular behavior all the way through, then they know exactly what to do in those situations and don’t need me. Behavior consulting is one of those jobs where we teach you how to not need us. 

The last part of answering this question, as I mentioned above, comes down to relationships (which includes a learning history with someone). If a dog learns that they can trade coveted items with me in exchange for something delicious, it doesn’t mean they’ll do the same for anyone else. A human example of this is that I’ll let my husband take my credit card but wouldn’t let someone else do the same. It will take less time (and money) for me to teach someone how to trade with their dog rather than building that skill with me first then transferring it to the pet parent. 

To sum up this answer, you don’t need to have amazing training skills to see great results and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if a professional can get your pet to do something. It only matters if you can.  

 

“I don’t know how remote sessions can be effective.”

This one really boils down to not knowing what the behavior modification process entails. At the end of the day, your behavior consultant is a human trainer who knows a lot about animals. A whole lot of the behavior modification process is actually educating the pet parents in topics like body language, management, and enrichment. So as long as we can communicate effectively, we can educate effectively. That doesn’t have to happen in-person.

We have hundreds of clients whom we’ve never met in person who have successfully worked through their behavior modification plan with pets presenting really challenging behavior issues. We’ve also worked with all of the typical maladaptive behaviors remotely quite successfully: stranger danger, leash reactivity, intra-household aggression, resource guarding, separation anxiety (this one works way better remotely, actually), stereotypic/compulsive behaviors, and so many more. Remote services have not limited our effectiveness or the types of cases that we see. 

 

Pros and Cons of Remote Sessions vs. In-Person Sessions

 

Aspects of remote consulting that are more effective than in-person sessions

 

It’s easier for the human learner

As I mentioned above, behavior consultants are really human teachers who have a lot of knowledge about pets. And, just like our pets, it’s difficult to learn when our attention is split between different things. That’s exactly what happens in an in-person session. I’ve seen so many people worried about what their pet is doing or going to do in an in-person session that they haven’t really absorbed the necessary information I’m telling them and that they’re paying for. Because that happens so frequently, I ask all of my clients to put their pets away before I arrive (also for safety reasons) and then they’re often worried about what their pet is doing while they’re away or what their pet will do when they’re let out. Their attention is still split. 

From my experience, remote clients have a much easier time absorbing the necessary information they need to know to keep their pets and others safe. That also means that we don’t need to go over the same information as many times so we can often progress a bit quicker. 

 

You can revisit your session

We try to record all of our remote sessions and either send them to clients afterwards or let clients know to ask us if they want access to them. So in addition to their training plan and other training resources we send, clients can share their session with household members who didn’t get to attend or go back to helpful tips we shared while they were working with their pet. 

 

Our presence changes the pet’s behavior

A large portion of the pets we’re working with have anxiety-related issues and for many of them the presence of new people in the house or a change to their routine is stressful. That means that our very presence is going to change the pet’s behavior and oftentimes also means that it’s going to be harder for them to learn the skills we’d like to implement during that session. There have been many times where a pet has been too stressed to learn during an in-person session and I’ve had to explain how to do something just like I would do in a remote session (actually, I have access to videos and can use Oso to demonstrate in a remote session so it would have been a better explanation if it was done remotely). 

The other side of this is that, because we’re professionals, your pet isn’t going to act the same way they would with us as they would with someone else. We know how to set up the environment, how to move and act so we don’t elicit unwanted behaviors as much as someone who doesn’t work professionally with pets. I’ve heard so many times, “Well, he’s not doing it with you but he usually barks at people when they come in.” Or, “He must know something’s up. He’s on his best behavior.” Our presence will change your pet’s behavior but sometimes not in the way you’d expect. 

 

It encourages taking video of your training session

As I mentioned above, video is a wonderful tool for learning. While we make the offer for our in-person clients to send us videos, it realistically does not happen often. The remote setting lends itself to folks taking more videos for us and that is incredibly helpful for both the client and the consultant. 

 

Aspects of remote consulting that are less effective than in-person sessions

 

We can’t troubleshoot for ourselves, which is sometimes harder

There are occasionally times where a client is working on something and I wish I could reach through the screen and try a few things with their pet to troubleshoot so I can better help them through a sticky spot. While it’s not impossible to do that troubleshooting remotely, being able to troubleshoot in person in those situations would likely save us some time. 

 

Videos of walks are more difficult because of the scope of the camera

I’ve worked on a lot of leash reactivity cases without ever seeing the dog out on a walk. It’s very doable to work on the issue without the consultant being there walking alongside you. That said, there are times where clients want me to see their dog on a walk or are having trouble explaining something and so want me to watch a video of their dog on a walk. 

One of the nice things about being able to go on a walk with someone in person is that I can watch their dog and all around the environment at the same time. That’s more difficult to do in a video because of how wide the frame is. There are some videos I’ve seen where this isn’t a problem because the person videoing is at a great angle and/or distance, but that’s not always the case. 

 

Stranger danger with us

I’ve also worked on a lot of stranger danger cases without ever meeting the animal. It’s also very doable. That said, many people feel more comfortable feeding a professional to the lions, so to speak, than starting out with their friends and family. There are many things that we do and have in place to keep people safe (including practicing first with known people to troubleshoot the set-up), but many people still feel more comfortable going through a meeting people protocol with a professional first. We obviously can’t do that remotely. 

 

 

How our remote consults work

Throughout this blog post I’ve been speaking specifically about our remote sessions at Pet Harmony, and I recognize that different companies perform them differently and they’re probably not all created equal. I can only speak to ours, though. The short answer to how our remote consultations work is there’s a discussion portion and a hands-on portion and the amount of time with each is dependent on where folks are in their plans and what we’re working on. 

The longer answer is found here

 

 

Now what?

  • Have you been putting off getting professional help for your pet because you don’t want to try remote sessions? Look at the above concerns and see which speaks to you. 
  • What concerns do you still have after reading those relevant sections? Think through them and start fleshing them out.
  • Tell us those concerns. Email us at [email protected] to start a dialogue about what remote sessions can do for you. Or, if this addressed all of your concerns email us to set up an appointment. 
  • Behavior professionals: are you looking for help on how to do effective behavior consults? Check out our How to Do– And Love!– Remote Consulting Course

 

Happy training!

Allie

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

 

Every now and then when speaking with a prospective or new client they’ll tell me:

 

“I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried everything already!”

 

I’ll ask them to describe to me what they’ve already tried. Often the list is quite long and I understand why they made the above statement. But, here’s the thing. We don’t know what we don’t know. And, even if we did try something, that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work without some troubleshooting. We shouldn’t let not knowing what a professional can do for us keep us from reaching out.

 

Everything to you is not everything to me

Think about a time when you started learning something new. In the beginning, it seemed pretty simple and straightforward, right? It seemed like you could easily master this new skill in no time. Then you took a deep dive into different aspects of this topic and realized that it’s not so simple and straightforward. There’s a lot of nuance. There are a lot of related topics that you probably needed to learn about in order to better hone your skill. The more you learned the more you realized how much there was to know.

Animal behavior is the same way. Just because you don’t know of another way to do something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It just means that you don’t yet know how to do it. When people tell me they’ve tried “everything”, it really means that they’ve tried everything that they know to do or have researched. That doesn’t mean it’s everything that I know. Everything to you is not everything to me. 

 

Troubleshooting is key

Occasionally I get a new case where someone is already doing the exercise that I was planning to recommend to them, but they’re telling me that it’s not working very well. Do we immediately try a new exercise? No! I first ask them to show me what they’re doing (even in a remote session) or send me a video of them working on it if they’re not able to demo live. 

Watching them perform the exercise is often where that aha moment happens and I find myself saying, “That’s why it’s not working! It’s an [insert training mechanic here] problem.” As with most things, the devil’s in the details. Let’s take counterconditioning for example. Counterconditioning is a specific scientific term that essentially means associating a scary thing with an awesome thing in a way that scary predicts awesome so it can become awesome in and of itself. That’s a diluted definition and we’d actually need to see the scary thing become awesome for it to count, but you get the gist. 

Every now and then someone will tell me that they’re working on counterconditioning with their pet. However, when I ask them to demonstrate what they’re doing they are not actually counterconditioning. There are a lot of ways to do it incorrectly and there are only a few ways to apply it correctly. Once we tweak how they’re doing the exercise we’re able to make more progress with it. 

Perhaps the problem in implementation is not in their mechanics, but in their setup. Let’s say someone is implementing a counterconditioning exercise in a situation where their pet is too stressed to learn (hello, mountain lion brain!) While technically we can still do that and make progress, there are ways that we can change the setup to make it easier. Once again we can tweak how they’re doing the exercise so they’re able to make more progress with it. Even if someone’s tried “everything”, it doesn’t mean that troubleshooting isn’t necessary.

 

It hasn’t been long enough

One last note on “trying everything”. Many times when I hear this statement I see someone who’s tried a lot of different things for only a few days at a time. Think about how long it took you to learn something new or, better yet, to develop a new habit. It was a lot more than a few days. The same is true for our animals; change takes time and a whole lot of practice. Trying something for just a few days doesn’t count. 

 

Now what?

  • Do you find yourself not reaching out for professional help because you don’t know what they could recommend that you haven’t tried already? Reach out! Chances are that they know of something you haven’t seen before or can help you troubleshoot what you’re already doing. We offer services worldwide; email us at [email protected] to set up your first session. 

 

Happy training!

Allie