Fellow trainers are often surprised to hear that I work completely remotely with most of my separation anxiety clients. All it takes is a little technology. To date, I have been able to resolve several hundred separation anxiety cases working this way and have taught many other trainers to do the same. This particular behavior disorder lends itself well to technology usage, because you don’t have to meet the dog in person to work on the problem. As counterintuitive as this may sound, it is probably even beneficial to not be physically present when working with a separation anxiety dog. Let me explain: When I used to go to a client’s home weekly to observe absences, I was in fact changing the dynamic of what a “regular” absence looked like for that dog. Any other time the guardians would be leaving, it would certainly not be in the presence of a lady who smelled of other dogs and yummy treats. So I was not getting a true, organic picture of the situation. What we need to see is the dog in his normal environment when the client leaves, and remote tools allow us to see exactly that.
How I Came to Technology
It is almost surreal to think back to how I used to work with separation anxiety clients when I began, more than 14 years ago. Fortunately, I was at least moderately successful, which is what sparked my desire to pursue this specialty. But oh my, what a tremendous difference in the effectiveness and efficiency of my techniques back then compared with today. It would be laughable were it not so poignant a fact that the technological advances of even just the last decade have changed so much more than just the business world.
When I first began working with separation anxiety dogs, I would lug my old clunker of a video camera over to my clients’ homes and ask them to record their absence rehearsals. At the end of the week, I would collect the 8mm tapes and bring them home to review. This was a laborious process, to say the least; fortunately, I was eager to learn, so I didn’t mind spending this kind of time on my cases. Mind you, I was watching a week’s worth of absences after the time that the dog had been left alone, so there was a disconnect in the timing; the dog might have been well over threshold during the week before I saw the tapes — or conversely, I might discover that we could have been pushing him along much faster. The point is, because this was all happening well after the actual rehearsals, we were just reacting to past events and rarely were we setting our criteria correctly. It was quite a guessing game. We played constant catch-up, and sadly we ping-ponged over and under the dog’s threshold often. As a result, getting through separation anxiety protocols back then was considerably painstaking and confusing.
Fortunately, in 2008, technology changed the face of separation anxiety training as I knew it. I met a lovely technologically savvy woman who explained that my clients and I could watch the dog in real time on a smartphone. At the time, I was also starting to realize that I could work with clients remotely rather than meeting with them at their homes regularly. My work practices transformed dramatically, as did my training protocols, and the resulting outcomes skyrocketed to huge successes.
My first remote separation anxiety client genuinely altered my career, and I will forever be indebted to him. Jim, with his dog, Rogan, took on training with a passion. Although we fumbled through the technology at the time, it changed our approach to working on the protocol from reactive (viewing tapes after the fact) to proactive (watching absences in real time — and even being able to change the rehearsal as it unfolded). This was an entirely new experience that made training exponentially more effective and efficient.
Because of that experience, I went on a mission to discover how I could meld technology and separation anxiety training for all of my clients, and in a few short years not only was I exclusively working with clients remotely, I was also working with clients in other parts of the country, then other parts of the world, including Canada, Europe and Australia.
A Wealth of Technology Tools for Support
We have lots of options when choosing remote tools. There are communication apps, such as Skype and FaceTime, and monitoring apps, such as iCam, Presence and Manything. There’s also a host of amazing external cameras, like Foscam and Dropcam, and the associated remote viewing apps are fantastic. The tools vary in their pros and cons, but they all allow us to view the dog in his typical scenario without our presence interfering. With many of these technologies, the client is simultaneously able to watch the dog via smartphone during the absence, which can be critical to good criteria setting and also helps the client learn to read the dog’s body language cues.
One important thing to understand is that when we use technology to support our clients in this way, we are also able to give them more consistent assistance —through regular emails and written criteria — on account of the time savings. For instance, if you were to meet with your client once weekly for an hour in-person, you would incur the expense of driving to and from the client’s home, spending time there, and the likely expense of treats you bring. If you can meet online, you don’t incur these expenses, and often you don’t need to meet for as long, either. You will then be able to apply the travel time and expenses saved toward the client and their needs, such as those regular emails throughout the week. (By the way, I don’t at all suggest that your email writing should be unpaid time. I am all for trainers being compensated handsomely for their expertise.) Separation anxiety clients need lots of help as they go through their protocols, so let’s make sure they get it and not waste their money on paying for our in-person time or our time sitting in traffic.
Benefits Go Beyond the Work
Here just a few of the benefits of using technology, though I could go on and on:
- Ability to support clients more regularly results in better compliance and better success in the protocol.
- Viewing the dog in his “normal” environment makes for more accurate assessments.
- Ability to set up more regular viewings allows for more succinct criteria setting.
- Helping clients to watch their dog in real time allows us to teach body-language reading skills.
- Removing travel-associated costs can translate to better pricing for the client and better profit for the trainer.
One thing many trainers may find surprising is that, from a relationship standpoint, I have never felt closer to clients than to those whom I have worked with in the past seven years remotely. I believe this is because I am able to be in much closer and more regular communication than before, which allows us to work harder, build better relationships and, of course, yield even more success.
One of the graduates of my Separation Anxiety Certification Program said it best recently: “The relationships that we develop with these clients far surpass anything I have ever had with my in-person clients, to the point that we are truly like family. Who knew separation anxiety was the hidden gem of the dog training world!”
This is just the beginning of the discussion about how technology can make a difference in separation anxiety training. I’ll have more, so stay tuned.