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Dog Training & COVID-19

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

Science, Critical Thinking & Transparency. How our dog training education has helped us deal with COVID-19.

We are science-based trainers.  That means that rather than believing in folklore and following our gut, we rely on what research has to say about how dogs behave and learn.  We reject unfounded myths like dominance theory and pack leadership because research has shown these as inaccurate portrayals of domestic dogs.  We avoid training methods based on punishment, intimidation or suppression because science has shown they significantly increase stress and aggression in dogs.

Thanks in large part to The Academy for Dog Trainers, we've also been trained in critical thinking.  Critical thinking involves "the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment."*  This means we don't take information at face value but instead compare and contrast different views and assess the validity of them before making a judgement.  We understand how our own biases can help us form opinions that aren't always based in reality or fact.  We're constantly checking these biases to ensure they aren't clouding our judgement.

Little did we know the skills and training we have in science and critical thinking would become incredibly important in 2020 beyond our skills as dog trainers.  We've been bombarded with challenges, information and decisions to be made where returning to our roots of science and critical thinking have served us well.  It's easy to get caught up in the drama, the politics and the confusion surrounding COVID-19.

Our training also helps us to know that science is only as good as the research that has been done.  Not only in excluding the things we *don't* know because the research hasn't been done but also to recognize when the science isn't solid, contains bias or is incomplete.  Anything that's as new as COVID-19 has a very big learning curve which takes time to develop a solid knowledge base on which to draw.  Frankly, the number of things we *don't* know far outweigh what we *do* know.

That's why Practical Obedience is continuing to take a cautious approach.  We're as eager as the next person to get back to working with dogs and clients in the format that has served us so well for the past 6-1/2 years.  We want to be able to help everyone who comes to us in a way that makes them feel like they're getting the best possible value, service and experience.  We understand that not everyone realizes or believes how much we can accomplish when we're not in-person with you to guide you through your training program.

Another value we believe in is transparency.  We're sorely lacking transparency in the dog training industry, particularly regarding methods used and honesty surrounding what's actually going on when you use a beep, shock or correction collar to change your dog's behavior.  Transparency is "characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices"* which is why we're updating you today.  We know (and respect) that many trainers and other businesses have made the choice to return to normal services (with varied levels of precautions) and we want you to know why we continue to restrict our services.  

We're aware there's a lot we don't know about COVID-19.  We're aware we live and work in a community that continues to be in a higher risk category in our state.  We're aware that one of our staff or clients being infected will result in a dramatic decrease in our ability to do our jobs and keep our small business running.  We're also aware we can provide an effective, high quality service while still maintaining extra levels of precaution and safety.  Lastly, we're aware that not everyone shares or understands our position.

We feel it is in everyone's best interest to continue to restrict our contact and exposure and offer services that best serve a cautious approach.  We're riding out this storm in the best way we know how, with the best information available.  We've gradually expanded our services based on the best data available and the guidelines laid out by those who know far more about this new disease (and disease in general) than we ever will.

That's why we still won't be entering client homes.  The potential risks of being in close contact in multiple families' homes day after day far outweigh the benefits of starting to enter homes.  Our research has indicated that we're much safer and at lower risk remaining outdoors, where space and airflow work to our benefit.  This knowledge does give us the confidence to move just one step closer to our normal services as we have begun to relaunch in-person services for outdoor training.  

We've begun to offer coaching sessions outdoors on a limited basis.  We will continue to require virtual consultations and orientations to start all training programs to minimize the number of in-person appointments.  Across the board, we've found virtual consultations and orientations to be equally as effective & efficient as the in-person version.  Dogs aren't generally a critical part to these steps as we gather information and share initial feedback with owners, so we lose nothing by meeting virtually.  We'll also be making case-by-case decisions regarding whether a virtual session or two may be the best way to start (or continue) your training program.  This allows us to maximize the benefits of in-person training while reducing the number of in-person appointments per day and per week to manage the number of people we're in close contact with.

Outdoor training comes with it's own set of challenges, namely being weather dependent.  (I'm sitting and writing this on a day I've been "stormed out" of a few appointments which were planned to be held outdoors.)  We will require extra flexibility and patience from our clients as we juggle schedules that can change instantly based on the weather forecast, which has its own level of finickiness.  However, we're determined to do everything we can to serve our clients in the best way possible to meet their needs while keeping everyone safe & healthy.  We're determined to use our background in science, critical thinking and transparency to make decisions and communicate them to our clients and supporters.

Speaking of supporters, we'd like to thank everyone who has helped keep this small business running amidst the difficult times we're all experiencing.  From the bottom of our hearts, we appreciate you.

*Definitions from Oxford Languages

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