Welcome to a Virtual Dog World: The Coronavirus' Effect

Time is changing and so too is the world of dogs. Whether you are a dog owner, groomer, retailer, trainer or walker, you need to be ready for the change COVID-19 will have on your life. How will our personal and professional lives with dogs be altered and what does a virtual dog world really look like?

Although the dog world already has many different virtual aspects; such as online shopping, food delivery, educational webinars and social media; the dog world ahead of us will be much more immersed in a virtual realm. With the current COVID-19 health crisis across the world, millions of dog owners are finding themselves and their families isolated at home.  Dog professionals are finding themselves out of what I now am calling 'conventional work' and seeking alternative ways to support their clients and generate on-going income while at a distance.  

Dog owners need to prepare themselves to see some behavioural changes in their dogs over the coming weeks and months. This is completely predictable based on the pandemic's obvious affect on human behaviour.  We know dogs are affected by changes to their environment, routine and exposure to human conduct. All of these changes have happened at once. I anticipate a rise in humans experiencing canine behaviour issues over the coming months. These difficulties will lead to more dog owners needing to seek support from professionals.... but how and where?

If you are a dog owner who was already working with a canine behaviour professional for any variety of reasons such as; if you recently took in a foster or rescue dog, have a new puppy in the home, or are training a service or therapy dog, you will now experience a huge disruption to your training and behaviour plan. You coach/trainer will likely need to do their best to support you from a distance through virtual platforms.

The landscape isn't all grim however. Many dog owners will find that they are now rich in a resource they previously had a shortage of...time. With the hectic nature of our 'conventional' everyday lives, dog owners dealing with 'difficult' dogs often feel that they simply do not have the time to invest in the required protocols or training sessions needed to help resolve or manage their dogs behaviour. This can lead to dogs being rude, socially inappropriate, neglected, dangerous to society, re-homed, surrendered to a shelter or even euthanized. With this new-found abundance of 'at home' time (imposed by the requirement for social distancing), these owners have an opportunity to use their home time for the betterment of their dogs. 

Many training and behaviour professionals are offering resources to help owners keep their dog's mind stimulated and exercised during this isolated period. My company, Pet Intel. developed and shared this resource on social media last week for our clients and followers.

Although the need to keep our dogs' minds and bodies engaged is incredibly important, so too is the need for daily continuity and stability. It is vital that dog owners and professionals maintain at least a semblance of normality for the dogs in our lives. Dog trainers should be advising their clients to establish a reliable routine with their dogs including times of solitude and confinement, meal times and training activities. 

As a Canine Behaviour Professional who has engaged in almost daily in-home and on-site behaviour and training services for the past 10 years, I now find myself sitting at my computer for long hours, staying-up late and sleeping-in until mid-late morning. All of my booked,  in-person sessions have be postponed for an indeterminate amount of time and day-to-day activities seem to have morphed overnight.

Supporting my current clients from a distance has become my primary focus. I am fairly technically savvy which has been a huge help during this transition, however not every client is as streamlined with their virtual lives as I am. Dog professionals may need to be patient with and supportive of their clients as they 'bone-up' on their cyber skills. I have found it helpful to offer a variety of communication platforms to clients as they may be more well-versed with one than another. Traditional email and voice calls are obviously also an option but may make it difficult to share large videos or documents and don't always have a live face-to-face function.

As a business owner and service-based professional, I like most others in my line of work, must book and complete sessions to get paid and stay in business. So naturally, my next focus has been to develop valuable services that can actually be accessed by the people who need them now. Pet Intel. announced the launch of our virtual services through our online teaching site at the beginning of the week. I have already started working with some trusted colleagues to introduce an exciting, new social media-based, professional video discussion panel called Canine Behaviour Geeks.  It will be designed to encourage dog owners to better observe dog behaviour by watching a panel of experts dissect and decode submitted videos live. 

Dog professionals will need to start becoming inventive in the ways they offer services. There will continue to be an on-going need for services and if my predictions are correct, we may even see an influx in the need for training and behaviour services. Dog owners need to ensure that they continue to provide a balanced and healthy lifestyle for their dogs and brush up on their online skills so they are ready to access professional services when they need them.   

And...above all, please stay safe.