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With closures and stay-at-home orders emerging every day, it’s a tricky time to be breeding or raising puppies. But in 2020 the options for online learning are endless so take advantage of the time to sharpen your skills.

While not everyone enjoys distance learning, it’s a necessary part of life for most of us right now as COVID-19 forces us to stay separate from others and many areas are under stay-at-home orders. With a little dedication, online classes can be a great way to train your dog or puppy, or learn some new tricks for your next litter!

The AKC Canine College has a variety of classes on breeding, breed standard information, classes for groomers, and training classes. A new class on Conformation for Beginners just launched at no charge, and breed courses are currently 50% off: https://www.caninecollege.akc.org/

There are many other training schools and experts who are using today’s technology to connect with their students. A number of established training schools have their own online classroom space, and many trainers who are joining the online teaching world are using Facebook as their platform. Many instructors are also offering one-on-one private lessons via FaceTime or other virtual meeting platforms.

Tracy Sklenar, who operates Agility University, has offered online learning opportunities since 2012.

“Traffic in the online training world has increased dramatically, both in North America and other continents since the COVID-19 crisis began. Many instructors are adding more classes to their existing options, as well as re-opening classes they previously ran, often for a discounted fee,” Sklenar said. “Many instructors, myself included, have added free training opportunities as well as online agility trials, such as our free Backyard Championships. I have also expanded my online teaching platforms to include live online seminars and lessons where people can get live in-the-moment feedback on their runs.”

There’s a huge variety of skills that can be learned online. There are classes and workshops for breeders to learn more about health and genetics, as well as classes for early socialization for raising puppies. Once pups head to their new homes, there are great options for housetraining, crate training, and basic obedience skills.

The AKC GoodDog! Helpline is a great resource for new puppy owners at all times, but especially in these current uncertain times. The seven-day-a-week telephone support service is staffed by dog trainers and is available for your puppy buyers to purchase when they register their new dog.

And once you’ve mastered the basics, there are online options for getting started or problem-solving even advanced skills in obedience, agility, and most other dog sports!

Emily Rose Allred, a dog sport competitor in Columbia, S.C, said she signed up for an “online tricks class where the instructor posts two tricks a week.” Students work on the tricks each week and “an hour Zoom meeting occurs each week where students can talk about how the tricks are going.”

“Since all my hiking trails are closed, mental stimulation is very important to keep my dogs exercised,” Allred said. “I generally do not take a lot of training classes… however with social distancing I felt I needed something to keep me motivated.”

While some training schools like Agility University, Avidog, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and the AKC Canine College have always been digitally based, some instructors are adjusting on-the-fly to fill the needs of their students.

Shawn Barkley Hart of Raleigh, NC, adapted her in-person puppy and basic manners classes to become Facebook classes when stay-at-home orders forced the weekly class meetings to end halfway through their six-week session.

“Normally these classes are taught indoors and in groups, often entire families join with a single dog. I often bring my own dog to use as a demo, so instead, demos are now from my living room,” Hart said.  “With the online format, it removes the risk of group settings and allows live interactivity. I created a private Facebook group for my class, posting Facebook live videos at the normal class time, and later, homework.”

While it has its limits, Hart said “it’s been a fun and interactive way to keep students engaged during this ‘stay at home’ time.”

Many of the established online training schools offer different levels of participation. An audit level is common for the lowest price and the lowest level of involvement. The audit level is similar to that of an in-person seminar, where the auditor is free to watch, learn, and take notes, but does not work with their dog with the instructor.

Alternatively, there is the working level, which allows personal one-on-one feedback from the instructor based on video filmed while training. Several online dog training schools also include a mid-level, which allows the learner to ask questions of the instructor but does not allow for personal video feedback.

Another instructor, Tracy Riley of Airborne Agility in Maryland, has adjusted her in-person classes to an online Facebook group format. She discussed how she keeps her students engaged virtually.

“There’s a steep learning curve. In the short term, I think one important piece of advice is to help students prioritize what’s the most important for them in terms of their instruction and their connection with an instructor,” Riley said. “We need to figure out what are the most important things to cover. The other important advice is to be mindful of our learners, whatever bit of normalcy instructors can give… helps the online [transition].”

Some of the more well-known online training schools include Fenzi Dog Sport Academy, which covers a wide range of dog behavior and sport classes; Avidog, which includes canine health & fitness classes and courses for breeders; and MadCap University, which includes classes for breeders and young puppies.

Agility University owner Sklenar said she has been helping other trainers transfer to an online platform so they can continue operating during the pandemic.

“I have been helping other people in the dog sport community transfer their work to online options and I am happy to help anyone who reaches out for information,” she said. “This will dramatically change how we offer training services in the future, even after we are able to return to normal ‘life.’”

Breanne Long is a dog trainer and a member of the AKC GoodDog! Helpline team.

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